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Labor unions face increasing challenges in 2020

United Auto Workers picket signs on the ground outside of General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit, Michigan, on October 16, 2019.

Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

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Labor unions have faced tough times under the Trump administration. Heading into 2020, the Labor Department, under new secretary Eugene Scalia, is expected to continue rolling back Obama-era rules and policies that made union organizing a little easier. 

Unions finished 2019 with some momentum: the UAW held tough in a strike against GM, and the AFL-CIO won better labor protections in the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

But going forward, the Labor Department’s making it harder for unions to organize, collect dues and fight anti-union campaigns. 

Ben Zipperer at the Economic Policy Institute said there could be new limits on who can join a union. 

“The Trump administration has proposed that graduate student workers — teaching assistants and research assistants — shouldn’t be counted as employees with protected bargaining rights,” he said.

The pendulum is swinging back toward employers, said Shannon Farmer at law firm Ballard Spahr

“It’s going to make it harder for unions to get very quick elections and catch employers unprepared, which a lot of employers felt happened under the existing rules,” she said.

Last year, union membership fell to 10.5% of the U.S. workforce — half what it was in the early 1980s.  

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