This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.
Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave his first official State of the Union speech. The script was as expected: He bragged about his tax bill, repeated some promises about infrastructure, and promoted his administration’s latest wish list of anti-immigrant policies. He even claimed to be concerned for “America’s struggling workers.” But a lot was conspicuously absent from the speech — including all the ways his administration has harmed those very workers.
When he was a candidate, Trump pledged to turn the Republican Party into a “worker’s party.” He claimed that each of his policy decisions would hinge on whether it creates “more jobs and better wages for Americans” and promised to side with workers instead of “special interests” and the “financial elite.” But throughout his first year, he sided with corporations and the wealthy instead.
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In 2017, Trump used his executive authority to pare down worker safety protections, make it harder for workers to receive the pay they earned, and hamstring their ability to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. His administration took action to weaken mine inspection rules, undermine the quality and pay of apprenticeship programs, and delay and roll back rules that will prevent construction and agricultural workers from being exposed to toxic chemicals.
Under Trump’s watch, the Department of Labor has signaled that it will use its regulatory power to roll back overtime coverage and protections for millions of workers and allow companies to legally confiscate employees’ tips. It withdrew guidance that held corporations accountable for wage theft. And the National Labor Relations Board is trying to slow the process for workers to request a union election.
Already, Trump’s agency appointees overturned a 2015 precedent that protected workers’ rights to bargain with companies that influence their workplaces. These so-called “joint-employer” protections are increasingly important since large corporations are more often relying on temporary staffing agencies, labor subcontractors, and franchises to supply their labor force. Now corporate interests are pushing even more extreme legislation: A bill to roll back protections for minimum wage, overtime, and child labor violations by joint employers has already passed the House. A president who cares about the rights of workers would fight hard against such a proposal.
Trump’s war on workers extends to the public sector as well. The Trump administration has backed union opponents that want to eliminate fair-share fees in the public sector, attempting to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent and weaken public sector unions. And Tuesday night, he promised to make it easier for political appointees to fire federal public sector employees.
Just like last year’s joint address to Congress, the president promised Tuesday night to create jobs with a new infrastructure program. However, his fiscal year 2018 budget shows that this “new plan” is a shell game, since it would be paid for in part by cutting $138 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, which currently funds highway and public transportation projects across the United States, and eliminating existing job-creating infrastructure programs like TIGER and New Starts grants.
And while Trump touted his infrastructure plan, he didn’t guarantee that the jobs created will actually support a family. While the federal government has upheld Davis-Bacon prevailing wage standards for nearly 90 years to ensure that construction jobs funded through federal spending provide decent wages, many on the right are pressuring the administration to leave out these protections. Trump failed to mention them Tuesday night. If the president really wants to help workers, he should guarantee that all jobs created by the infrastructure package include the prevailing wage protections and pay at least $15 per hour, and expand contracting job quality protections broadly to ensure that all government spending creates well-paying jobs for workers.
The president also boasted about the performance of the US stock market and the benefits of his tax cut bill. Yet neither today’s market performance nor the tax bill will make substantial, long-term improvements in the lives of everyday Americans. The run-up in stock market value predominantly benefits the rich, as 80 percent of US stock value is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of households. Meanwhile, despite Trump’s false claim that “we are finally seeing rising wages,” the average wage of production and non-supervisory workers rose by only four cents in 2017 when adjusted for inflation — a growth rate of just 0.17 percent, below the last four years of wage growth. And the tax bill — which Trump previously justified by saying working- and middle-class taxpayers would “receive the biggest benefit – it won’t even be close” — in fact gives the most to the richest taxpayers. This year, taxpayers making over $1 million will bring home a tax cut 100 times larger than the average tax cut for families in the bottom 80 percent by income. And in 2027, once individual tax cuts expire, nearly 92 million families making less than $200,000 annually will be paying more in taxes.
Viewers also heard Trump boast about one-time bonuses from companies seeking favor with the administration. However, the fact that some of these companies laid off thousands of workers as they were announcing the bonuses failed to make it to the presidential teleprompter.
Trump’s claims during Tuesday night’s speech can’t hide the truth: Month after month, the Trump administration took action to benefit wealthy donors instead of working people. From denying overtime protections for millions of Americans, to raising health insurance premiums, to weakening safety protections for workers, he has continually failed to stand up for those he claims to support. His pledge to lead a new “worker’s party” was a bait-and-switch, and he should be held accountable for this failure.