President Trump’s Policies Are Hurting American Workers
On the campaign trail and in office, President Donald Trump has promised to fight for the American worker. Yet since he took office in January 2017, President Trump’s actions have repeatedly betrayed this promise. His administration has rolled back protections to ensure that American workers can be safe on the job, receive fair pay and benefits, save for retirement, access high-quality training programs, have a voice in their workplace, and not be discriminated against at work.
To hold President Trump accountable, the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s American Worker Project is tracking actions the president takes to weaken job protections for Americans.
Our list includes legislation and orders signed by the president; procedural changes and regulations enacted or proposed by his administration; and official statements of policy. The list does not include political nominations and appointments of individuals with records of enacting anti-worker policies, since these actions happened outside their role in the administration.
This column documents anti-worker actions that occurred from the start of the Trump administration until April 1, 2019. Going forward, CAP Action will produce additional columns and op-eds to document how the president has broken his promises to workers. Policies below are listed according to when they were first announced, with the newest actions listed first. Previously published sections contain updates with new information and clarifications.
1. Proposing a 2020 budget that is bad for workers
Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, released in March 2019, threatens workers by slashing funding for programs that protect workers’ rights and access to services. Among other things, the proposal recommends cutting the Department of Labor’s (DOL) budget by nearly 10 percent. Despite Trump’s promises to help manufacturing workers, the proposal actually takes resources away from these communities by eliminating the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a public-private partnership that helps small- and medium-sized manufacturers compete. The budget also recommends again slashing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—an important nutrition program for low-wage workers—this time by 33 percent.
2. Shutting down the government and harming federal workers and government contractors
In December 2018, President Trump refused to sign a short-term spending bill, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, in an attempt to force funding for a wall between the United States and Mexico. This led to the longest partial federal shutdown in U.S. history; for a month, 800,000 federal employees were denied paychecks. Many government employers, such as air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, were forced to work without pay. In the end, the 34-day shutdown delayed $9.5 billion worth of compensation to hundreds of thousands of federal employees, hitting people of color particularly hard, as they made up 228,000 of those furloughed or working without pay. The shutdown also delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to almost 10,000 companies that contract with the federal government, putting private sector workers at risk as well. Critically, many employees of federal contractors—particularly low-wage workers—were not paid during the shutdown. While Democratic leaders, as well as many Republicans, in both the House and Senate want provisions to ensure that contract workers are paid, the administration has refused to support back pay for federal contractors, according to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). Trump also tried unsuccessfully to freeze the federal employee salaries for 2019.
3. Weakening payday lending standards
On February 6, 2019, the Trump administration proposed revising a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that protects low-income customers from predatory payday lending practices. Among other things, the draft regulation would repeal protections in the 2017 rule that require lenders to consider clients’ “ability to pay” when issuing loans, as well as prohibit them from charging interest equaling more than 6 percent of a client’s income. Trump’s new proposal rescinds the rule’s mandatory underwriting requirements, which oblige lenders to review clients’ basic documentation before issuing loans. The average payday loan, which carries a 391 percent annual percentage rate (APR) after interest and fees, threatens to put borrowers into cycles of debt.
4. Encouraging firms to classify employees as independent contractors with few rights
On January 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that airport SuperShuttle drivers who were seeking to unionize at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport are independent contractors, rather than employees, and therefore do not have the right to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The decision overturned an Obama-era test that took into account workers’ “economic dependency” on their employer when determining whether those workers should be classified as employees or contractors. The NLRB ruling will further empower businesses at the expense of the millions of employees who are currently misclassified as independent contractors.
5. Making it harder for workers to communicate through modern and convenient means
In August 2018, the NLRB invited interested parties to file “briefs on whether the Board should adhere to, modify, or overrule,” its 2014 Purple Communications decision, which allowed employees who have access to an employer email system for work purposes to use that email system during nonworking times for activities such as union organizing and discussions of employment conditions. The board also invited comments on what standards should be used for “employer-owned computer resources other than email.” In September, a brief by the NLRB’s general counsel recommended that the board abandon the 2014 decision and revert to a previous standard that allowed employers to prohibit the use of their email systems.
6. Loosening wage protections for tipped workers
On February 15, 2019, the DOL issued formal guidance loosening the Obama-era “80/20 rule.” Under that rule, employers could not claim the tip credit for employees who spent more than 20 percent of their time on nontip-producing activities such as rolling silverware or cleaning tables. Under the new guidance, however, there is no limit on how much time employees can spend on side work, as long as those nontipped duties are considered “core” to a worker’s tipped position and occur alongside their tipped duties. While federal law requires tipped workers to receive the full minimum wage once their tips are included, wage theft is rampant in the restaurant industry, and research shows that workers earning the tipped minimum wage are far more likely to live in poverty. Loosening the 80/20 rule would allow more workers to be classified as tipped—rather than untipped—workers and could further exacerbate these problems.
