President Trump’s Anti-Worker Agenda

Download the PDF here.

President Donald Trump promised to defend “forgotten workers,” but these workers were never forgotten—they were victims of the most well-funded lobbying campaign in history.1 For decades, large corporations have sought to ensure that the majority of economic gains are absorbed by executives and shareholders—not employees, who are the backbone of the American economy. President Trump has embraced this right-wing lobbying effort to an unprecedented degree, making it increasingly unclear where lobbyists’ influence ends and his administration’s policies begin.

Below are some of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to stack the deck against American workers.

Enabled corporate wage theft

Denied overtime pay to 8.2 million workers. The Trump administration derailed an Obama-era plan to extend overtime protections to more Americans and instead lowered the salary threshold.2 This decision harmed millions of workers who would have been eligible for overtime pay under the previous rule. Workers are being denied an estimated $1.2 billion in earnings annually due to Trump’s overtime protection rollback.3

Undermined wage theft enforcement. Employer wage theft is rampant in low-wage industries and costs American workers more than $50 billion every year.4 But the Trump administration made it more difficult for businesses to be held liable for wage violations against contract and franchise workers.5  Under President Trump, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has even allowed employers who commit wage violations to avoid penalties by volunteering to police themselves.6 Businesses are expected to self-report violations, determine the amount of back pay owed, and then compensate workers—without covering interest or damages.

Awarded billions in federal contracts to companies that violate wage laws. President Trump ended a requirement that contractors meet federal labor standards to keep the government’s business.7 This decision came as two-thirds of the government’s largest contractors were found to have violated wage laws, including by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in pay.8 Instead of protecting the 26 million workers who are employed by federal contractors, the Trump administration chose to ignore this egregious behavior.

Restricted worker power and attacked unions

Undermined the mission of the DOL. President Trump’s nominee to lead U.S. labor policy, Eugene Scalia, has a long record of opposing workers’ rights and fighting unions on behalf of large corporations.9 The Trump administration has only filled 43 percent of the department’s senior officials, while previous administrations filled nearly 80 percent.10

Blocked workers’ access to the courts. The Trump administration sided with corporate interests to let companies force workers into mandatory arbitration agreements.11 This has left 60 million workers without real access to the courts and unable to bring class action lawsuits to seek justice in workplace disputes.12

Made it more difficult for workers to unionize. President Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appointees empowered companies to classify workers as independent contractors rather than as employees, which would exclude those workers from federal labor law protections.13 His NLRB is also working to roll back joint employer protections, which would make it easier for businesses that influence and rely on subcontractors and franchises for their labor to avoid unionization.14

Made it easier for employers to get rid of unions. President Trump’s appointees to the NLRB ruled that employers can suspend negotiations and withdraw recognition of a union even if the majority of workers technically supports the union at the time of withdrawal.15

Advanced an erratic trade agenda that harms working-class Americans

President Trump claimed that other countries would bear the brunt of his trade war, but in reality, American workers and families have paid the price.16 President Trump’s tariffs could cost the average U.S. household $1,000 each year, and recent estimates indicate that the tariffs will shave billions from U.S. GDP.

17 American manufacturers, including U.S. Steel, are buckling under the strain of his poorly conceived and executed trade war by tweet.18

Like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which includes strong protections for Big Pharma, President Trump’s trade war with China is primarily designed to favor corporations; his trade demands focus on protecting corporate intellectual property and increasing access to Chinese markets for Wall Street investors.19

While China poses legitimate challenges, Trump’s tariffs fail to effectively address them. His policies have failed to address low labor and environmental standards or the race to the bottom for wages and corporate tax rates.20

Threatened workers’ retirement savings

The Trump administration eliminated retirees’ protection from exploitative financial advisers by killing the fiduciary rule, which required financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients.21 This decision threatens retirees, since brokers often have an incentive to promote products that are profitable for their employers but costly for clients.22 Nationwide, conflicted financial advice costs American retirement savers an estimated $17 billion each year.23

Empowered employer discrimination by revoking civil rights protections

Undermined anti-discrimination enforcement. The Trump administration moved to kill an Obama-era rule that would have enabled the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to collect annual pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from large employers.24 After a federal court ruled this decision unlawful, the Trump administration has continued to stall implementation of pay data collection.

