The 15 February 2017 decision by fast food magnate and notorious labour rights abuser Andrew Puzder to withdraw his nomination for the post of US Labor Secretary was a notable victory for unions and labour rights campaigners. President Trump’s first pick for the role, who had been labelled the ‘anti-labor secretary’ by workers’ advocates, saw the writing on the wall as it became apparent he was unlikely to secure the Senate votes necessary to be confirmed in the post.
The president’s replacement nominee for Labor Secretary, R Alexander ‘Alex’ Acosta, has received less critical reviews. The 48-year old is dean of the College of Law at Florida International University. He has served in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice and as US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He was also a President George W Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board.
Richard Trumka, president of the national union federation AFL-CIO, said: “Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration. In one day, we’ve gone from a fast food chain CEO who routinely violates labour law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.” He added: “The Labor Secretary is not just another Cabinet member – his or her actions directly impact our wages, safety and rights on the job every single day.”
But early policy moves by Trump jeopardise these basic rights. Financial penalties on jurisdictions – cities, counties and state agencies - refusing to target immigrant workers are fuelling insecurity and making these workers – already at a greatly elevated risk for workplace injuries and abuse - even more vulnerable to exploitation.
And an executive order issued by the president one week into office could significantly limit or even halt the introduction of new regulations by the government safety regulator OSHA. It is feared the move may also put several recently passed regulations in jeopardy.
The Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs calls for two prior regulations to be identified for elimination every time a new regulation is issued. It is a direct lift from the UK Conservative government.
But there is an added twist. The order calls for agency heads to ensure the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, that will be finalised this year have a cost of no greater than zero unless otherwise required by law. New incremental costs associated with new regulations must be offset by eliminating existing costs associated with at least two prior regulations, the order says.
The order has generated some backlash. Robert Weissman, president of the thinktank Public Citizen, said: “It will fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits, and will lead to a dangerous new era of deregulation and corporate ‘self-regulation’.”
And Professor Jody Freeman of Harvard University’s Environmental Law Program said: “This policy of ‘2 for 1’ regulations is arbitrary, not implementable, and a terrible idea. The purpose of an order like this is to strangle even the most beneficial rules under the guise of cutting red tape.” She added it “ignores completely the huge societal benefits that come from many public health, safety and consumer protection rules.
When Donald Trump proclaimed himself a champion of working men and women, he lied. From immigration to regulation, the new US president’s policies put workers in the firing line.