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Memo: Trump's Plan to Destroy Federal Unions

A White House leaked memo shows how he has laid out a plan to destroy employee protections and undermine union leaders

Kris LaGrange's picture
Oct 07, 2019

According to a new leaked memo, a senior White House labor advisor encouraged Trump to eliminate all job protections for federal workers. The memo, which was obtained by POLITICO was written in 2017 by James Sherk. At the time Sherk was serving as a domestic policy aide. He previously worked as a research fellow for the right wing Heritage Foundation.

In the memo, Sherk encourages Trump to pursue a labor agenda that would sideline labor leaders. The 19-page document details a strategy of weakening union leaders but selling it in a way that wouldn’t alienate the 40% of union members who voted for Trump. Some of the things that Sherk suggested to Trump include supporting legislation that aims to “improve” private-sector union representation, instead of curtailing it. This way Trump could claim to be supporting union members, but in reality, he would be undercutting union leaders' power. The memo also suggests that Trump support state’s legislation that would allow unions in right to work states the option of only representing dues-paying members. According to the memo, this would “allow the president to eliminate a major union complaint without coercing workers to pay dues.”

In regards to dealing with federal workers, Sherk suggested exploring an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, specifically Article II. “There are legal arguments that Article II executive power gives the president inherent authority to dismiss any federal employee,” the document says. “This implies civil service legislation and union contracts are unconstitutional." Essentially, Sherk was advocating that there was a legal precedent for firing any federal worker without cause. The memo suggests Trump issue an Executive Order outlining a new process to make it easier to dismiss federal employees. It also called for Trump to issue an Executive Order banning unions at the Department of Defense on the basis of national security and suggested similar action for unions representing workers in Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, State Department and portions of the Office of Personnel Management.

“Government unions impede the efficiency of federal operations and direct the government to put the interests of government employees first,” the memo says. “Curtailing collective bargaining in government serves the public good.”

Even the construction industry was mentioned in the memo. Sherk suggested changing the way the government calculates the prevailing wage rate for Davis-Bacon projects. The new formula would lower wages and make it easier for non-union contractors to bid on federal projects. It also encouraged Trump to rescind an Obama-era executive order that encouraged the use of project labor agreements.

While the White House brushed off the leak of this memo as just another policy position paper that was written by a staffer, it is clear that Trump attempted to follow through on a number of these issues. Trump has taken to Twitter multiple times to discredit union leaders, tweeting statements such as:

"I’ll never get the support of Dues Crazy union leadership, those people who rip-off their membership with ridiculously high dues, medical and other expenses while being paid a fortune," the president tweeted. "But the members love Trump. They look at our record economy, tax & reg cuts, military, etc. WIN!"

and this one directed at USW Local 1999 President Chuck Jones:

Trump has also issued a number of Executive Orders that attempt to change the work rules for federal employees, including making it easier to fire them. He has attempted to bust the union at the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and has gone to war with other federal unions by kicking them out of their office space and taking away their union time. Trump also tried to eliminate federal pensions but retreated from this position once it became clear that Congress would not support it.

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