7. Exempting seasonal workers from federal minimum wage hikes
On September 25, 2018, the Labor Department unveiled a final rule that would exempt certain seasonal workers who guide tourists through federal parks from a 2014 federal minimum wage hike. In 2014, former President Barack Obama ordered federal contractors to pay workers an hourly minimum wage of $10.10, adjusted for inflation. As a result, the minimum wage for contract workers has increased to $10.60 per hour. The new rule, however, allows outdoor recreation outfitters who receive commercial permits through the Bureau of Land Management to pay some workers the lower federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
8. Proposing regulations that could weaken radiation protections
In April 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule inviting comments on strengthening the “transparency of the assumptions underlying dose response models,” which experts worry could weaken regulation of radiation exposure. The “transparency rule” could make it harder for the agency to use the linear no-threshold (LNT) models on which many radiation protection standards rely. While the EPA claims that the regulation is “unrelated to radiation,” the press release of the rule has fueled debate. A physicist who has worked with the National Academy of Sciences noted that the EPA proposal could cause “increases in chemical and radiation exposures in the workplace, home and outdoor environment.”
9. Opening the door to discrimination against transgender workers
A report by The New York Times in October 2018 revealed that a memo circulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aimed to define gender as immutable at birth, attempting to revoke sex discrimination protections for roughly 1.4 million transgender Americans. Title IX prohibits sex and gender discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. Using this definition could open up transgender workers at educational institutions to gender discrimination, as well as undermine protections against discrimination in health programs and activities that receive federal funding, since Title IX’s definition of sex discrimination informs the definition of sex in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
10. Making it easier to buy out employee pensions
In March 2019, the Treasury Department issued a notice that allows pension plans to buy out current retirees for a one-time lump sum, reversing its 2015 Obama-era guidance that effectively banned the practice. Advocates worry that the move will harm seniors—who may be tempted by large sums of money—by reducing their retirement security. While the lump sum may seem like a lot of money in the moment, a professor at Drexel University estimates that people will lose a significant portion of their pension value by taking the lump sum.
11. Relaxing OSHA’s injury and illness reporting standards
On January 25, 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule to rescind an Obama-era regulation that required large employers or employers of workers in dangerous occupations to submit detailed logs of workplace injuries and illnesses for OSHA to publish online. Under the new rule, employers are no longer required to submit detailed injury and illness data to OSHA, though they do have to submit yearly summaries of the data. The new rule will limit the ability of OSHA to identify trends in workplace injuries and inform the regulations and protections with real data. Additionally, some lawmakers and worker advocates have questioned OSHA’s decision to finalize the measure during the partial federal government shutdown, a time when more-urgent projects went underfunded.
12. Rolling back child labor laws
On September 27, 2018, the Labor Department released a proposal to roll back regulations that prevent 16- and 17-year-olds working in nursing homes and hospitals from operating power-driven patient lifts without supervision. The comment period for the rule was later extended to December 11, 2018. Teens who use the lifts are in danger of musculoskeletal injuries, according to a 2011 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal agency charged with conducting research and making recommendations to prevent work-related injuries. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “nursing homes have the highest injury and illness rate of any industry.”
A complaint filed by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) on behalf of the Service Employees International Union and the Child Labor Coalition contends that the DOL violated the Information Quality Act by issuing misleading information, such as a seven-year-old survey with fewer than two dozen respondents, when it proposed to roll back child labor protections in the health care industry.
In addition, several congressional lawmakers sent a request to the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General requesting that it investigate whether the department followed proper procedures in rescinding the child labor rules in nursing homes. Inspector General Scott Dahl announced that his office is conducting a broad review of the agency’s rule-making process that will include an audit of this rulemaking as well as the agency’s previous attempt to weaken protections for tipped workers.
13. Erecting barriers for home care workers who want to support their union
On July 12, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that threatens to further weaken public sector unions. The proposed rule would prevent independent providers of home care services from authorizing automatic dues deductions from the payments they receive from the state Medicaid authorities. This move will prevent hundreds of thousands of union members from easily paying their dues, making it more difficult for workers to join together in strong unions to improve their working conditions and the quality of care. The Trump administration also pushed for this regulatory change to go through with little analysis or deliberation, permitting just 30 days for comments, rather than the typical 60 days. Home care workers are in high demand, with more than 650,000 people on waitlists for home- and community-based Medicaid services. A survey by the National Employment Law Project found that unionized home care workers make about $2 per hour more than their nonunion counterparts. These raises have been associated with reduced turnover in the home care workforce.
