Michael Theriault headshot

Well, that didn't take long.

In this column in last month's (November 2016) Organized Labor I wrote that "elevation of obvious bigots into his administration" might make "engaging with [President-elect Donald] Trump impossible to stomach" for unions.

The day after this went to press, and before it reached mailboxes, Trump named Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News his senior adviser.

Not long after, Trump nominated Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama to be Attorney General.

According to the New York Times, under Bannon Breitbart News articles have become "clickbait incitement," with links to them "spread on Twitter and Facebook alongside Nazi rhetoric and racial slurs." The Times also reported that Julia Jones, cowriter with Bannon on a 2004 documentary on Ronald Reagan, said that Bannon talked about the genetic superiority of some people and that he said, when told that property ownership requirements might exclude many African-Americans from voting, "Maybe that's not such a bad thing."

Sessions withdrew from consideration for a Federal judgeship by the Senate in 1986 after being nominated by Reagan, with some Republicans joining Democrats to oppose him, because sworn testimony by others at the time attributed racist remarks to him.

Bannon has denied any racism, and many of his acquaintances agree with his defense. Sessions went on to be elected to the Senate despite the failure of his nomination to be judge, and some opponents in time came to respect him.

Still, given the attacks Trump himself made during his campaign on Muslims, Mexicans, and women, among others, we cannot grant Mr. Bannon and Mr. Sessions the presumption of innocence from bigotry, but must hold them in a kind of moral remand from which they can be freed only by demonstrating that innocence. That is, we should approach them as though they are bigots and let them show us they are not.

Likewise, we should approach Trump's choice for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, as though he is an enemy of Labor, until he proves otherwise.

He has given reason for this approach. Puzder, chief executive of the company that franchises Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants, opposes the kind of sick leave law that San Francisco voters passed in 2006. He has argued against the Obama administration's update of the income threshold under which overtime pay would be required. He has criticized minimum wage increases. He has claimed that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, created a "government-mandated restaurant recession" because of rising premiums, when in fact restaurant revenue overall has risen.

In March he told Business Insider he wanted to try replacing fast-food employees with machines. "[Machines are] always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case," he said. He failed to note that they also never buy hamburgers, or even an order of fries.

Puzder is likely to have little or no understanding of the unionized construction industry. Carl's Jr. and Hardee's are at best infrequent users of our members. The general pattern for national retail franchise companies is to develop a stable of preferred contractors that are non-union, and then to recommend them to franchisees.

If Puzder wants machines to replace humans in the operation of his franchises, he will have no patience with our arguments for human need in the construction industry. If he believes that increases in even a piddling minimum wage damage employment, he will not see any need for prevailing wage. If he hasn't often seen union labor in the construction of his franchises, project labor agreements guaranteeing a high level of union involvement in public work will seem at best pointless to him.

In the weeks since the election anti-Trump protestors have taken to the streets in many cities, including here. Their species of generalized objection would have a value in warning Trump and those around him that they will not receive a free pass in their actions, except that Trump and ilk probably couldn't care less.

What will be more useful is to plan projects of resistance to the assaults we anticipate from Trump's administration. These will be particularized to the kind of assault. Beyond that, it is perhaps best not to describe them here.

We should also be prepared to go on offense ourselves. Trump as of this writing hasn't detailed how or if he will separate himself from his business interests. He has not yet wanted to separate himself in any real way. Trump might not believe himself legally precluded from conflicts of interest, but in time he may prove politically vulnerable to them. Some will inevitably damage American workers. We will have to be ready to make all American workers aware of these, as we learn of them ourselves.

Trump may now have greater power than he has ever dreamed possible, but we have our own power. It was in large degree a disaffected working class that elected him. If need be, the working class can also take him down.

Organized Labor


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