(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has won praise from unions for ditching free-trade talks and slapping tariffs on imported goods. But if there’s one issue this summer that has united the house of labor against him, it’s the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appellate judge whom Trump nominated this week to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, has provoked swift condemnation from organized labor. They fear Kavanaugh could push a court that is already inhospitable to unions further to the right and overturn longstanding precedents on union organizing and collective bargaining rights.
“Working families cannot tolerate another corporate apologist on the U.S. Supreme Court, fawning over CEOs and stomping on the rights of workers,” Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said in a statement. “Kavanaugh’s opinions show him to be a rogue jurist far to the right” of Kennedy, who was often the swing vote in 5-4 decisions.
Organized labor has already suffered a few body blows from the high court this year. Last month, the court ruled government employees have a constitutional right not to pay union fees, handing a victory to right-to-work advocates and threatening to thin the ranks of public-sector unions. In another 5-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority said employers could bar workers from class action lawsuits as a condition of employment.
There are signs the court may use the mandatory fee decision, authored by Justice Samuel Alito as a launchpad to further weaken organized labor, said Sharon Block, executive director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.
Alito’s opinion also describes allowing unions to bargain on behalf of a whole workforce -- a cornerstone of the U.S. collective-bargaining system -- as an infringement on the rights of workers who decline to join. That suggests the court’s conservatives are open to questioning whether exclusive union representation itself is constitutional, said Block. Meanwhile, anti-union groups are also seeking to claw back massive sums in fees going back decades in separate cases working their way through the courts.
“Even though Kennedy was a consistent vote against workers’ interests, Kavanaugh might be a force that makes things even worse,” Block said. “Not because his vote is any different than Kennedy, but this willingness to be sort of an activist in an anti-worker way.”
Appeal to Workers
Trump built his presidential campaign around an appeal to blue-collar America, decrying the loss of manufacturing jobs and pledging to bring them back by being a tougher negotiator on trade and investing in infrastructure. He won 43 percent of voters in union households in the 2016 presidential election, three points higher than Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, according to the AFL-CIO’s exit polls of its membership.
He has won plaudits from the United Steelworkers for imposing steel and aluminum tariffs, though the union decried his decision not to exempt Canada. Both the Steelworkers and the the United Auto Workers have voiced support for his investigation into vehicle and auto-part imports on national security grounds, a move that has been roundly criticized by auto industry trade groups.
The steelworkers were part of a chorus of unions, from janitors to flight attendants, to condemn Kavanaugh as anti-labor.
“The current Supreme Court has shown that it will side with greedy corporations over working people whenever given the chance, and this nominee will only skew that further,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement released during Trump’s press conference announcing Kavanaugh’s selection.
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