14. Proposing an inadequate family leave plan
Over the past two years, the president’s adviser and daughter, Ivanka Trump, has consistently supported inadequate, sham paid leave plans. She published an op-ed on July 11, 2018, calling for bipartisan paid family leave legislation. But then one month later, she teamed up with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to unveil a proposal for paid parental-only leave that was wholly inadequate. The plan—which Ivanka supported as a good option—would force workers to cut into their Social Security benefits to fund their paid parental leave. Under this plan, workers must sacrifice their own retirement security to take paid leave for the birth or adoption of a new child. The Urban Institute estimates that under this plan, a worker that takes 12 weeks of parental leave at half their usual pay would have to postpone their retirement by 25 weeks; each two-month paid leave would reduce average lifetime retirement benefits by 3 percent. Because women are still more likely to take parental leave than men, this plan may have a significant adverse impact on women’s ability to retire. As it stands today, women of retirement age are 80 percent more likely to live in poverty than are men in the same age group. Furthermore, the plan ignores that workers also need to be able to take leave to care for an ill family member or their own serious health problem. A more comprehensive paid family and medical leave policy would ensure that workers have the ability to care for their children, themselves, and their loved ones without sacrificing retirement security, and would actually provide women and their families with real economic security.
15. Attacking federal workers and their unions
In May 2018, President Trump issued a series of executive orders that roll back protections for federal employees and their unions. One executive order, issued on May 25, cuts the amount of “official time” workers can use to conduct their union responsibilities. These include vital functions such as assisting co-workers in the grievance process. Moreover, Trump’s executive orders restrict access to union resources by ordering unions to pay rent for the office spaces they set up in federal buildings to assist their members. The Trump administration furthered its restrictions on public sector unions by issuing a notice that it would bring back a George W. Bush-era regulation that imposed burdensome financial disclosures on state and regional public sector union offices. By reducing the access workers have to their union and further taxing their resources, these executive actions weaken the collective voice of federal employees.
Trump’s executive orders also make it easier to fire federal workers. Specifically, the orders limit the time period that employees have to improve their performance to 30 days, direct agencies to use performance rather than seniority when determining who to lay off, and limit the kinds of action that workers may appeal through the grievance process or limit in a collective bargaining agreement.
On August 25, 2018, a federal district judge ruled that key provisions of these executive orders violate federal law, which stipulates that issues such as termination policy must be negotiated between federal employees’ unions and their employers. The Trump administration appealed the decision to the federal circuit court in September 2018.
16. Undermining the NLRB’s ability to protect workplace democracy
NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb, appointed by President Trump last year, has begun to implement a plan to “streamline” several of the independent federal agency’s processes, as outlined in a March 14, 2018, memo. Among other things, Robb plans to change the procedure by which the board processes cases—changes that according to the NLRB Professional Association would reduce the number of cases the NLRB can process and make it more difficult for workers to file charges against employers that violate their right to organize. One part of the plan involves shifting decisions on disputes raised by union campaigns to district offices, rather than regional offices. Robb had previously also expressed interest in launching a major restructuring of the NLRB, whereby directors of regional field offices would be placed under the command of district directors. Some board members have raised concerns that the centralization of power would impede the ability of regional offices to conduct their investigations. In the 2018 fiscal year, the NLRB received 18,871 charges of unfair labor practices.
17. Forgiving employers who violate wage and hour laws
On March 6, 2018, the Department of Labor announced the Payroll Audit Independent Determination program, which allows employers who violate wage and hour laws to avoid paying penalties by volunteering to investigate themselves. Under this program, businesses calculate the back wages they owe their workers and with DOL supervision pay the money owed without any interest, liquidated damages, or penalties.
Eleven state attorneys general sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to voice their criticism of the program. The letter objects to the omission of interest payment in the remedy, saying that it amounts to an interest-free loan from workers to employers. Furthermore, employers are not required to verify that they are not currently under investigation by state authorities before enrolling—they simply must be unaware of such investigations. Finally, the attorneys general expressed concern that the program would allow employers to pressure workers to waive their right to remedies under stricter state laws as a condition of receiving the back pay to which they are entitled under law.
18. Weakening workplace safety protections for offshore drilling workers
On September 28, 2018, the Trump administration finalized regulations on offshore oil and gas production safety systems that would weaken 2016 protections finalized in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The rollback eliminates a requirement for third-party inspections of safety measures and equipment, makes key safeguards optional, and allows for industry self-policing.
19. Signing a tax bill into law that tilts the tax system further against workers
On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed a tax bill into law, giving massive permanent tax cuts to corporations and only temporary cuts to individuals’ income taxes. In 2027, this will allow the top 1 percent to capture more than 80 percent of the tax cuts, while a majority of families will actually pay more. In fact, due to these corporate tax cuts, in 2019, foreign investors will receive $5 billion more than every working- and middle-class American household in the states that voted for President Trump, combined. The tax bill also provides billions of dollars in cuts to owners of pass-through businesses, which will result in wage earners paying higher taxes than self-employed business owners with comparable earnings. Analysis from Adam Looney at the Brookings Institution finds that an employee earning $65,000 per year would end up with 4 percent less after-tax income than a self-employed person earning the same amount.
