Trump Labor Dept. lets union-busters loose again
Walmart is one of the most notorious employers of union-busters. Under new Trump administration de-regulations, union-busters will be exempt from many Obama-era disclosure rules concerning whom they work for and how much they spend. | Reed Saxon / AP

WASHINGTON—The anti-worker GOP Trump Labor Department has let union-busters loose—again.

Over thousands of labor protests, including 6,813 letters from workers gathered by the AFL-CIO alone, and 1,399 more gathered by the Teamsters, DOL formally dumped the prior Democratic Obama administration’s rule to force the union-busters to regularly disclose who they work for and how much they spend.

Instead, DOL said, it’s going back to letting such “persuaders” disclose their customers and their spending only if and when they directly try to “persuade”—read “strong-arm”—workers into voting against unions.

Obama’s DOL wanted to expand the persuader rule to cases where the union-buster gave indirect advice and direction to its client companies but didn’t directly run the campaign.

DOL announced the new persuader rule in 2016, but the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups found a Republican-named federal district judge in rural red-state Texas to put a nationwide stop to it with an injunction even before the rule started.

Both the business group and the right-wing GOP majority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee cheered Trump’s move.

Labor law tells the union-busters they must disclose their activities to DOL if they “directly or indirectly” advise the firms or run the anti-union campaigns. In practice, DOL enforced the rule only in “direct” instances, if at all. Obama’s DOL wanted to cover the indirect advice and campaigns, too.

On July 20, Trump’s DOL yanked the Obama “persuader” rule change for good.

Before that, it asked for comments on the rule and unions and workers made their position clear: They want more disclosure from the union-busters, so workers would know who was trying to twist their arms and how much bosses were paying to get them to vote “no union.”

“Rescission of this rule now would unconscionably deprive workers of complete information about labor relations consultants”—the official characterization of union-busters—“and frustrate the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act to form a union and engage in collective action,” National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, wrote.

And she noted the same law, the 1959 GOP-passed Landrum-Griffin Act, that tells the “persuaders” to file disclosures when they run anti-union campaigns requires unions to disclose all their spending, down to the penny, on everything from organizing drives to paper clips. Union-busting has since grown into an industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

The AFL-CIO attached the 6,813 names to a one-paragraph statement to DOL, arguing for keeping the Obama-era “persuader rule.”

“By repealing the persuader rule, the Department of Labor is siding with corporate CEOs against good government and transparency,” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein said in a statement. “They have thrown a dark veil over the shady groups employers hire to take away the freedoms of working people.”

“The Department of Labor’s ‘persuader rule’ impacts workers’ freedom to negotiate together for better workplace conditions, wages and benefits,” the Fed-provided paragraph to workers read. “By requiring companies to disclose publicly expenditures for activities designed to dissuade employees from forming a union, the playing field is being leveled for workers, instead of being tilted to powerful corporations.”

“Please don’t eliminate the common-sense rules that give important information to working people who are trying to gather in a union for better wages, benefits and more safety on the job. I urge the Department of Labor not to repeal the persuader rule,” it concluded.

The one-paragraph letter the Teamster members signed was more pointed. “Working people deserve to know who is trying to block their freedom from joining together and forming a union on the job,” it said.

“Corporations spend big money on shadowy, outside firms that use fear tactics to intimidate and discourage people from coming together to make a better life on the job,” it continued. “I support a strong and robust persuader rule. Do not eliminate the persuader rule.”

“The erasure of the persuader rule is the latest in an increasingly long line of decisions by the Trump administration to either return to the employer-friendly status quo or tip the scales even further away from working families,” said Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson.

“Our members, like working people everywhere, go to work every day with the expectation that their basic rights and protections are not left at the door. It’s not asking too much to expect a safe workplace, fair pay and a voice on the job. Decisions like abandoning the persuader rule, coming on the heels of so many like it, sends a message that this administration doesn’t value the men and women who truly make this country great.”

The Landrum-Griffin Act “requires reporting by employers and labor relations consultants on any arrangement where the consultant is engaged to, ‘directly or indirectly,’ persuade employees to exercise or not exercise their right to organize and collectively bargain,” Communications Workers General Counsel Guerino Calemine pointed out in his union’s letter to DOL.

“These consultants are commonly referred to as ‘union avoidance consultants’ or ‘union-busters,’ as their mission is generally to persuade employees to vote against unionization,” he added. And while union-buster “advice” was exempt from disclosure, DOL had – until Obama’s rule – expanded that exemption to include “indirect persuader activity – where the persuader operates behind the scenes with managers and supervisors while avoiding direct contact with employees.

Obama’s DOL tried to fix that. Trump’s “rescission proposes to abandon the 2016 interpretation and return to a 1962 interpretation, once again allowing underreporting by labor relations consultants.  The proposal will function to hide information from workers about who is trying to influence their union certification or decertification elections and how much those entities are being paid by their employer for this campaign activity,” he said.


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.