President Trump frequently compliments himself on the American employment picture. “Best economy & jobs EVER,” he tweeted this past June on his 500th day in office. No doubt he’ll say something similar as he makes note of Labor Day. He’ll probably boast about bringing back coal and steel jobs, too. But one thing Trump almost certainly won’t mention: His administration is presiding over the biggest decline in worker rights most of us have seen in our lifetimes.
Whenever there is a choice to be made, Trump favors the perceived needs of the plutocratic class at the expense of almost anyone who earns a paycheck. Trump claims he’s eliminating “job killing regulations,” but, in fact, he’s simply lining the pockets of the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the health and wealth of everyone else.
“It’s about giving power to employers and hurting workers,” says David Madland, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the contributors to a database the progressive think tank maintains to keep track of every action Trump’s taken to hurt worker rights. It currently has 43 entries.
Workplace safety is decreasing: The Trump administration is proposing taking apart enhanced safety standards for offshore oil and gas production adopted after the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers. For all his attention on coal-mining jobs, Trump and his administration are looking into ways to dismantle regulations meant to protect those toiling in the industry from black lung, and they are taking action to make mine safety inspections less rigorous. OSHA is asking for less detail from employers in accident, injury and illness reports. Teenagers aren’t spared: The Trump administration is in the process of rolling back child labor laws that strictly limit the amount of time anyone under the age of 18 is permitted to perform such dangerous work as roofing, or using chain saws or meat slicers.
Financial protections are being undone as well. Obama-era rules meant to encourage pay equity are on the scrap heap. The Trump White House killed a mandate that financial advisers assisting clients with retirement planning must act in their clients’ best interests. An increase in the salary thresholds for overtime, put on hold by a federal court in the last days of Obama’s presidency, is supposedly being reworked so it will cover far fewer people than the original version.
Don’t expect help from the courts. The Janus decision, which demands public-sector unions ask those they represent for their permission before charging them for such services as negotiating raises, almost certainly decimated the finances of government unions. That ruling would have gone the other way but for Neil M. Gorsuch, appointed to a seat by Trump after Senate Republicans refused to vote on Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The same is likely true of the 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which permitted employers to insist hires sign away their rights to turn to the courts in the event of disputes. As for Brett M. Kavanaugh, the talking points the White House put together when his nomination was announced emphasized that he “protects American businesses from job-killing regulation.”
In fact, stopping job killers is almost always Trump’s rationale. He claims that he’s “getting rid of the job-killing regulations”, that “we’ve eliminated record number of job-killing regulations” and that he would “remove every job-killing regulation we can find.” It’s one of the stated reasons for why he wants to undo both the Clean Power Plan and Obama-era rules that would have increased fuel efficiency standards.
All this is transparently bogus. Business prospers best when workers are prospering too. “In the short run, some in some business will do better, but in the long run, this really undermines the economy because it hollows out the middle class … which is the basis for all business development and business growth,” Madland says. “The whole country becomes poorer, more unequal and more unstable.”
Is there a way forward for workers? Of course: Vote. The wildcat teacher strikes in a number of red states earlier this year not only led to increased wages but results at the polls. As New York magazine pointed out earlier this week, the vast majority of Oklahoma Republican legislators who voted against a tax increase on fracking to fund increased paychecks for public school teachers will not be on the ballot this November, many losing their primary races. And then in Missouri, voters recently overturned a right-to-work law enacted by state legislators.
But for now Trump remains president, and in control of a vast federal regulatory structure. So on this Labor Day, I would ask the Trump administration to take a moment to think about the needs of workers, which are, in fact, the needs of business as well. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. As I was writing this piece, news broke of another possible entry for the Center for American Progress list. The Trump administration is attempting to stop previously promised raises for civilian federal employees, claiming budget concerns. Somehow the deficit wasn’t a problem when it came to handing out tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. I can’t imagine why. Can you?