20. Limiting workers’ ability to decide with whom they want to form a union
Since 2011, workers wanting to form a union have had more power to set the boundaries of their own bargaining unit—or group of employees represented by a union. If employers contested workers’ decisions, they were required to prove that any proposed additions to the unit shared an “overwhelming community of interest.” This protected workers’ rights to join together in a group of their own choosing. On December 15, 2017, President Trump’s NLRB appointees sided with corporate interests and overruled the 2011 decision, making it easier for employers to manipulate bargaining units by adding in workers they feel would oppose the union.
21. Making it harder for workers to bargain with the companies that influence their working conditions and hold corporations liable for wage theft
On December 14, 2017, President Trump’s NLRB appointees joined a 3-2 decision that will make it harder for workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. The previous joint employer standard—put forth in the Browning-Ferris Industries case—was a little-used but powerful tool that helped ensure that the growing number of U.S. workers employed by temporary help agencies, labor subcontractors, and franchises were able to exercise their right to form a union. While roughly 16 percent of American workers are now employed in these and other sorts of precarious work, they are often subject to poor working conditions. Under the NLRB’s ruling in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, it will be easier for corporations that influence their workers’ terms and conditions to shirk the responsibility to bargain. This decision was vacated on February 26, 2018, after NLRB Inspector General David Berry found that member William Emanuel broke President Trump’s own ethics rules. After failing to weaken the standard through its adjudicatory powers, the NLRB released draft regulations in September 2018 to roll back joint employer protections; the draft rule “is almost verbatim the same standard articulated in Hy-Brand,” according to former NLRB member Sharon Block.
In April 2019, the Labor Department proposed a rule to shield corporate franchisers and companies that rely on outsourced labor from wage theft liability. Yet low wages and rampant workplace law violations are all too common among companies that outsource their labor. Looking at the heavily franchised fast-food industry, a 2016 review conducted by Bloomberg found at least one violation of minimum wage and overtime laws in 75 percent of investigations of fast-food restaurants conducted by the Department of Labor.
22. Beginning the process to roll back rules that modernized union elections
In 2015, the NLRB implemented rules that reduced unnecessary delays in the union election process and made it easier for unions to contact eligible voters. Previously, it could take months, or even years, for workers who had petitioned for an election to get to a vote. However, on December 14, 2017, Trump’s appointees to the NLRB joined a 3-2 decision to start the process of rolling back the rules by issuing a request for information on how they should be changed. One dissenting member of the NLRB called the move “a transparent effort to manufacture a justification for revising the Rule.” Indeed, while working for the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Trump appointee Marvin Kaplan drafted a bill to overturn these election modernization rules.
23. Urging the Supreme Court to undermine public sector unions
On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with corporate interests and the Trump administration by banning fair share fees for public sector unions in a 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. In a December 6, 2017, amicus brief, the Trump administration backed union opponents who asked the Supreme Court to overturn a unanimous 40-year-old precedent. This was a reversal for the Office of the Solicitor General, which, in 2015, argued that public sector unions should be able to charge these fees, which cover certain costs related to collective bargaining and contract administration. Eliminating these fees weakens unions by forcing them to provide services for free to nonmembers. Public sector unions are especially important to the economic security of women and workers of color, who make up 58 percent and 30.9 percent, respectively, of unionized local and state government workers. Research from the Economic Policy Institute finds that public sector workers in states without these fees face a larger pay penalty for working for state and local governments.
24. Proposing to make it easier for employers to pocket their employees’ tips
On December 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced a proposed rule that would grant employers full control over the tips that their workers receive. Under the rule, which would reverse protections instituted by the Obama administration, owners of restaurants and other businesses would be able to legally pocket the tips given to their workers so long as tipped workers earned the minimum wage. According to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute, this bill could result in $5.8 billion in tips going to business owners, not workers. After news broke that the DOL had conducted its own economic impact statement showing that the rule could lead to widespread tip stealing but later struck that information from the draft rule, Congress voted to prohibit restaurant owners from sharing server tips with supervisors, managers, and themselves. Tip pooling is still permitted between front-of-house staff and nontipped workers such as cooks. This spring, Bloomberg released information showing that Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of Labor Acosta had both advocated for the analysis to be pulled from the rule over the wishes of the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
25. Threatening working families’ access to health care
Despite the repeated defeat of bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Trump is using his administrative power to sabotage working families’ access to marketplace coverage. On October 12, 2017, Trump announced the end of cost-sharing reduction payments, which help reduce deductibles and copays for low-income Americans. As part of his tax reform, President Trump later signed into law a repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will raise individual market premiums by 10 percent and result in 13 million fewer people having health insurance coverage by 2027.
