Labor spotlight

Trump deregulation efforts hurt workers

President Donald Trump cuts the red tape draped over several huge stacks of regulations to illustrate the rollbacks at a Dec. 14 White House news conference.

Workers’ health, safety and pay have all been casualties of Donald Trump’s rollback of government regulation, new research finds.

The president’s actions benefit “corporate interests and those at the top of the income distribution at the expense of low- and middle-income workers,” wrote Celine McNicholas, Heidi Shierholz and Marni von Wilpert in a report released in January by the Economic Policy Institute’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages.

One of his first actions as president, Trump said, was to order that for every new regulation, two old ones be eliminated. Instead, “for every one new regulation, we have eliminated 22,” Trump boasted at a December press conference.

In fact, the administration so far has formally revoked 67 rules, withdrawn 635 planned regulations, put 244 proposed regulations on “inactive” status and delayed 700 regulations, according to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

“The Trump administration has had a focus on deregulation, and really on demonizing regulations of any kind, making them the cause of any economic ill,” said McNicholas, EPI’s labor counsel. But “simply rolling things back without considering their benefit is irresponsible.”

Workers’ health and safety is hurt by the rollback of a rule requiring employers to keep accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses, which then would be investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Failure to keep these records means workers, employers and OSHA can’t learn from past mistakes and prevent the same injuries or illnesses from happening again, the EPI report said, and gives employers who fail to maintain records or who falsify them “a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

OSHA also is rolling back, at least temporarily, protections for workers exposed to beryllium and beryllium compounds, which have been linked to lung cancer, and is delaying a rule that protects workers from exposure to harmful silica dust, which has been linked to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The Trump administration has also rolled back a rule that allowed workers to know when their employer hired outside anti-union consultants during a union election. The rollback of that rule will affect workers’ rights to organize and join a union.

Wages also have been targeted. The Trump administration made clear in legal proceedings in October 2017 that it would not support the Department of Labor’s updated “overtime pay” rule, which would have raised the salary threshold below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. The Obama-era regulation has been blocked in the courts by corporate interests.

Workers’ savings also are at risk. Trump blocked Department of Labor rules that help local governments that create IRA programs for about 55 million private-sector workers who do not have a workplace retirement plan. Local payroll-deduction savings initiatives encourage workers to participate in IRA programs and save for retirement, EPI says, and without them, many workers would not be able to afford retirement.

The Department of Labor also has implemented an 18-month delay for key provisions of the “fiduciary” rule, which requires financial advisers to provide retirement plan advice that is not tainted by conflicts of interest.

Pay equity is also taking a hit. The Trump administration has put on hold a rule that would have required companies with 100 or more employees to report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission what they pay workers by job category, sex, race and ethnicity in order to identify and remedy pay disparities.

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule required federal contractors to disclose workplace violations of federal labor laws and executive orders that address wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family medical leave and civil rights protections. It directed that such violations be considered when awarding federal contracts. The rollback of the rule leaves no effective way to ensure that contractors who violate basic labor and employment laws are not awarded federal contracts, EPI says.

Republicans, McNicholas says, have been successful at delaying government regulation through litigation. It may be time to try to beat them at their own game. Many progressive organizations, she says, are exploring ways to use the courts to fend off deregulatory efforts.

“This is part of the reason unions are so important,” said McNicholas. “They are often the ones who, on behalf of working people, challenge an administration when it runs afoul of the regulatory process.”

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