The Republican National Committee is mailing its supporters yet another survey about President Donald Trump’s policy plans (or rather, a solicitation for donations disguised as a survey). “Do you believe the so-called ‘Mainstream Media will give President Trump fair, unbiased coverage?” Should Trump pull the U.S. out of NAFTA “to ensure American jobs are put first”? There was also a question about one of the norm-shifting policy ideas that has been eclipsed by other news: Should President Trump issue an Executive Order to suspend government unions so that his Administration can quickly move to fire employees found to be unnecessary, incompetent, or unresponsive to the American mission?
How plausible is it that the Trump administration could dissolve public sector unions? It would seem that a unilateral dismantling of federal employee unions by the boss is exactly what collective bargaining is designed to prevent. Yet all it would take for Trump to suspend the collective bargaining power of some federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Library of Congress, is an executive order.
The Trump administration could issue a blanket executive order that exempted federal agencies from protections under the Federal Labor Relations Act, Chicago-based labor lawyer Ramsin Canon told The Outline, or by targeting specific agencies.
The Republicans have had their sights set on destroying public sector unions for a long time.
“What the law actually says is that the President is empowered, through executive order, to exclude any agency or subdivision from coverage,” Canon said, “if the President determines that that agency or subdivision has intelligence, investigative, or national security functions.”
There are more than 30 federal unions, representing more than 900,000 employees. The American Federation of Government Employees, a federation of unions including the Veteran’s Administration Council, the Food Safety Inspection Service, and the National Border Patrol Council, represents approximately 670,000 federal employees, and the American Postal Workers Union represents another 200,000. Weakening them has long been a GOP goal, Canon said, citing them as a waste of money. “The Republicans have had their sights set on destroying public sector unions for a long time,” he said.
During the campaign Trump told supporters he’d get rid of the “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the public sector, but the issue is more of an RNC priority, presumably with support from labor opponent Vice President Mike Pence. Pence met with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who in 2011 passed Act 10, a bill that severely limited the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers at the state level. “We talked about what we’ve done in Wisconsin, how they may take bits and pieces of what we did with Act 10 and civil service reform and how they can apply that at the national level. It’s something they’re interested in,” Walker told Fox in February. In addition to limiting public unions’ collective bargaining ability, Act 10 made state workers pay more for their pensions and healthcare, weakening the unions that represented them.
If Trump chooses to do this, it wouldn’t be the first time a president has used his power to suspend federal unions. “George W. Bush exempted parts of the Treasury Department after September 11th,” Canon said, and Reagan famously fired nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 after they refused to call off a strike. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Republican attacks on unions aren’t limited to the executive branch, Martin Malin, professor of law and director at the Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Institute for Law and the Workplace, said. “In the wake of 9/11, we had the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The biggest stumbling block in creating DHS was the debate over what happens to the collective bargaining rights of all of these employees,” since Republicans wanted to exempt DHS employees from collective bargaining rights. Despite Republicans’ ongoing assault on labor rights, trying to eliminate unions so federal employees can be fired faster “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” Malin said. “If you totally eliminated collective bargaining, employees would still have those due process rights and their rights to appeal their terminations.”
It’s not clear what purpose this survey has aside from fundraising, if any. Some Trump supporters are convinced the RNC pockets the cash people send back without reading the survey responses, and Trump’s most ardent fans have completely dismissed the survey as an obvious fundraising tactic. Some are mailing the surveys back to the RNC with pro-Trump, anti-GOP messages enclosed instead of donations. “NOT ONE CENT UNTIL YOU SUPPORT TRUMP 100%!! FIRE RYAN & MCCONELL,” one wrote. “Unlike in 2016, I’ll be donating $0 to Republican-led election efforts until things start to change and the ‘Republican’ congress starts to go along with President Trump’s agenda,” wrote another.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has worked with the RNC to send out these weird surveys. A week after Trump won the presidential election, the Republican Party published an online survey that Fox News called a “fundraising pitch,” which asked respondents to rank the importance of issues like repealing the Affordable Care Act, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and renegotiating NAFTA before asking them for donations. In February, the Trump campaign emailed the “Mainstream Media Accountability” survey, also available online, to Trump supporters. The RNC mailed a “Trump Agenda Survey” to supporters in February that was nearly identical to the one sent out this week, as well as another one in May. Unlike earlier surveys, these appear to have been sent out only to members of the party and aren’t available online — the tipster who sent us a copy said he lives in Illinois with two registered Republicans.
Even if the survey is a cynical fundraising ploy designed to convince Republican voters they have a say in the party’s platform, as several Trump supporters have claimed, it reveals what policies the party wants to achieve — with or without Trump.