The Trump administration issued a rule on June 21, 2018, that would further weaken the individual market and undermine the ACA by expanding access to association health plans that do not need to comply with ACA consumer protections. A group of state attorneys general has sued the federal government to overturn the association health plan rule, arguing that it will promote the use of substandard plans and increase the cost of health insurance for consumers who want or need ACA-compliant plans. Similarly, the Trump administration issued a rule in August extending availability of short-term plans, which do not need to include coverage of essential health benefits and may be denied to people with pre-existing conditions. According to the Center for American Progress, the repeal of the individual mandate and expansion of short-term limited duration plans will result in a typical 40-year-old who purchases insurance in the marketplace paying about $970 more for health insurance in 2019 than they would have absent these actions.
These actions are part of continued efforts to destabilize the ACA markets. After cutting the 2018 open enrollment period in half and slashing funding for outreach by 90 percent in 2017, the Trump administration announced steep cuts in navigator funding for 2018 to 2019. This funding is intended to support individuals looking to understand their insurance options.
26. Denying overtime to millions of working people
The Trump administration derailed an Obama-era protection to extend overtime protections to 4.2 million Americans. In a June 30, 2017, court filing, the Department of Justice announced that it would revisit the Obama administration’s expansion of overtime protections to workers earning less than $47,000 per year. Three weeks later, the administration released a request for information that suggested that it may issue new overtime regulations to cover far fewer workers. In September 2017, the DOL dropped its appeal of a 5th Circuit court case that blocked the overtime rule nationwide. The next month, the DOL filed a new appeal but asked the court to hold the appeal while the DOL goes through the rulemaking process to determine a new salary level. In March 2019, the DOL proposed a revised rule setting the salary threshold at $35,000, far below the Obama-era threshold. Preliminary estimates suggest that more than half of the workers who would have gained overtime protections under the 2016 rule would now be left out. As it currently stands, each day that goes on without the Obama-era rule in effect, American workers lose an estimated $3.3 million in wages.
27. Disbanding labor-management forums for federal workers
On September 29, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that ended labor-management forums in which federal workers could work side by side with their managers to improve agency productivity and effectiveness. These forums were successful during the Obama administration. By discussing workplace changes with employees before making decisions on how to improve performance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was able to reduce its application backlog and speed up processing. Trump’s executive order could harm both workers and taxpayers by reducing the quality of federal services.
28. Delaying and weakening mine inspection rule
On the campaign trail, President Trump often discussed miners. However, after reaching office, he has taken action that will make their jobs more dangerous. First, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) delayed the effective date of a rule, published three days after President Obama left office, requiring hard rock mine operators to inspect their mines daily before allowing workers to go inside. Later, the MSHA issued a final rule that changes the original to allow employers to send miners in before inspections are finished and lets operators not record hazardous conditions if they correct them “promptly.” Unions representing mine workers argue that these changes could make workers less safe.
29. Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Temporary Protected Status for some immigrant workers
Over the past two years, the Trump administration has tried to end protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that allows immigrants from countries facing armed conflict, disasters, or other exigent circumstances to live and work legally in the United States; and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). While legal challenges to these terminations work their way through the courts, these immigrants’—and their families’—futures are in limbo.
DACA has provided protection from detention and deportation as well as work authorization to nearly 825,000 undocumented immigrants since 2012. A majority of DACA recipients reported moving to a better job after receiving DACA, and their average hourly wage increased by 78 percent. By sending these workers back to the economic sidelines, Trump’s action will hurt DACA recipients and native-born American workers alike. More than 246,000 TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti—the groups who make up the vast majority of TPS holders—are employed across the country, and households with TPS recipients contribute $2.3 billion in federal taxes and $1.3 billion in state and local taxes annually. CAP analysis finds that ending DACA and removing workers from these countries with TPS would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $460 billion and $164 billion, respectively, over the next decade.
30. Endangering the retirement investments of working families
President Trump signed a memorandum on February 3, 2017, that delayed the enforcement of new protections that would require retirement advisers to act in the best interest of their clients for 60 days. On November 29, 2017, the DOL announced the delay of key parts of the rule until July 2019. After a federal appeals court overturned a lower court decision to uphold the regulation, the Trump administration refused to appeal to the Supreme Court, allowing the rule to be vacated. Without these protections, financial advisers can recommend investments that are in their own best interests rather than their clients’, making themselves money but potentially charging savers high fees or producing poor results. A proposed rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires brokers to act in clients’ best interests but does not actually define what “best interests” means, in essence providing further loopholes for shady brokers. Retirement savers lose an estimated $17 billion annually due to financial advisers with conflicts of interest.
