Who is standing up for the rights of American workers?
GOP President Donald Trump and the GOP-led U.S. Congress seem to be determined to eliminate worker rights rather than to expand them. Trump has reversed a bevy of pro-labor measures that former Democratic President Barack Obama enacted on his own without Congressional backing. Meanwhile, workers continue to seethe about mostly Democratic trade policies that sent American jobs to other countries.
Labor unions are barely hanging on, despite the fact that unions pioneered many of the employment benefits that workers take for granted today. In 2016, the union rate for private sector workers was 6.4 percent – down from 20.1 percent in 1983. Organized labor is currently battling a potentially crippling effort by Trump and the GOP to prevent unions from requiring nonmembers to pay representation fees.
It may be an understatement to say that advocacy of worker rights does not appear to be high on the agendas of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and US. Department of Labor.
Under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama, the EEOC shifted its focus away from filing lawsuits and prosecuting employers who engaged in illegal discrimination. Instead, the EEOC is focused on providing free dispute resolution services to these very same employers. Mediation is often a lousy deal for discrimination victims, who walk away with a pittance to compensate for the loss of a decent job, but it’s always a great deal for employers, who avoid potentially catastrophic fees and damages stemming from a lawsuit. Also, mediation is completely secret so other potential litigants are kept in the dark. Meanwhile, the EEOC has for years ignored one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our day – blatant and epidemic age discrimination in hiring that is particularly devastating to older women, who suffer twice the poverty rate of men in their old age. The EEOC received more than 20,000 age discrimination complaints in 2016; it filed only TWO lawsuits with “age discrimination claims.”
The EEOC last month upheld an administrative ruling permitting a hiring officer to completely disregard objective qualifications and make hiring decisions based solely upon his subjective perception of “cultural fit.”
Trump has selected corporate lawyer Janet Dhillon, general counsel for the Burlington retail store chain, to head the EEOC, replacing interim director Victoria Lipnic, a conservative GOP appointee who apparently wasn’t conservative enough for Trump.
Trump nominated former law school dean and U.S. Century Bank chairman R. Alexander Acosta for the position of U.S. Labor Secretary, after his first pick, fast food executive Andrew Puzder. the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, failed to obtain Senate confirmation. Democrats and labor groups protested Puzder’s opposition to a higher minimum wage and government regulation of the workplace.
One of Acosta’s first actions after his Senate confirmation was to announce the induction of former GOP President Ronald Reagan into the DOL’s Labor Hall of Honor, which was established in 1988 to honor Americans whose contributions have elevated working conditions, wages and the overall quality of life for American families. Organized labor considers Reagan to be a “union buster” who enacted policies that badly hurt organized labor. Reagan crushed a 1981 strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controller’s organization. He ordered controllers back to work and then fired 1,000 controllers who failed to return. During Reagan’s administration, union membership declined from 21 percent to 16.2 percent. Acosta, the son of Cubn refugees and the only Hispanic in Trump’s cabinet, justified the honor of Reagan by noting that Reagan was a former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild.
Labor Day is a time when leaders often take the temperature of labor. This year, Trump tweeted: “We are building our future with American hands, American labor, American iron, aluminum and steel. Happy #LaborDay!” The EEOC was silent. Acosta issued a generic press release that made no mention of the challenges facing workers, such as stagnant wages and lack of benefits in the gig economy. “Labor Day is the one day that we set aside to honor the men and women who work every day to make this nation great,” said Acosta. “On this day, we remember that every individual matters and every worker makes a contribution to the United States economy.”
Who will advocate to insure that American workers reap a fair share of the profits from their labor and are treated with respect and dignity in the workplace?