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Opinion | When Republicans and Unions Got Along

Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, seemed like he might reverse course. In 2016, recognizing that Republicans had alienated unions and many workers, he campaigned as a champion of blue-collar workers. Many of them loved his promises to bring back jobs, but his administration, with its close ties to corporations and business lobbyists, has been vigorously anti-union and often anti-worker (except on trade, where Trump has delivered far less than he says).

Trump invited construction union leaders to the White House, but he utterly failed on delivering what they wanted most: his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would have created hundreds of thousands of construction jobs. Infuriating union leaders and many workers, the Trump administration has refused to adopt any regulations requiring employers to take specific steps to protect workers against Covid-19. Many labor experts say the Trump National Labor Relations Board has taken myriad steps to make it harder to unionize. Mr. Trump has tweeted out attacks against the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s president and several union presidents.

That one of the nation’s two major political parties has aligned itself so strongly against unions has contributed to two troubling trends: wage stagnation and increased income inequality. (Nor have the Democrats done nearly enough to address those problems.)

It is promising that Republican senators like Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley say their party needs to broaden beyond its largely white base by doing more to help workers. Thus far their proposals have made little headway, and their party remains anti-union and unsympathetic to workers — whether on raising the minimum wage, extending the $600 jobless supplement or tilting tax cuts toward the rich.

Mr. Trump and many Republican lawmakers would be in a much stronger position politically if they had truly done more to help workers and align themselves with unions. Most Republican voters support a higher minimum wage — referendums in red states like Missouri and Nebraska approved a higher minimum — but Republican lawmakers generally oppose such a move. With the success of the #RedforEd teacher strikes and a new Gallup poll showing strong public approval of unions, it would be smart for Republicans to show some real support for labor — if only for their own future electoral success.

Steven Greenhouse was a New York Times reporter for 31 years, including 19 years as its labor and workplace reporter. He is the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.”

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