Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers
On almost every measure, Trump is making life worse for the working class.
By Robert Borosage May 12, 2017
Donald Trump has ginned up a continuous din in his first four months as president, with each outrage or grotesquerie immediately followed by another.
Amid the furors, it is easy to lose track of the key standard by which Trump will be judged by his key voters: his oft-repeated campaign pledge that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.” These pledges have continued since Trump became president. He told the Conservative Political Action Conference that “the forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.” In the flood of reviews of Trump’s first 100 days, which focused heavily on his scandals and gaffes, few noted that he failed on this measure.
The working people who were crucial to Trump’s victory may not be impressed by more evidence that he’s a scoundrel. Most of them considered him a scoundrel when they voted for him. Their hope was that he might be their scoundrel, in contrast to the “corrupted politicians” and “failed political elite” that he railed against.
Trump understands this. That’s why so many of his stunts and boasts—the Carrier deal to keep 800 jobs here, posturing over the North American Free Trade Agreement, claiming credit for new jobs stemming from corporate decisions made long before he was elected—are designed to be seen and loved by working people. But these stunts cover the reality: Trump is shafting the very working people who supported him.
Consider these key measures.
Trump constantly promises “lots of jobs,” and boasts of cracking down on companies moving jobs abroad. Trump officially buried the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that was dead anyway. He issued a “Buy America, Hire America” executive order, but that just called for a review, not action.
Beneath the noise, workers are getting betrayed. Trump has introduced no jobs bill. His much-ballyhooed plan to rebuild America was glaringly absent from his first budget, which actually cuts spending on infrastructure. He has abandoned the End the Offshoring Act he promised in the first 100 days, which would use tariffs to discourage companies from moving abroad. Worse, he’s backed off pressuring China on the unprecedented trade deficits we suffer, and in so doing sacrifices American jobs for China’s supposed help with North Korea. Rather than ripping up NAFTA, he now says he’ll renegotiate it, with his Commerce Secretary bizarrely suggesting that the TPP might serve as the “starting point.” His tax proposal would end taxation on profits reported abroad, giving companies even more incentive to ship jobs or create tax dodges abroad.
Worse, Trump has refused to use the power that he has. The federal government spends about $470 billion per year on contracts with firms that employ about one of five workers in the private sector. The president has the power to make his pledge of “Buy America, Hire America” a centerpiece of our procurement policy. As research by Good Jobs Nation shows, 41 of the top 100 recipients of federal contracts engage in offshoring of jobs. Those companies received $176 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2016, which is over one-third of all federal contract spending. Trump could issue an executive order excluding firms that offshore jobs from qualifying to bid on federal contracts. That would have an immediate and profound effect on offshoring. Instead, Trump bloviates, but doesn’t act.
Trump promised workers good jobs with good wages, but he has acted repeatedly to drive down wages. He won’t ask the Republican House to vote on raising the minimum wage. He supports the right-wing push for a “right to work” law, designed to weaken unions. Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court justice, will no doubt provide the fifth vote for gutting public-sector unions. Trump joined the Republican Congress to repeal Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplace” executive order, which was designed to protect federal contract employees from wage theft and workplace injuries. And the Trump administration has moved to delay—the first step to overturning—the Department of Labor’s overtime rule that would have guaranteed a 40-hour week and overtime pay for 4.2 million additional workers.
The cruelty of Trumpcare has received significant attention. As Thomas Edsall details, Trump’s base face the most risk if this bill passes. The plan takes health insurance from millions of people, savages Medicaid, hikes premiums particularly on older workers, and undermines coverage of preexisting conditions in order to provide the wealthy with a massive tax break—$7 million a year for the 400 richest Americans with annual incomes over $300 million. Low-wage whites are a majority of the Medicaid recipients in four states—Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—that gave Trump his victory. Older workers with modest incomes who don’t get insurance from their employers will fare the worst under Trumpcare. Nate Cohn of The New York Times found that voters hit the hardest by this health-care plan, and would get at least $5,000 less in tax credits, supported Trump by a margin of 59 to 36 percent.
One of Trump’s first acts in office was to delay implementation of the fiduciary duty rule that requires that investment advisers not cheat their clients with retirement accounts. The rule would have saved workers an estimated $17 billion per year in unnecessary fees and costs. Trump signed a repeal of the Department of Labor rule that assisted local governments in setting up public IRA programs to aid 55 million private-sector workers without a retirement plan at work.
These assaults are only part of the story. Trump’s budget makes childcare more expensive, and cuts after-school and summer programs. He’s joined with Republicans in Congress to repeal occupational protection rules for miners and construction workers. He has called for cuts in everything from education to protection of clean air and clean water. He would cut the Department of Labor budget by 20 percent, dramatically reducing enforcement of worker rights, occupational health and safety laws, and protection against wage theft. The Economic Policy Institute’s report on Trump’s first 100 days provides a more detailed indictment.
This war on workers isn’t a bug but a feature of a White House that has turned its economic plan over to Goldman Sachs alums and stocked its cabinet with “billionaires, bankers and bigots,” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Trump could have pushed to forge a bipartisan coalition to back his populist promises. Instead, he chose to let the Republican majority in Congress, driven by the radical Freedom Caucus, define his priorities. In his first months in office, he has betrayed the voters who put him there.
The question is when they will finally understand what has happened. Trump keeps posturing as a populist. The outrage of the day—from Comey to the Kushner family business in China—captures media attention. Policy is complicated, but the story is clear. Trump is betraying his promise on jobs and shafting workers. Progressives should make certain this reality isn’t lost in the din.