Over President Donald Trump's first 100 days, we're asking him questions that our audience wants answers to. Join the project by tweeting this question to @realDonaldTrump with the hashtag #100Days100Qs.
#43. @realDonaldTrump what is your administration’s official stance on organized labor? #100Days100Qs
Right now, about 10 percent of American workers belong to an organized labor union, a number that has dropped significantly in recent decades — about 50 years ago, one-third of the US workforce belonged to a union.
President Donald Trump has attacked unions before, and his initial pick to lead the Department of Labor — fast food executive Andy Puzder — was decried by union leaders. Puzder ultimately didn’t get the job after he came under scrutiny for employing an undocumented worker, and for allegations that he abused his ex-wife.
The president’s new pick for to labor secretary — Alexander Acosta — has been well-received by some unions, though he has yet to go through a Senate confirmation hearing.
“Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration,” said Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO trade union. “In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food chain CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”
The issue of organized labor is top of mind for many, including Takeaway listener Joshua Barclay from New York City.
“President Trump, you talk a lot about trade agreements — NAFTA, TPP, and how they are incredibly harmful to the American worker, but what is your stance on organized labor in America?” Barclay asked us on Anchor in response to our 100 Days 100 Questions series. “It seems to me like the Republican Party has been enforcing an agenda that weakens the influence of organized labor in this country. So, my question is, like your Republican cohorts, do you plan on continuing to weaken the influence of labor, or are you going to introduce policies that strengthen the rights of American workers and strengthen labor unions, organized labor and things of that nature?”
But it’s not just everyday people that are concerned with the state of organized labor. Along with US Senator Bernie Sanders, activist and actor Danny Glover joined thousands of workers to march on Nissan’s factory in Canton, Mississippi, over the weekend. The workers there are protesting alleged harassment and intimidation of the factory’s predominantly black workforce, who have been denied the right to vote for a union.
Nissan has union representation in 42 of its 45 plants around the world, but the Canton plant, which began operating in 2003, is not counted among them. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged Nissan with violating worker rights with intimidation tactics designed to prevent workers from unionizing.
Glover says the community had high hopes when the Canton plant was opened, but permanent employees have since been largely replaced by temporary workers whose voices aren't being heard.
“When they opened this plant about 14 years ago, they received about $1 billion in tax incentives from the state of Mississippi, and they hired permanent workers with decent wages,” Glover says. “The workers have, for years, all they’ve demanded is the right to vote on whether they want a union or not. And the company has used every technique [to stop them] — from threatening to move the plant or closing the plant; threatening and intimidating workers; cutting their hours short. They’ve been cited by the National Labor Relations Board for those activities.”
According to Glover, 80 percent of the workers at Nissan’s Canton factory are black or African American. Overall, black workers were more likely to belong to unions in 2016 than their white, Asian or Hispanic counterparts, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2016 (13.0 percent) than workers who were White (10.5 percent), Asian (9.0 percent), or Hispanic (8.8 percent),” the BLS reports.
Glover argues that the workers in Canton need to be treated fairly and “have a voice at the table.”
“All the changes that have happened with respect to benefits, with respect to health care [and] with respect to safety are arbitrarily determined by the company itself, not with a discussion by the workers themselves,” he says. “Nissan works with unions around the world. Why is it able to work with unions around the world and not with workers in Mississippi?”
According to Glover, worker concerns about safety have gone ignored by the company, and some have been seriously injured or even died while on the job.
“There’s a very, very bad safety record here at Nissan,” he says. “Workers have complained that they’re afraid to take any time off for anything — an illness or an issue they may have, a physical issue — because they’re afraid they may lose their job or place them in some other situation where their job is difficult.”
When the Canton plant first open, 100 percent of the workers were permanent employees, Glover says, but the factory has since shifted, and now 40 percent of the workforce are now considered “temporary workers,” which has given them less power and compensation.
“These are very courageous workers. I’ve been involved with this campaign for four years now, and they’re very afraid,” Glover says. “This affects not only Nissan workers — this may be the epicenter for the new civil rights issue for 21st century workers. The same kind of ugly situation will find itself resonating in other industries, as well.”
The Takeaway reached out to the Canton Nissan plant and received this response from Brian Brockman, director of group communications from Nissan Group of North America:
“Allegations of intimidation made by the union are totally false. The [United Auto Workers Union] has admitted that these efforts are part of a campaign to pressure the company into recognizing a union, even without employee support. Nissan respects and values the Canton workforce, and our history reflects that we recognize the employees’ rights to decide for themselves whether or not to have third-party representation.”
When it comes to the Trump Administration, Glover says that the president promised to support workers on the campaign trail. So, as part of our 100 Questions in 100 Days series, we’re wondering: President Trump, what is your administration’s official stance on organized labor?
If you’d like answers to that question too, click here to tweet the president — we’re hoping you can help us get his attention.
See more of our questions at pri.org/100questions.