Brief #22—Economic Policy

Policy Summary
Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was filled with promises that involved helping restore union-dense industries such as coal and manufacturing. With these in mind, as well as his promises regarding infrastructure, it is hardly surprising that his support among union members was quite high. According to the Democracy Journal, the number of union members that voted for Trump was higher than it had been for a Republican presidential nominee since 1984 when Ronald Regan was running.

As has been the case for many of Trump’s campaign promises, though, his alleged commitment to helping unions has proven to be false. His administration has clearly demonstrated its stance on unions through their budget, specifically in its commitment to the two government agencies whose primary purpose is to regulate labor movements. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), a division of the Department of Labor that exists to hold unions accountable for their actions saw their budget increased by $8 million. The National Labor Regulations Board, an agency concerned with accountability on the part of worker employers, on the other hand, saw theirs slashed by $16 million.

May 2018 saw President Trump take a direct aim at federal labor unions when he issued multiple executive orders to strip away the protections issued to federal workers when the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act was passed.  The benefits for federal union workers provided by this piece of this legislature included support for union representatives whose jobs involved helping union members file concerns, gain protection when necessary and address problems within the workplace. It was intended to help federal union members organize and bargain as well as have their say in matters involving labor that concerned them.

Prior to President Trump issuing this order, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon announced a plan on behalf of the agency’s administration that was intended to slash federal employee compensation by as much as $143 billion. This reduction would be made through considerable changes to the current retirement system.  It would mean the elimination of all supplements issued to Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) members receiving any sort of annuity who retired before becoming eligible for social security.   The average number of years on which federal pension plans are based would also be altered and switched from three years to five.

These instances, though, are not the only examples of the Trump administration taking aim at federal employees.  This past year also saw the U.S. Department of Education issue a new labor contract that included the elimination of paid time off or union ‘official time.’

Federal unions, though, enjoyed a victory this past Friday when U.S District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled that President Trump’s executive orders exceeded his authority.


President Trump’s attempts at curtailing the power of federal unions can likely be traced back to a statement he made during his 2018 State of the Union address. While discussing the importance of accountability, he stated “I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

Given Trump’s blatant attack on federal unions, we are forced to wonder what workers were being rewarded in that case. If his executive is passed, workers would see their already diminished power further stripped away while the corporations that employ them benefit further.  These orders would will also make it easier for corporations to exploit the people that work for them and ignore their concerns and complaints, even with their union status. There can be no doubt that such an order would only hurt federal unions and ultimately, the national economy in general. Strong unions have proven a vital component of any healthy economic system but as President Trump has demonstrated multiple times, his commitment is to corporations, not workers.

Trump’s stance on unions could not be clearer. Everything, from the priorities indicated in his administration’s budget to his attempts to reduce union power continuously prove that he will not prioritize anything that helps give power back to America’s workers, despite his many early promises.

Resistance Resources


This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Samuel O’Brient. Contact

Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook

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