The Trump administration has officially killed a regulation that would have required employers to publicly disclose more information about the union-busting consultants they hire.
The Labor Department has rescinded what is known as the “persuader rule,” a 2016 reform introduced under former President Barack Obama, the agency said Tuesday in a statement. The rule would have forced businesses to report more of the spending they steer toward anti-union advisers who help scuttle organizing drives by employees.
The agency said it was spiking the rule because it believed it violated attorney-client privilege “by requiring confidential information to be part of disclosures,” an argument that business groups had made to the Labor Department and in court.
The AFL-CIO union federation criticized the Trump administration for dumping what it described as a commonsense reform that would have brought more sunlight to a “sinister” industry. The rule had been in the works for about five years before the Obama administration released it.
“[T]he Department of Labor is siding with corporate CEOs against good government and transparency,” Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the federation, said in a statement. “They have thrown a dark veil over the shady groups employers hire to take away the freedoms of working people.”
The persuader rule had already run into legal trouble before the Trump administration took aim at it. A federal judge had issued a permanent injunction blocking it from going into effect in 2016. The Trump administration declined to appeal it.
The announcement by the Labor Department this week indicates the rule is dead for good, or until another Democratic administration tries to revive it.
Federal law requires unions and employers alike to make certain disclosures to the government about the labor-related money they spend. Employers have to report whenever they hire an anti-union lawyer or consultant ― a “persuader” ― to speak to workers and urge them not to unionize. Those disclosures go into an online database for the public, so that employees and other interested parties can see who was pulling the strings in an anti-union campaign.
But labor groups have long complained that employers don’t have to disclose the transactions so long as the lawyers and consultants don’t have direct contact with workers. Such an arrangement allows employers to pay for outside advice and talking points aimed at convincing employees not to unionize, without employees or the public any the wiser. Unions consider it a massive loophole in the law, and the Obama administration was willing to close it.
The rate of union membership in the private sector has dwindled to just 6.5 percent in the U.S., hovering near an all-time low since the government started tracking it. At the same time, employers have become more aggressive in fighting union drives, and anti-union consulting has become a lucrative business. Research has shown that employers are more likely to keep a union at bay when they run an opposition campaign and use “captive audience meetings” to convince workers not to unionize.
Last year, when the Trump administration first said it was considering rescinding the persuader rule, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez told HuffPost the rule didn’t hamstring employers in any way.
“The rule doesn’t limit what employers or consultants can say,” he said. “[It] just makes sure that workers will know who’s behind the message.”