Exposed LGBTQ Americans to employer discrimination. President Trump’s U.S. Department of Justice defended employers’ ability to discriminate against LGBTQ workers, arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that the Civil Rights Act’s prohibitions on sex discrimination do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.25 His administration is attempting to expand religious exemptions to nondiscrimination protections for federal contractors, which employ one-quarter of the nation’s workforce.26 In addition, President Trump opposes the Equality Act, federal legislation that would confirm and strengthen civil rights protections for LGBTQ workers.27

Erected barriers to prevent people with disabilities from working. President Trump’s ongoing threats to Medicaid would end access to home- and community-based care services that allow many people with disabilities to live independently and work outside the home.28

Threatened workers’ safety on the job

Made it easier for employers to expose workers to hazardous conditions. In clear disregard for worker safety, the Trump administration reversed protections against pesticides and chemicals that have been shown to cause illness and neurological damage.29 His administration has also weakened workplace safety protections for particularly dangerous industries such as offshore drilling and mining.30

Reduced workplace safety enforcement. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declined under President Trump, and the agency employs fewer inspectors than it has at any other time in the agency’s history. Meanwhile, data suggest that work-related deaths are on the rise.31  The Trump administration has also stopped requiring employers to submit detailed information on workplace injuries and illnesses and limited OSHA’s ability to issue citations for violations.32

Saharra Griffin and Malkie Wall are research assistants for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Endnotes

