by Ralph Scharnau
More than 150 million workers form the backbone of the nation’s economy. Their labor produces vital goods and services. On Labor Day, September 7, we honor and celebrate their work. Workers play a key economic role, operating as producers, consumers, and taxpayers.
Labor onions created a collective voice for millions of workers. The labor movement took a leadership role in shaping working conditions like the eight-hour day, employer-backed health coverage, paid vacations and sick days, and safe workplaces.
Today, only about 12% of the U.S. workforce belong to trade unions. Organized labor’s decades-long decline means that millions of people now hold two or even three jobs to pay for food, child care, housing, and transportation.
The loss of unions has also resulted in the erosion of good jobs and growing income inequality. Organized labor faces hostile employers, falling membership, antiunion legislation, and antagonistic court decisions.
To President Trump, the U.S. working class are simply pawns to be used cynically for advancing a fundamentally anti-worker political agenda. For over three-and-a-half years, Trump and his administrative minions have rolled back regulations protecting workers and their rights.
The administration has restricted eligibility for overtime pay, restricted the rights of gay and transgender workers, and restricted the rights of organized workers to collectively bargain by giving employers more control over wages and working conditions.
One of President Trump’s first executive orders was to overturn the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace rule requiring federal contractors to follow safety and labor laws. This measure would require companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose their history of violations of labor and employment laws relating to workplace safety, discrimination, minimum wage, and overtime pay. Trump also withdrew from a series of rules protecting mine workers from major hazards like explosive coal dust and toxic mining chemicals
The administration wants employers to have the power to dismiss workers on the basis of sexual orientation. And the number of OSHA inspectors now stands at the lowest level in the agency’s half-century of operation.
The Trump administration and nearly all Republicans oppose raising the federal minimum wage while Democrats want to raise it. About a year ago, with support of most Democrats and just three Republicans, the Democratic-led House of Representatives narrowly approved an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not been increased in 10 years. Boosting the pay to $15 an hour provides wage protection to millions of low-wage workers in all types of jobs. Passage of the bill appears extremely unlikely since Republican currently control the White House and the Senate.
Trump seems committed to administration-friendly military generals and CEOs of giant corporations. Budgets reflect this with immense defense increases and cuts in social welfare spending.
The Trump administration has retreated from its professed support for protecting the rights, safety, and economic welfare of workers. Some employers even want to eliminate workers’ right to organize as a union. They hire union-busting law firms. Workers fight back with legal challenges and direct action, street demonstrations, strikes, and lobbying. Unions continue to face hostility from employers and conservative politicians.
Actions of the Trump administration have worsened the bifurcation of our society into super rich and the rest of us. Workers, unions and most of the populace want a country where all people have access to living wages, decent housing, and humane working conditions regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, or economic status.