Trump’s Anti-Labor Department

Trump has been the Anti-Labor President, all the while bombastically asserting at rallies that he’s the workers’ champion.

In building glittery enclaves like Trump Tower, luxury resorts and casinos, our shady dealmaker of a president has routinely used lies, bankruptcies, union busting and plain-old wage theft to stiff the working people who built and staffed them. So, it’s no surprise that, while bombastically asserting at rallies that he’s the workers’ champion, he’s been the Anti-Labor President, waging a savage war behind the administrative curtain to make employees wholly subservient to the profiteering whims of CEOs and rich investors.

How savage? Consider just a few of Trump’s nonstop assaults on workplace safety — direct life-and-death threats to millions of people in America’s workplaces. Trump and his appointees have done the following:

  • Eliminated the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace rule requiring federal contractors to follow safety and labor laws.
  • Repealed requirements that corporations maintain accurate injury records.
  • Commanded by executive order that agencies repeal two worker protections for every new one they adopt.
  • Directed all agencies to identify existing worker safeguards that can be labeled “burdensome” to industry and, therefore, are subject to repeal.
  • Withdrew more than a dozen rules protecting mineworkers from major hazards such as explosive coal dust and mining chemicals.
  • Halted implementation of an Obama-era rule requiring hospitals and nursing homes to adopt plans, provide staff training and stockpile equipment (respirators, masks, etc.) to protect health workers and patients from future outbreaks of airborne infectious diseases — yes, like COVID-19.
  • Abandoned an Obama initiative meant to protect workers from deadly lung disease caused by silica dust (created when “engineered stone” is fabricated and cut to make imitation marble and granite).
  • Scorned the importance of workplace safety by pointedly failing throughout his tenure to put anyone in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.
  • Gutted OSHA‘s enforcement ability by reducing its number of safety and health inspectors to the lowest level in its 49-year history. (There are so few inspectors now that it would take the agency 165 years to visit every U.S. workplace just once.) Meanwhile, 14 workers are killed on the job each day, and up to 5 million are injured each year.

This abominable governmental performance comes, of course, at the behest of our gilded president’s corporate peers — the CEOs and lobbyists who keep demanding that the financial “burden” of worker safety be removed from their multibillion-dollar balance sheets. To gauge Trump’s deep empathy for protecting profits over lives, just look at the three men he’s chosen to preside over the Labor Department, the one agency specifically intended to stand up for working stiffs.

Choice No. 1: Andrew Puzder, former CEO of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains. Puzder was notorious for exploiting low-wage fast-food workers. He has a rap sheet of employee abuses so ugly that even the GOP-controlled Senate gagged, refusing to confirm him.

Choice No. 2: Alex Acosta, a longtime Republican partisan and legal activist for corporate interests. He lasted barely two years in the Trump maelstrom. He was nominally forced to resign over the disclosure that, as a Florida prosecutor, he had cut a sweetheart deal for infamous pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein. Insiders say, however, that Acosta’s real sin in Trump’s eyes was not moving fast enough to kill worker protections enacted by Obama.

Choice No. 3: Eugene Scalia. Finally, a year ago, Trump got the kind of deregulatory wrecking ball he wanted as labor chief. Son of Antonin Scalia, the late, ultra-right Supreme Court justice — Eugene is a virulent anti-worker lawyer who had become Corporate America’s go-to attack dog in legal fights. From Boeing to Walmart, he defended blue-chip giants in cases of sexual harassment, union busting, stealing tips, killing workers and a litany of other abuses. (He even argued that UPS workers — not the corporation — should pay for essential workplace safety equipment.)

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka called Scalia’s appointment “insulting” and “dangerous.” Sure enough, this “labor” secretary has served as a tool for corporate interests to pry loose labor protections. Most recently, he’s been a pompom-waving cheerleader for cutting off working people’s unemployment benefits in order to force them back into COVID-19-infested jobs. “We want workers to work, not become dependent on the unemployment system,” he babbled in April, apparently considering collecting unemployment benefits worse than death. What about his statutory duty to protect worker interests? His aides pointed to a poster Scalia’s agency had released suggesting steps corporations can take to help employees avoid infection — “can take,” not “must take.” Seriously, a poster!

Jim Hightower