Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a campaign event to announce Pence as the vice presidential running mate on, Saturday, July 16, 2016, in New York.
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While presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has tried to cast himself as the (white) workingman’s candidate, his vice presidential pick is anything but that. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is a prototypical Koch brothers Republican who has followed conservatives’ anti-worker, anti-union political playbook to a tee.
While Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on whether he thinks the minimum wage should be increased, Pence has been steadfastly opposed. As The Huffington Post reported, back in 2007, when Pence was a U.S. congressman, he argued that increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour was much too drastic. “A 41 percent increase in the minimum wage that is brought into the well of Congress without providing any relief to small business owners and family farmers is irresponsible and unwise,” Pence declared. “It will harm both the wage payer and the wage earner. An excessive increase in the minimum wage will hurt the working poor.”
In 2013, while he was governor of Indiana, Pence’s party blocked an effort to increase the state minimum wage to $8.25. Instead, Pence signed into law legislation that preempts localities from passing ordinances that require minimum wages higher than the state’s, or any other benefit, such as paid sick or family leave, that isn’t state-mandated. Such laws have become a critical tool used by Republicans in red states to block progressive policies at the local level.
Though his Republican predecessor Mitch Daniels enacted Indiana’s right-to-work law in 2012, Pence defended the law and his administration successfully upheld it before the Indiana Supreme Court in 2014.
On top of that, Pence in 2015 repealed the state’s prevailing wage law, which had established local wage levels for publicly funded construction projects. Pence’s repeal subjected construction workers on such projects to the whims of the market. “Wages on public projects should be set by the marketplace and not by government bureaucracy,” he said at the time. “By repealing the common construction wage, our state is putting hardworking taxpayers first, lessening the burden on cash-strapped local governments and schools, and opening doors of opportunity for small businesses across our state.”
Several studies have shown that prevailing wage laws do not increase government contracting costs. However, as with his opposition to minimum wage increases and support for state preemption laws, Pence was following the agenda set by such Koch-funded, anti-worker groups as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which have lobbied to repeal prevailing wage laws across the Midwest. Union leaders, construction workers, state Democrats, and even some Republicans, all rallied against Pence’s wage law repeal.
Still, the protests never blossomed into a national spectacle like union members’ occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol following Governor Scott Walker’s repeal of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public-sector workers. In fact, while Pence and Walker share the same anti-labor pedigree, Walker’s national profile (and failed presidential campaign) is tied directly to that record. However, Pence’s war on workers has for the most part flown under the national radar.
Pence’s long history of anti-worker policies is destined to run head-on into Trump’s central (if half-baked) campaign message that he is a populist champion of the working class. In the early months of the Republican primary, Trump blasted companies like the Indiana-based Carrier Corp. for outsourcing manufacturing jobs to Mexico. In April, he pledged that, as president, he would institute a 35 percent tariff on products that Carrier produces in Mexico. “They’re going to call me and say, ‘Mr. President, Carrier has decided to stay in Indiana,’" Trump then said on the stump in Indiana.
From the get-go, workers who lost their jobs at Carrier, and the union that represents them, were skeptical about Trump’s sincerity. And Trump’s decision to pick Pence as his number two only justifies that skepticism. The United Steelworkers Local 1199 that represents the Carrier workers had reportedly tried to meet with the Indiana governor to discuss the outsourcing, but to no avail. "If you want to take credit for all those jobs coming to Indiana, and we're losing jobs due to corporate greed—I've got issues with that," said Chuck Jones, of Local 1199. "[Pence] and Trump would be a hell of a team. All we need is a circus tent up—a couple of elephants—hell of a circus going on."
Trumpeting his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump has made trade protectionism a central tenet of his campaign. However, as governor of Indiana Pence has voiced support for the deal, writing that “[r]educing tariffs and other trade barriers so that Indiana businesses can enjoy increased market access and fairly compete on the world stage is something that Congress must do."
As Jim Tankersley points out in The Washington Post, this dissonance on such a critical policy point will surely lead to an awkward dance between Trump and Pence during the general election.
By tapping Pence for VP, Trump has given ammunition to critics who say that his pro-worker posturing is nothing but a charade. With Pence as his running mate, Trump will find it harder to straddle both sides of the issues important to working Americans. Instead, Trump is embracing as his running mate the embodiment of an aggressively anti-worker far-right campaign that is, piece by piece, working to disarm the labor movement of its power.
“Everything Donald Trump says shows he is desperate to be working people’s friend, but everything Donald Trump does proves he is our enemy,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “Mike Pence once again proves Donald Trump’s true priority of assaulting the rights of working people and helping corporate CEOs line their pockets.”