Labor leaders, once courted by President Trump, are stepping up their campaign to turn workers against the White House if it does not deliver more on jobs and trade — and if it does not stop undoing Obama-era regulations.
The most visible effort, which starts in Indianapolis on Monday afternoon, is a two-week tour organized by the coalition Good Jobs Nation that ropes in labor-friendly politicians. The coalition, launched in 2013 to pressure Barack Obama’s White House on trade and wage issues, is organizing rallies throughout the Midwest through Labor Day.
“Trump ran as a working-class hero, so let’s look at the results,” said Joseph Geevarghese, Good Jobs Nation’s executive director. “We’re seven months into his administration, and wages are flat. People are still getting pink slips.”
The Indianapolis rally, which will feature Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is designed to highlight the complicated aftermath of an early Trump coup for workers — a deal that delayed layoffs at a Carrier plant in nearby Huntington. In December, Trump came to Indiana to announce that Carrier would lay off only a few hundred of its 1,400-odd workers, thanks to the state’s promise of $700,000 per year in tax breaks to the company and a presidential promise of corporate tax reform.
“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,” Trump said.
Nine months later, Carrier is well into cutting 632 jobs — more cuts than the president had promised. Chuck Jones, who represented Carrier workers as president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, said that even workers who voted for Trump have learned not to trust him.
“He made promises to working-class people,” said Jones, who will also speak at Monday’s rally. “He said that if he were president, that jobs would not be leaving this country. Guess what? They still are. He could be signing executive orders. He’s not lifting a finger.”
As the White House eagerly points out, the economy has seen steady job growth every month since Trump took office. Wages have ticked up 0.7 percent in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — in line with the increasing cost of living. Trump’s Republican base, meanwhile, has become overwhelmingly positive about the economy, with consumer confidence and the employment rate ticking up to 16-year highs.
Labor leaders, who watched their members vote Republican at historic levels last year, however, increasingly suspect that the administration will squander those gains by ignoring actions that could increase wages.
The Trump administration has undone or walked away from a number of regulations that labor lobbied for, and won, under Obama, including one that required companies to disclose labor law violations before bidding on big government contracts and one that made 4.2 million more workers eligible for overtime pay. That rule and several others were challenged in court by business groups, and the Trump administration has defended them less forcefully than its predecessor.
Instead, the administration has synced up with congressional Republicans in rolling back regulations on business, with the expectation that job growth will ensue.
Skeptics in labor and the left see a political opening. After pummeling the Obama administration for steady but slow growth, Trump is bragging about an economy that is exhibiting virtually the same characteristics. Stephen K. Bannon, the political adviser who dreamed of the GOP becoming a “workers’ party” that plowed money into infrastructure, is out of the administration with little of that vision achieved.
“People feel, appropriately, that the political and economic establishments have left them behind,” Sanders said in an interview. “They ignored people while jobs went to Mexico. We’ve got a chance to be heard, and we’ve got to use that chance to explain what a progressive economic agenda is all about. We want a $15 minimum wage. Donald Trump has said wages should be lower. And that’s our point.”
The Good Jobs Nation tour, which will part with Sanders after Indianapolis, will make stops in other Midwestern cities to ask why the administration hasn’t done more. In Wisconsin, it will team up with Randy Bryce, a Democrat and labor organizer running there against House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R). There, labor leaders will argue against a Trump-backed deal to entice the Taiwanese company Foxconn in exchange for $3 billion in subsidies.
In other cities, activists will ask Trump to back an executive order to keep call centers in the United States by punishing outsourcers.
“We sent a letter on this to Trump a while ago, and he hasn’t even responded,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America. “He should sign the executive order. If companies are going to send their jobs overseas, consumers should have the right to ask for a call center in the United States. If they’re not going to provide one, and provide those jobs, they should not be relying on tax dollars for their bottom line.”
Organizers of the tour were skeptical that the president would sign on to proposals backed by unions but opposed by business groups. If he did, they said, they’d take the victory — and take a lesson in what sort of public pressure worked on a president much more prone to reaction than Obama.
“When me and Trump got sideways,” Jones said, “it got kicked up to a higher level.”