31. Halting EEOC equal pay data collection
In August 2017, the Trump administration effectively scrapped an Obama-era rule that allowed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect pay data from large employers on an annual basis using a revised version of an existing form called the Employer Information Report, or EEO-1, form. The purpose of the Obama-era rule was to gain better insight into pay differences broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity and identify where gaps exist. Currently, women who work full time, year round in the United States are paid 80 cents for every $1 men are paid, and these disparities are far greater among black women (61 cents), Latinas (53 cents), and Native American women (58 cents) when compared with the pay of white, non-Hispanic men who are full-time, year-round workers. Despite these gender pay disparities and the need for better information to combat discriminatory pay practices, in 2017, Neomi Rao—the Trump-appointed administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs—halted implementation of the Obama administration change, preventing EEO-1 pay data collection from moving forward. On March 4, 2019, a federal judge vacated that decision and found that the Trump administration violated its own regulations when it halted the EEO-1 pay data collection. Despite the judge’s ruling, the EEOC announced shortly after that It was opening its portal for employers to submit 2018 EEO-1 data, but only for the components that do not include pay data. The commission stated that it was working on next steps in response to the court order and that more information would be forthcoming. These pay data will play a vital role in helping enforcement agencies target investigations that aim to combat gender and racial pay gaps and make sure that workers receive equal pay for equal work.
32. Rolling back gainful employment protection
In June 2017, Trump’s Department of Education announced that it would rewrite an Obama-era protection that helps ensure that career training programs provide a good value to students. Then, in August 2017, the department established a new process, giving schools that are caught violating the gainful employment regulation even more time to appeal their violation; the department also eliminated clear standards for statistical rigor. On August 14, 2018, the Education Department published a proposed rule that would entirely rescind the gainful employment regulations that protect students. The Department of Education missed a fall 2018 deadline to repeal the Obama-era regulations, however, ensuring that the rule would stay in place until at least 2020. Still, the department will not be able to enforce the rule because it lacks the necessary gainful-employment data, due to a lapsed information sharing agreement with the U.S. Social Security Administration. The original rule was enacted to prevent career-education programs from receiving federal student aid if they leave graduates with too much debt relative to their earnings. If this protection is weakened, too many workers will be saddled with debt for training programs that don’t deliver on their promises.
33. Shutting down retirement savings plans
In July 2017, President Trump’s Treasury Department ended the myRA savings program. The program phased out completely in September 2018. Launched in 2014, myRA was a public option for workers to start saving for retirement and other life goals through a safe, affordable, and portable Roth individual retirement account. It was also a first step toward bolder policies that would have improved employees’ personal savings and retirement security. At a time when 44 percent of adults struggle to cover a $400 emergency expense, making it harder to save is unacceptable.
34. Discriminating against LGBTQ people in the workplace
During his campaign, President Trump promised to fight for LGBTQ Americans. Yet on July 26, 2017, he marked the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s order to desegregate the military by announcing that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military. Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress and national security experts and being blocked by multiple federal courts, the Trump administration continues to fight to uphold the discriminatory ban. This move jeopardizes the livelihoods of thousands of transgender service members. The military is estimated to be the largest employer of transgender people in the United States, and the opportunity to join the military is particularly important for transgender people’s economic security because roughly one-quarter of transgender workers report having been fired, denied a promotion, or having not been hired for a job due to their gender identity or expression. In October 2017, however, the U.S. Department of Justice widened the door to discrimination against all transgender workers, issuing a memo declaring that gender identity discrimination is not sex discrimination per se. It also went after protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers when it filed an amicus brief defending a company’s decision to fire an employee on the basis of his sexual orientation. This stance is contrary to that of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which filed in support of the employee—and a growing number of federal courts, which have held that the Title VII protection against sex discrimination prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ workers. The Justice Department does not regularly weigh in on private employment lawsuits, making its decision to comment on this case particularly insidious, revealing Trump’s Justice Department’s strong motivation to defend discrimination against LGBTQ people.
35. Exposing workers to toxic materials
The Trump administration announced on June 23, 2017, that it would roll back new safety rules protecting workers from beryllium, a toxic metal that causes lung cancer and other deadly diseases. An estimated 62,000 workers receive beryllium exposure annually. The proposed rule exempts construction and shipbuilding workers from “ancillary provisions” requiring “air quality testing, new workplace hygiene measures and employee health monitoring for beryllium-related illnesses.” The rule-making process is ongoing. If it takes effect, however, it will remove beryllium protections for an estimated 11,500 workers. Separately, OSHA has also attacked certain beryllium protections for general industry; it delayed enforcement for more than a year before issuing proposed revisions to the general industry standard in December 2018.
36. Endangering workers and first responders at chemical facilities
In June 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed critical updates to its Risk Management Program (RMP) until February 2019. In January 2017, the EPA had finalized changes to the RMP that would require facilities using and storing potentially toxic or dangerous chemicals to mitigate risks, thereby helping workers and local emergency responders plan for potentially catastrophic chemical accidents. The Obama administration directed the EPA to improve safety requirements after a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer storage facility killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters. In May 2018, the Trump administration proposed rolling back some of the January 2017 protections, including requiring companies to investigate safer alternative technologies and submit to third-party safety audits. In December 2018, the EPA published a final rule incorporating the January 2017 RMP amendments after the D.C. Circuit Court vacated the EPA’s delay. The EPA’s proposed repeal of the Obama-era amendments is pending, however, and could still go into effect.
