Workers at a Shell plant were reportedly forced to attend an appearance by visiting speaker Donald Trump earlier this week, or forego their pay for the day. And according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, workers were also instructed that “protesting or anything viewed as resistance” would not be allowed—despite the fact that Trump’s remarks included overtly political campaigning.
The president gave a speech at Monaca Pennsylvania’s still under-construction Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical plant Tuesday. And while workers’ attendance was not mandatory, they were reportedly told that they would not be paid if they did not scan in as usual that morning. As missing Tuesday would have prevented workers from accumulating enough hours to earn the 16 hours of overtime built into their normal workweek, The Post-Gazette reported that, according to a union leader, the losses for an employee who didn’t want to attend Trump’s speech might have totaled up to $700 in regular pay, overtime pay, and assorted benefits.
A Shell spokesman told The Post-Gazette that Trump’s visit "was treated as a paid training day with a guest speaker who happened to be the president." And Trump’s appearance was a taxpayer-funded White House event, which should ostensibly be free of political campaigning. But the speech Trump gave was in the combative style of his political rallies.
During his remarks, Trump urged the workers to use the hashtags “#thirdterm” and #fourthterm” in order to “drive [the press] crazy,” and said that he should have waited until later in the election cycle to deploy the slur “Pocahontas” against Elizabeth Warren. “She’s staging a comeback on Sleepy Joe,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know who’s going to win, but we’ll have to hit Pocahontas very hard if she does win."
Trump is joking about calling off the 2020 election and serving a 3rd term during a speech to energy workers in PA that is not supposed to be a campaign event pic.twitter.com/EI9jZA1HaO— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 13, 2019
"I’m going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, 'I hope you’re going to support Trump.' OK?" Trump told workers. "And if they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job."
So employees who hoped to keep their pay for the day were not forced to attend a relatively innocuous White House event, albeit one held by an openly racist executive who’s also the only president to ever be elected while being actively disliked by a majority of Americans. Instead, they were conscripted into attending a something closer to a campaign rally. It seems that this is likely legal, as the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United increased employers’ ability to politically influence their workers. (In 2012, the Koch brothers literally sent out a list telling 45,000 employees who to vote for.)
The Monaca Shell plant has been controversial. Construction of the facility is employing thousands of workers, but will create only 600 jobs. It’s faced opposition from those who warn that the plant, which will produce millions of tons of plastic annually, will cause environmental harm.
Trump took credit for the project in his Tuesday speech. "It was the Trump administration that made it possible," he told Shell workers. "No one else. Without us, you would never have been able to do this." The company had actually announced its intention to build the plant in 2012, during the Obama administration.
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