  1. Steven Greenhouse, “How Trump Betrays ‘Forgotten’ Americans,” The New York Times, September 3, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/03/opinion/trump-labor-unions-greenhouse.html.
  2. Sam Berger and Malkie Wall, “3 of Trump’s Regulatory Rollbacks Could Cost People Almost $42 Billion a Year,” Center for American Progress, April 25, 2019, available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/news/2019/04/25/469045/3-trumps-regulatory-rollbacks-cost-people-almost-42-billion-year/.
  3. Heidi Shierholz, “More than eight million workers will be left behind by the Trump overtime proposal” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2019), available at https://www.epi.org/publication/trump-overtime-proposal-april-update/.
  4. Annette Bernhardt and others, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities” (New York: National Employment Law Project, 2009), available at https://www.nelp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/BrokenLawsReport2009.pdf; Brady Meixell and Ross Eisenbrey, “An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2014), available at https://www.epi.org/publication/epidemic-wage-theft-costing-workers-hundreds/.
  5. Chris Opfer, “Labor Department to Limit Companies’ ‘Joint Employer’ Liability,” Bloomberg Law, April 1, 2019, available at https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/labor-department-to-limit-companies-joint-employer-liability.
  6. U.S. Department of Labor, “Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID),” available at https://www.dol.gov/whd/paid/ (last accessed August 2019).
  7. David Madland and Karla Walter, “President Trump has betrayed U.S. workers,” The Detroit News, March 30, 2017, available at https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2017/03/30/trump-workers/99797638/.
  8. Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren, “Breach of Contract: How Federal Contractors Fail American Workers on the Taxpayer’s Dime” (Washington: 2017), available at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2017-3-6_Warren_Contractor_Report.pdf.
  9. Heidi Shierholz, Lynn Rhinehart, and Celine McNicholas, “Why Eugene Scalia is the wrong person for the job,” Economic Policy Institute, August 1, 2019, available at https://www.epi.org/blog/why-eugene-scalia-is-the-wrong-person-for-the-job/; Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel, “Eugene Scalia has defended Wall Street, Walmart and SeaWorld. Now he’s Trump’s pick for labor secretary,” The Washington Post, July 19, 2019, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/eugene-scalia-has-defended-wall-street-walmart-and-seaworld-now-hes-trumps-pick-for-labor-secretary/2019/07/19/6f2819f0-aa55-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html.
  10. House Committee on Appropriations, “Chairwoman DeLauro Statement at Hearing on FY 2020 Labor Department Budget Request,” Press release, April 3, 2019, available at https://appropriations.house.gov/news/statements/chairwoman-delauro-statement-at-hearing-on-fy-2020-labor-department-budget-request.
  11. Dave Jamieson, “Trump Administration Sides with Employers Over Workers On Arbitration Agreements,” HuffPost, June 16, 2017, available at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-arbitration-supreme-court_n_5944498fe4b0f15cd5bb5feb?i2d=; Robert Barnes, “Supreme Court rules that companies can require workers to accept individual arbitration,” The Washington Post, May 21, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-rules-that-companies-can-force-workers-into-individual-arbitration/2018/05/21/09a3a968-5cfa-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html.
  12. Alexander J.S. Colvin, “The growing use of mandatory arbitration” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2018), available at https://www.epi.org/publication/the-growing-use-of-mandatory-arbitration-access-to-the-courts-is-now-barred-for-more-than-60-million-american-workers/.
  13. Josh Eidelson, “Trump NLRB Appointees Give Big Win to Employers,” Bloomberg, January 25, 2019, available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-25/companies-empowered-by-nlrb-to-declare-more-workers-contractors.
  14. National Labor Relations Board, “The Standard for Determining Joint-Employer Status,” Federal Register 83 (179) (2018), available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/09/14/2018-19930/the-standard-for-determining-joint-employer-status; Celine McNicholas and Marni von Wilpert, “The joint employer standard and the National Labor Relations Board” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2017), available at https://www.epi.org/publication/the-joint-employer-standard-and-the-national-labor-relations-board-what-is-at-stake-for-workers/
  15. Andrew Strom, “Once Again the Trump NLRB Has Placed Employer Interests Above Workers Rights,” On Labor, July 11, 2019, available at https://onlabor.org/once-again-the-trump-nlrb-has-placed-employer-interests-above-workers-rights/.
  16. Mary Amiti, Stephen J. Redding, and David Weinstein, “The Impact of the 2018 Trade War on U.S. Prices and Welfare” (London: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 2019), available at https://www.princeton.edu/~reddings/papers/CEPR-DP13564.pdf.
  17. Taylor Telford, “Trump’s trade war comes for consumers: Tariffs could cost U.S. families up to $1,000 a year, JPMorgan forecasts,” The Washington Post, August 20, 2019, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/08/20/trumps-trade-war-comes-consumers-tariffs-will-cost-us-families-year-jp-morgan-forecasts/; Congressional Budget Office, “An Update to the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2019-2029” (Washington: 2019), available at https://www.cbo.gov/publication/55551.
  18. Rajesh Kumar Singh, “U.S. Steel to lay off hundreds of workers in Michigan,” Reuters, August 19, 2019, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-u-s-steel-layoffs/u-s-steel-plans-to-lay-off-hundreds-of-workers-in-michigan-idUSKCN1V91XQ.
  19. David Lawder and Susan Heavey, “Trump ‘firm’ on China structural demands, tariffs part of enforcement: Pence,” Reuters, May 3, 2019, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china/trump-firm-on-china-structural-demands-tariffs-part-of-enforcement-pence-idUSKCN1S91DG.
  20. Marc Jarsulic, Andy Green, and Daniella Zessoules, “Trump’s Trade Deal and the Road Not Taken: How to Evaluate the Renegotiated NAFTA” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2019), available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/02/01/465744/trumps-trade-deal-road-not-taken/.
  21. Neil Weinberg, “Fiduciary Rule Dies as Last Court Deadline Passes,” Insurance Journal, June 18, 2018, available at https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/06/18/492463.htm.
  22. Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren, “Villas, Castles, and Vacations: How Perks and Giveaways Create Conflicts of Interest in the Annuity Industry” (Washington: 2015), available at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2015-10-27_Senator_Warren_Report_on_Annuity_Industry.pdf.
  23. Sam Berger and Malkie Wall, “President Trump’s Regulatory Rollbacks Are an Attack on Americans’ Wallets,” Center for American Progress, March 27, 2019, available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/news/2019/03/27/467341/president-trumps-regulatory-rollbacks-attack-americans-wallets/.
  24. Daniel Wiessner, “White House blocks Obama-era rule expanding pay data from companies,” Reuters, August 30, 2017, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-paydata/white-house-blocks-obama-era-rule-expanding-pay-data-from-companies-idUSKCN1BA21Y; Jocelyn Frye, “Myth vs. Reality: Why Pay Data and the EEO-1 Form Matter,” Center for American Progress, September 7, 2017, available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2017/09/07/438618/myths-vs-reality-pay-data-eeo-1-form-matter/.
  25. National Center for Transgender Equality, “The Discrimination Administration: Trump’s record of action against transgender people,” available at https://transequality.org/the-discrimination-administration (last accessed August 2019).
  26. Noam Scheiber, “Labor Dept. Moves to Expand Religion Exemption for Hiring and Firing,” The New York Times, August 15, 2019, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/business/economy/religion-exemption-hiring-firing.html.
  27. Sarah McBride and others, “We the People: Why Congress and U.S. States Must Pass Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2014), available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/reports/2014/12/10/102804/we-the-people/.
  28. Rebecca Vallas, Katherine Gallagher Robbins, and Jackie Odum, “5 Ways President Trump’s Agenda Is a Disaster for People with Disabilities,” Center for American Progress, March 8, 2017, available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/news/2017/03/08/427629/5-ways-president-trumps-agenda-disaster-people-disabilities/.
  29. Eric Lipton, “E.P.A. Chief, Rejecting Agency’s Science, Chooses Not to Ban Insecticide,” The New York Times, March 29, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/us/politics/epa-insecticide-chlorpyrifos.html; David Biello, “Common Pesticide ‘Disturbs’ the Brains of Children,” Scientific American, May 1, 2012, available at https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/common-pesticide-disturbs-the-brains-of-children/; National Pesticide Information Center, “Chlorpyrifos: General Fact Sheet,” available at http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/chlorpgen.html (last accessed August 2019).
  30. See Juliet Eilperin and Dino Grandoni, “Trump administration to overhaul safety-monitoring rules for offshore drilling,” The Washington Post, December 28, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-to-overhaul-safety-monitoring-rules-for-offshore-drilling/2017/12/28/37cb40bc-ec20-11e7-9f92-10a2203f6c8d_story.html.
  31. Deborah Berkowitz, “Workplace Safety Enforcement Continues to Decline in Trump Administration” (Washington: National Employment Law Project, 2019), available at https://www.nelp.org/publication/workplace-safety-enforcement-continues-decline-trump-administration/.
  32. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses,” Federal Register 84 (17) (2019), available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/01/25/2019-00101/tracking-of-workplace-injuries-and-illnesses; Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to “Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness,” 115th Cong., 1st sess. (February 21, 2017), available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/83/text.