Union leaders who endorsed Hillary Clinton now say they want to work with President-elect Donald Trump on key economic issues such as jobs, wage increases and trade policies.
In the wake of last week’s presidential election, Trump should move forward on promises he made to blue-collar workers, including ramped-up investments in the nation’s infrastructure, a jobs plan and a raise in the federal minimum wage, representatives of some of the largest labor organizations said. He should also follow through on his opposition to key multinational trade agreements, they said.
“For too long, the political elites have embraced economic policies that hold down wages, increase inequality, diminish opportunity and ship American jobs overseas,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a prepared statement. “Voters in both the primary and general election have delivered a clear message: enough.”
If Trump is willing to work constructively with labor on such issues, union leaders stand ready to work with him, Trumka said.
The United Steelworkers union sees hope for both increasing the federal minimum wage and reassessing the nation’s dealings with China.
“Our relationship (with China) needs for them to honor the commitments they made when they agreed to our trade agreements,” United Steelworkers spokesman Wayne Ranick told AMI Newswire.
Some of the steelworkers union’s key policy positions made during the presidential campaign gained the support of both major parties, Ranick said.
“Our agenda to revitalize manufacturing, reform trade and invest in infrastructure was foremost in the campaign, and one that both candidates supported,” he said.
Trump drew support from many like-minded members of the steelworkers union, according to Leo Gerard, the union’s president. The nation’s economy in recent years has not grown fast enough and has not stimulated manufacturing jobs due to failed trade policies of both major parties, Gerard said.
“Donald Trump used our own words to speak to these problems, and to the real suffering, fears and anxieties that so many feel,” he said.
But don’t expect more than limited cooperation between industrial unions and the new administration, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry, Labor and Economics Group at the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research. Unions oppose many of the Republican Party’s planks this year, including its support for a national right-to-work law, she said.
“It’s difficult to tell where this administration is going to go policywise,” Dziczek told AMI.
The administration and unions might get the support of some corporations on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), she said. That’s because the treaty’s original promises of strengthening health and safety, environmental and labor protections in Mexico have not necessarily been fulfilled, Dziczek said.
But even if NAFTA is revamped or eliminated, U.S. automaker assembly jobs in Mexico currently number only 50,000, according to Dziczek, and auto plants will continue to be built in Mexico because the nation has 44 free-trade agreements with other nations.
Most U.S. automakers have global supply chains as well as profit-making manufacturing facilities in China, she said. Their overall economic health tends to be driven more by demand for their products in Europe, North America and Asia than by trade treaties, Dziczek said.
“Overall, the industry was at a record level of sales last year and is expected to be above that this year,” she said.
The president of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., also sees potential areas of cooperation between unions and the Trump administration.
“President-elect Donald Trump succeeded, in part, through an appeal to working-class voters who have seen their incomes stagnate or fall for decades, the jobs they depended on moved offshore and their hopes for a more secure retirement dwindle,” Lawrence Mishel said in a blog post last week.
Trump was correct to say that trade treaties had contributed to these problems and that the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership would only bring more suffering, Mishel said.
“These trade treaties are just one way that policy has indeed been rigged to suppress wages for the vast majority of Americans,” he said. “Millions of working Americans of all races are struggling, while the benefits of growth have gone only to people at the very top of the income ladder.”
In addition to renegotiating treaties, Trump must put forward a more nuanced immigration policy that includes reforming work visas, Mishel said.
“Immigration policy should be changed so that employers do not have the easy option of undercutting wages by importing workers on non-immigrant guest visas that fail to provide basic labor protections,” he said.
Within the United Autoworkers union, pre-election surveys showed Trump winning about a third of the union’s membership, compared to Clinton’s 62 percent, said UAW President Dennis Williams during a post-election talk with reporters.
Anger among blue-collar workers about NAFTA and the export of manufacturing jobs to other nations allowed Trump to tap into the frustrations of working families, Williams said.
“I don’t see the traditional Republican president,” he said of Trump. “I see someone who made a lot of commitments to blue-collar workers.”
Trump’s statements favoring a 35 percent tariff on vehicles coming into the United States also appealed to Williams, who criticized U.S. automakers for moving jobs and factories to Mexico.
“We will try to find some common ground with the newly elected president,” he said.