The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump's first 100 days a boon for business; labor, not so much

By The Building Tradesman

Just call it the corporate wish list.

In the first three months of total Republican control in the nation’s capital, President Donald Trump and the GOP-run Congress have either solicited, enacted -- or both -- an ever-lengthening “wish list” of schemes their corporate controllers push, lobby and scheme for.

From gutting federal air pollution rules to trashing the National Labor Relations Board to delaying the Labor Department’s rule that orders financial advisors to put their clients’ interests first, U.S. business has submitted a long “deregulatory” agenda to the ruling Republicans.

As for the GOP’s response, including Trump’s response, “We’ve already witnessed a sea change,” National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons told the Detroit Economic Club – in late February, even before much of the corporate agenda passed. 

The GOP-run Congress passed, and Trump signed, some of that “sea change” already. One example: A law killing the Obama Labor Department’s rule telling federal contracting officers to take a company’s labor law record, tax payments and safety and health record into account before awarding it future federal contracts. 

That put an end to Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, and the rules implementing it, for good. Business cheered. Obama’s order and DOL’s rules were designed “to give unions another source of leverage against employers for organizing or contract negotiations,” Chamber of Commerce Vice President Randy Johnson alleged.

Other items, including the NLRB emasculation, are still on the drawing board, making their way through Congress, or both. Needless to say, with some exceptions, workers and their allies are not happy.

One exception, in some cases: the building trades. They applauded Trump’s emphasis on infrastructure and especially on ending what unions term environmental group-caused delays of construction projects. Those projects create jobs. 

But after their meeting at the White House, McGarvey and other construction union leaders hailed Trump’s OK of two controversial pipelines, the Keystone XL Northern Leg – to be built under a Project Labor Agreement – and Dakota Access. In both cases, Trump dumped environmental rules, including safe drinking water rules, to clear the way for the pipelines. 

Nevertheless, “We were quite forceful with the president in stating our concerns that infrastructure investments must be coupled with strong community wage and benefit standards afforded under the Davis-Bacon Act,” North America’s Building Trades President Sean McGarvey says. Congressional Republicans repeatedly have tried to kill Davis-Bacon. 

But then Trump turned around and had OSHA announce a three-month delay, from June 23 to Sept. 23, in enforcing standards to reduce construction worker exposure to crystalline silica. Businesses fought that silica exposure rule for years, but it isn’t dead, yet, with OSHA saying employers still need to take steps to be in compliance with the standard.

Overall, workers and their allies are much more skeptical of the Trump-GOP plans:

*“During the first 100 days, the House voted 15 times and the Senate 13 times to wipe out Obama-era regulations that were protecting Americans from workplace hazards. They even removed one rule that requires corporations to simply keep accurate records of injuries, so they can be avoided in the future,” the AFL-CIO said.

“They voted to let CEOs cover up their past employment violations when they apply for new taxpayer-funded government contracts. The House passed several bills that will give corporations more power to stop federal regulators from passing common-sense safeguards in the future.”

*National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg uses forced arbitration as another example of lawmakers enacting the business wish list. “Mandatory arbitration is part of a decades-long campaign waged by the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America against consumer rights,” she says. “But now, with majorities in both Houses of Congress who are allies with the chamber, and the White House in the hands of Donald Trump, the chamber smells blood and is moving with alacrity to enact multiple anti-consumer bills.” 

*The Economic Policy Institute used the fate of Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule as an example of what to expect. It “was just one of several executive orders issued” by Obama’s Labor Department “to raise wages and benefits, reduce discrimination, improve worker safety, and increase worker rights,” said EPI analysts Heidi Shierholz and Celine McNicholas. The executive order is now dead, thanks to Congress and Trump. That “leaves workers unprotected and law-abiding contractors exposed to unfair competition from businesses that don’t play by the rules,” and engage in wage theft and other crimes, the two EPI analysts added. 

*Another endangered Obama-era rule: Enacting paid sick leave for workers of federal contractors. EPI reports this was supposed to take effect with federal contracts that began Jan. 1 or later. The Business Roundtable protested, but the rule, which would aid up to 600,000 workers, may survive: Trump’s daughter Ivanka, an influential advisor to her father, supports paid leave.

*Not dumped by Trump, but held up by big business lawsuits, is DOL’s rule expanding overtime pay eligibility. It would double the maximum income at which any worker is eligible for overtime pay, to $47,476, and would expand the number of workers eligible for overtime. 

Even if the lawsuits fail, the GOP-run Congress is getting into the act. An April 5 Education and Workforce hearing featured corporate witnesses, led by the Chamber of Commerce, touting the GOP’s comp-time-instead-of-overtime scheme

That left Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, to protest the comp-time-for-overtime bill, HR1180. “The so-called Working Families Flexibility Act will harm rather than help America’s working families,” she said. 

“This legislation is based on smoke and mirrors. It pretends to offer the time off people need when they need it but, in fact, it offers a pay cut for workers without any attendant guarantee of time. It also sets up a dangerous, false dichotomy between time and money when, in fact, working families need both.”

Other Obama-era, worker-friendly rules that are likely on the chopping block include a proposal to ban union reps from accompanying OSHA inspectors. Also on the Chamber's hit list is a rule that forces more employers into collective bargaining with what the business community calls "ambush" organizing elections, which attempt to reduce the time employers have to coerce their workforce into rejecting union representation.