37. Undermining the quality of apprenticeship programs
In June 2017, President Trump signed an executive order establishing Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) that will allow third-party industry groups outside of construction to develop apprenticeship programs without having to meet existing federal Registered Apprenticeship standards. Trump’s move could undermine existing programs, which are typically labor-management partnerships covered by equal opportunity in employment requirements, and award nationally recognized credentials. The DOL is hoping to “unveil the full IRAP regulatory proposal” in 2019.
38. Switching sides in Supreme Court case limiting workers’ right to sue
The Justice Department switched sides in a case before the Supreme Court in June 2017. In National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA Inc., the NLRB—an independent federal agency—argued that Murphy Oil violated the law by requiring its employees to waive their right to join together and sue over workplace violations. In 2016, the Justice Department sided with the NLRB; however, in 2017, the office announced that after the change in administration, it “reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion.” On May 21, 2018, Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, delivered the majority decision, which consolidated Murphy Oil with Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, ruling that employers can enforce mandatory arbitration agreements.
39. Proposing a 2018 budget that would slash funding for job training
President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal—released in May 2017—would have cut funding for job training, career development, and job search assistance by 43 percent compared with FY 2015 levels. If it had been enacted, 5.5 million workers would have lost access to these programs.
40. Attacking a key anti-discrimination agency
President Trump’s FY 2018 budget also proposed essentially eliminating the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)—which helps ensure that federal contractors do not discriminate against their workers on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran—by merging it with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The OFCCP and EEOC have different missions, and opponents voiced concerns that a merger would create confusion and strain the already limited resources of the EEOC. This move would have weakened protections for the more than 1 in 5 Americans who work for a company that receives federal contracts.
41. Threatening to cut important programs for coal miners and their communities
Despite President Trump’s promise to support coal communities, the administration’s 2018 budget proposal outlined significant cuts to programs that would hurt coal miners, their families, and their communities. During its final two years, the Obama administration developed and implemented the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative to invest in struggling coal-dependent communities. The 2018 Trump budget proposed eliminating 7 of the 12 programs from the POWER Initiative, including those that direct investment in small businesses, offer worker training and placement, and provide much-needed infrastructure investment.
42. Attempting to make it harder for people with disabilities to work
While on the campaign trail, President Trump showed a clear lack of compassion toward people with disabilities when he mocked a reporter with a disability. Now, however, that disregard goes beyond words. The president’s proposed 2018 budget would have ended Medicaid as we know it, cutting off access to the home- and community-based care services that allow many people with disabilities to live independently and to work outside the home. Medicaid’s in-home services have also made it possible for family members to remain employed while caring for a loved one with a disability or serious illness.
43. Proposing taking food off the tables of struggling workers and their families
President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would have made deep cuts to nutrition assistance, including SNAP. Many low-wage workers turn to SNAP—formerly known as food stamps—to provide for themselves and their families when wages are not enough: In 2015 alone, nearly 15 million workers lived in households that were helped by SNAP. Service industry and retail and hospitality workers particularly benefit from SNAP; at least one-quarter of personal care aids, housekeepers, dishwashers, food preparation workers, and home health aides, for instance, receive nutrition assistance through the program.
44. Reducing transparency in anti-union attacks
Trump’s Labor Department issued a final rule on July 17, 2018, rescinding the Obama-era “persuader rule,” which would have required employers to disclose information about the union-avoidance consultants they hire to dissuade workers from unionizing. If fully implemented, the 2016 rule would have boosted transparency for workers involved in the 70 percent of union organizing drives where companies hired these sorts of consultants.
45. Rolling back guidance on who is an employer
In June 2017, the Trump administration withdrew Obama-era guidance that strengthened wage theft enforcement by making it easier to hold companies liable for violations committed by “staffing agencies, contractors, and franchisees.” That previous guidance helped ensure that companies did not illegally misclassify their employees as independent contractors and that when workers were cheated out of wages, “joint employment” standards were enforced against the companies with the power to ensure legal compliance. A 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that wage theft could be costing American workers more than $50 billion every year.
46. Threatening to expose farmworkers to toxic pesticides
In January 2017, the Obama administration’s EPA finalized stronger protections for workers who apply—and therefore are exposed to—restricted-use pesticides, the most toxic pesticides on the market. The rule strengthened certification requirements for pesticide applicators, established training requirements for those who handle and apply these pesticides, and set a nationwide minimum age of 18 for certified applicators and people working under their direct supervision. On June 2, 2017, the EPA delayed implementation of this rule until 2018 to give the agency time to review and potentially reconsider it. In December 2017, the EPA announced its plans to revisit the minimum age requirement in the original regulation. The EPA was expected to release a proposed rule lowering the federal minimum age to 16 in January 2019, but it ultimately chose to withdraw its proposal after receiving pushback from leaders in the labor and environmental communities.
