WVU professor: Trump unlikely to usher in major changes to federal labor law

By John Breslin | Nov 17, 2016

MORGANTOWN -- Donald Trump’s presidency is unlikely to usher in big changes to federal labor law as the president-elect does not have a history of union bashing, according to a law professor at West Virginia University.

Some shifts in policy may be seen, but within the confines of the existing and long standing legal framework, Anne Marie Lofaso told The West Virginia Record.

Lofaso, the Arthur B. Hodges Professor of Law at WVU, was speaking following the publication of a new edition of her co-authored book on modern labor law.

She and her co-authors have surveyed changes at both state and federal level, including moves by some historically pro-union states to cut their power within the public sector.

Most notably, these include Ohio, where the issue has swung back and forth, and Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican legislature were successful in radically remaking public sector unions.

One focus of the new edition is on union density, that is the percentage of workers is much larger in the public sector, the total numbers of members is still much larger among private employees.

She and her co-authors also discuss the growth in organizing outside the National Labor Relations Act process and other matters relating to the act.

The 2016 second edition of Modern Labor Law in the Private and Public Sectors (Carolina Academic Press) reflects recent changes in labor laws in several states and new debates over policy.

Lofaso’s co-authors are Seth Harris of Cornell University, Joseph E. Slater of the University of Toledo and Charlotte Garden of the University of Seattle.

The law professor said Trump is a product of New York and the Northeast, and has never shown himself to be anti-union.

“He has been associated with a lot of things but never as a union basher,” Lofaso said. “He maybe will be a little bit more pro-business but not anti-union.”

The new president will have to work within the confines of the existing and long standing legal framework, including the National Labor Relations Act.

There may be some wiggle room, while he could signal some changes in focus with his appointments to the board, Lofaso said. “But any real changes will have to come from Congress,” she noted, adding even then decisions could be “slapped down” by the courts, where judges act very carefully when interpreting labor law.

“I only see him picking fights with the unions if political expedient,” said the law professor. “He does not think unions are evil like some conservatives who believe genuinely unions are terrible for the economy.”

Trump has also spoken about “loosening up coal,” and to the extent he can help bring back jobs, they will be union. “And Donald Trump speaking about bringing back the manufacturing sector – that is, made for unions,” Lofaso said.

The AFL-CIO is less optimistic about Trump's presidency, and that Republicans control the two houses of Congress. They fear Congress might enact a national right to work law prohibiting the requirement that employees at unionized private-sector workplaces pay union fees. 

It also is worried the Supreme Court will rule government employees cannot be required to pay union fees. 

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