Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said he favors states with right-to-work laws because "it is better for the people" to not have to pay union dues if they don't want to.
"We've had great support from [union] workers, the people that work, the real workers, but I love the right to work," Trump said. "I like it better because it is lower. It is better for the people. You are not paying the big fees to the unions. The unions get big fees. A lot of people don't realize they have to pay a lot of fees. I am talking about the workers. They have to pay big fees to the union. I like it because it gives great flexibility to the people. It gives great flexibility to the companies."
Trump made the comments in a little-noticed interview with the South Carolina Radio Network on Wednesday, three days before that state's primary. Right-to-work laws prohibit workplace labor contracts that force workers to join a union or pay it a fee. The laws are widely believed to hobble unions by cutting off a major source of funds for them. The Palmetto State is one of 26 that have adopted such laws.
Right-to-work laws prohibit what are called "security clauses" in contracts between labor unions and employers. Unions insist on them, arguing that since federal law requires them to represent even non-members in collective bargaining, they deserve the fees. Critics such as Trump counter that they are unfair to the workers, who should get to decide for themselves whether they want to support the unions.
The comments reflect the billionaire's long, complicated relationship with organized labor, having dealt with them extensively as a real estate developer and owner of hotels and casinos. Trump has generally spoken positively of organized labor but conceded in the interview he has fought with unions numerous times. He said he learned to work with them because he had little choice.
"I can live with unions in certain locations. Don't forget if you look at places like certain Northeast areas, and even [ones] that do well, they are mostly unionized. The Teamsters Union is an example, you know, the workers, not the top people, because I fight them all the time, and I fight the unions very hard. But there are certain areas of the country where you only have unions. You don't have a right to work," he said.
Trump is currently embroiled in one fight regarding the Trump International Las Vegas Hotel where an affiliate of the service employees union Unite Here narrowly won a federally monitored election in December to represent an estimated 500 workers. The hotel, which Trump co-owns, has disputed the election results and is refusing to negotiate a labor contract. The union planned a protest to coincide with the Tuesday's Nevada GOP Caucus.
Some labor leaders clearly do not like the idea of a President Trump. In August, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the GOP field "hateful and racist." Trumka did not mention Trump by name, but the comment was in reaction to the immigration debate in the GOP primary, which Trump has dominated by proposing a wall on the Mexican border and banning any further immigration by Muslims.
Throughout the interview Trump drew a distinction between the union leaders, who he said he had sometimes had issues with, and the rank and file members, who he praised effusively and said he had a strong connection with. "The union people, the people in unions, they seem to really want to vote for me. It's been amazing," he said.
Trump has expressed similar pro-union sentiments in the past. He told Newsweek in a July interview that he had "great relationships with unions." In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, he wrote, "Is Trump a union man? Let me tell you this: Unions still have a place in American society. In fact, with the globalization craze in full heat, unions are about the only force reminding us to remember the American family."
Union leaders for the Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America and others have conceded there was enough support for Trump within their ranks to complicate their presidential endorsement process. No major union has backed Trump's White House bid.