47. Making it harder for workers to save for retirement
In May 2017, President Trump signed legislation to repeal Obama-era guidance that helped cities and states set up retirement savings plans for workers without access to employer-provided plans. The Labor Department’s original rule had allowed local governments to automatically enroll private sector employees in retirement plans unless the employees chose to opt out. While 30 percent of private sector workers have no access to an employer retirement plan, the Trump administration sided with financial industry lobbyists who opposed these programs.
48. Giving a pass to employers who discriminate against LGBTQ Americans
President Trump issued an executive order on May 4, 2017, giving Attorney General Jeff Sessions sweeping authority to enact religious exemptions to federal regulations, including nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ federal contractors. As a result, billions of taxpayer dollars could fund contractors that refuse to hire LGBTQ people, as well as grantees that refuse to serve LGBTQ people. This leaves LGBTQ people vulnerable to discrimination in a wide variety of federally funded programs, including adversely affecting LGBTQ people’s ability to enter apprenticeship and job training programs. On August 10, 2018, the Department of Labor issued a directive to the staff of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that appeared to be an attempt to give a license to federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ employees despite the Obama administration’s executive order protecting LGBTQ federal government workers and contractors. These efforts would exacerbate the employment discrimination that LGBTQ people face and leave them without clear recourse. One in five LGBTQ people report experiencing discrimination in hiring due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 22 percent report experiencing discrimination in pay or promotions. Transgender people in particular face high rates of employment discrimination: 30 percent of transgender people report “being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace.”
49. Delaying safety protections for construction workers
In April 2017, OSHA announced a three-month delay in the enforcement of a new standard to limit silica dust exposure among construction workers. The protection was projected to save more than 600 lives every year and prevent a variety of work-related diseases—including lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. On September 20, 2017, the administration announced that employers would have an additional 30 days before being penalized for violating the new standard, provided they made a “good faith effort” to comply.
50. Letting lawbreakers off the hook for safety violations
In April 2017, President Trump signed legislation repealing requirements that clarified that OSHA’s reporting mandate, which directed companies in dangerous industries to keep accurate records of worker injuries, was enforceable for five years. Without strong record-keeping requirements, safety enforcement agencies have difficulty detecting and correcting long-standing problems at lawbreaking companies. OSHA can now only issue citations on record-keeping violations that date back six months.
51. Reversing a ban on toxic chlorpyrifos
On March 29, 2017, the EPA reversed its earlier decision to ban chlorpyrifos—an agricultural pesticide—even after agency scientists completed an extensive risk assessment that concluded it could damage the neurological development of children and cause acute symptoms in those exposed to even small amounts. Just two months later, a dozen farmworkers in California fell ill after winds blew a chlorpyrifos-based pesticide from nearby orchards into their cabbage fields. On August 9, 2018, a federal court ordered the EPA to ban the use of chlorpyrifos within 60 days. However, now-Administrator Wheeler’s EPA asked the court to rehear the case; the court ruled in February 2019 that it would do so, meaning that health and labor organizations will have to argue their case again.
52. Letting lawbreaking government contractors off the hook
On March 27, 2017, President Trump signed legislation repealing an Obama-era protection to ensure that companies with long records of violating workplace laws come into compliance with the law or no longer receive government contracts. Every year, companies that shortchange their workers and cut corners in workplace safety continue to receive federal contracts with no strings attached. One report found that in a single year, the worst violators of workplace laws received $81 billion in contracts. In July 2017, President Trump’s Labor Department also issued instructions that allow contractors covered by sick leave requirements established during the Obama administration to reduce contributions to other types of worker benefits.
53. Scapegoating federal workers
President Trump signed a memorandum on January 23, 2017, that froze hiring of nonmilitary federal workers. This move threatened to weaken an already shrinking federal workforce and harm taxpayers, as the government will increasingly rely on private contractors to supply government services. The blanket freeze was lifted in April of that year, but agencies are implementing further plans to cut their workforces.
On the campaign trail, President Trump cast himself as the savior of the working class who was willing to buck the Republican and Democratic establishment in order to stand up for working people. As president, however, Trump has not followed through on this promise. His administration is quietly using its executive and regulatory powers to roll back important protections for working people. And in every instance where Congress has passed a piece of anti-worker legislation, President Trump has signed the bill into law. The American Worker Project will continue to update this list. We hope this tracker will serve as a resource for worker advocates and progressive lawmakers who seek to hold the president accountable.
David Madland is a senior fellow and the senior advisor for the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Karla Walter is director of the American Worker Project. Alex Rowell is a former policy analyst for Economic Policy at the Action Fund. Caius Z. Willingham is the research assistant for the American Worker Project. Malkie Wall is a research assistant for the Economic Policy team at the Action Fund.
Willingham previously published under the name Zoe Willingham.
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