Labor Day will soon be upon us, and while it is important to celebrate the American workforce, we must also unpack the anti-worker campaign being carried out by the Trump administration. When he was running for office, President Trump said that, if elected, “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” That statement was false, as the following list (which isn’t even comprehensive) demonstrates.
The list combines executive orders that have been signed and are being implemented, legislation that Trump supports that has been passed by the Republican majority in Congress, and a strategy of delay-and-ignore regarding labor safety, standards and rights. Yes, a lot of what follows is down in the weeds in terms of labor policy. But the broader theme is crystal clear and mustn’t be lost: When it comes to supporting the jobs and living standards of many of the voters who helped elect him, Trump is not simply failing. He is actively working to make people’s lives worse.
Undermining workers’ pay and financial security:
* The Obama-era overtime rule was intended to take effect Dec. 1, 2016, but it was senselessly blocked by a federal judge before it had a chance to kick in. Instead of fighting for this much-needed update to an important labor standard (the salary threshold below which workers must get overtime pay is 56 percent below its 1975 level, after adjusting for inflation), the Trump Labor Department has begun a process to revise the rule to make it cover fewer workers. Millions of workers can be expected to continue working longer hours at lower pay than they otherwise would be if the Trump administration undertook a full-throated defense of the rule.
* Another Obama-era rule, the “fiduciary rule,” would have required financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interest (instead of choosing investments that provide the advisers with the most fees). Only 15 days into his presidency, Trump instructed the Department of Labor to review this rule, a tactic that delayed its initial implementation from April to June. The heart of the rule — the part that “gives the rule its teeth,” as the New York Times describes — may now be delayed at least a year and a half, from January 2018 to July 2019. The delay in initial implementation alone is estimated to have cost savers a combined $3.7 billion over the course of their retirement, as their savings are funneled into less-rewarding investments.
* The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for eight years and is now worth 25 percent less than it was 50 years ago. While 29 states plus the District and dozens of cities have taken it upon themselves to raise their wage floors, many states are still tied to the federal minimum wage, which is sorely in need of an increase. And while the population of minimum wage earners has become older, more well-educated and more likely to be parents, Trump hasn’t said a word about the need to restore their wage floor since he took office.
Threatening worker safety:
* Approximately 62,000 workers have been exposed to beryllium at work, and they were supposed to gain safeguards that would help protect them from lung disease this year. But the Trump administration delayed these safeguards from being put into place, and the Department of Labor is now proposing to partially roll them back. They’ve announced that they will not enforce the new safeguards for shipyard and construction workers while they work on their proposed changes.
* Enforcement of a rule that would have reduced about 2 million construction workers’ exposure to crystalline silica — which has been linked to cancer and kidney disease, among other health problems — was supposed to begin in June 2017; the enforcement date has now been pushed back to at least Sept. 23.
* A rule that would have made employers submit information on work-related injuries and illnesses to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and would have prohibited employers from retaliating against workers who report injuries and illnesses was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1; it now won’t take effect until at least December.
* The Trump administration has also pushed back the effective date of a rule that requires mine operators to identify potential hazards and inform miners of those hazards before sending miners to work in a given area. As with the other delays on this list, it’s possible that the holdup will only be temporary, but it’s more likely that the delay is intended as only the first step in a process aimed at preventing the rule from ever being implemented.
Going after unions and labor laws:
* The Obama administration implemented a common-sense rulemaking it harder for companies that violate labor laws to get federal contracts. The Trump administration and the Republican majority used a legislative tactic (the Congressional Review Act) to block the rule. Now federal contractors do not have to worry that breaking wage and hour, safety and health, or collective bargaining laws will impinge on their ability to win bids paid for by taxpayer dollars.
* When employers hire anti-union consultants, which they often do, both the employers and their consultants are supposed to report how much money they spend on their anti-union campaigns. There’s a loophole in the law, however, that allows them to avoid full reporting of such activities. The Obama administration tried to close that loophole, but their “persuader rule” got tied up in court and team Trump is now trying to repeal the rule outright.
* The Trump administration is cutting funding for the agency that is supposed to enforce the rights of unions — the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — while ramping up funding for the agency that goes to bat for employers — the Office of Labor-Management Standards.
* The Trump administration overtly supports so-called “right-to-work” laws, state laws that disallow unions from requiring membership dues, thus undermining their ability to survive. Shortly after the president took office, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said: “The president believes in right to work. He wants to give workers and companies the flexibility to do what’s in the best interest for job creators.” Yet extensive research shows that these laws, far from granting flexibility to workers and helping state economies, only serve to weaken unions and lower the pay of workers in states that have them relative to workers in states that don’t. Such laws pose a serious threat to workers’ ability to have a voice in the workplace, as well as the myriad other benefits that unions bring to union members and nonunion workers alike.
Attacking workers through the budget and government agencies:
* Trump administration budget and health-care proposals would whack many of the services that working people rely on, hacking away at worker training programs, transportation assistance, child care and affordable housing. And of course, the president has aggressively, though thus far unsuccessfully, advocated for reduced access to affordable health coverage, a surefire way to make it harder for people with health conditions to secure stable employment. If these approaches become law, the negative consequences for workers will be devastating, with programs such as job training cut by two-fifths in one year alone and millions of low-wage workers losing their health insurance coverage.
* Trump executive orders have begun the process for eliminating agency programs and regulations by assigning perceived economic costs to them and discounting the benefits they provide. That means that programs and regulations protecting not just labor rights but also the environment (food, air and water quality, for example) could be on the chopping block. A bill moving through Congress that Trump would likely sign would assist with that deregulatory process.
We will continue to track these developments (and our work is made much easier by the invaluable Perkins Project run by the Economic Policy Institute). It is, at this point, no great insight to recognize Trump’s hypocrisy. But on Labor Day, it is nevertheless essential to document the damage his administration is doing to the American workforce.