Union workers ordered: Go to Trump rally or don’t get paid
Trump gives thumbs up at rally where workers were forced to attend. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa.—If this happened during a union organizing drive, you’d call it a “h-u-uge” “captive audience” meeting.

Instead, it was an official presidential speech which GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump turned into a campaign-style event on August 13 at an under-construction Shell natural gas plant in Monaca, Pa., in Beaver County north of Pittsburgh.

And a Shell subcontractor ordered the workers to show up there or don’t get paid. Not only that, but they had to be in line at 7 a.m., have their ID cards scanned and then wait for hours – through lunchtime but with no lunch break – for Trump to talk. “No scan, no pay,” was the memo’s message.

Sounds like a captive audience meeting to us, complete with retribution threat. So 5,000 did so and became props for a presidential campaign extravaganza.

The memo from the subcontractor on the plant site, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and CNN, said in part: “Your attendance is not mandatory. This will be considered an excused absence. However, those who are NOT in attendance will not receive overtime pay.”

If the workers wanted to get paid – straight time only – they had to put in for a paid off day ahead of time, Shell said. The overtime pay point is important because the workers, many of them from the building trades, are toiling up to 16 hours a week of OT, on top of their regular 40 hours, to build the plant. Shell said it didn’t write the threatening memo.

The unidentified subcontractor’s memo also warned the workers not to protest. But it didn’t stop protests outside the plant site, from environmentalists and others concerned the petrochemical plant would further foul Beaver County’s air, damage their health and contribute to global warming. The plant will process natural gas obtained from an environmentally controversial process, fracking and cracking.

The captive audience meeting wasn’t the only problem with Trump’s speech at the Beaver County plant.

Trump flew there on Air Force One, photos showed, taking Energy Secretary Rick Perry and his current Environmental Protection Administrator with him. He designated it an official presidential trip to discuss energy and the economy.

But then he turned it into a campaign-style rally, complete with jabs at Democratic opponents Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and touting how he won Beaver County in 2016. He said he won it by 28 percentage points. His actual margin was 18.5%.

There’s nothing wrong with using Air Force One for campaigning, but his campaign, by law, must reimburse the government for doing so. Trump evaded that mandate by declaring the Beaver County visit an official trip.

And while company executives use captive audience meetings to harangue workers into voting against the union, Trump used the Beaver County meeting to harangue workers into voting against union leaders.

“I’m going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, ‘I hope you’re going to support Trump.’  OK?” Trump said. “And if they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job. It’s true. It’s true. Vote them out of office.”

Trump tucked one more bombshell 17 minutes into his 65-minute speech: Musing about running for a third and fourth term – despite the U.S. Constitution’s two-term limit for presidents.

“Can you imagine if I got a fair press?” Trump said. “I mean, we’re leading without it, can you imagine if these people treated me fairly? The election would be over. Have they ever called off an election before? Just said, “Look, just … let’s go, go on, four more years.”

“Yeah. And then you want to really drive them crazy, go to #thirdterm, #fourthterm. You’ll drive them totally crazy. I mean, you have one guy on television, I’m telling you he’s not leaving. He’s going to win. And then he’s not leaving. So in 2024 he won’t leave, I’m telling you, this is a serious person.”


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.