In his first few weeks in office, President Trump has issued multiple executive orders covering a range of topics, and done so with great fanfare. He has established himself as a man of action — but how will his actions affect labor and the workplace? Predicting Trump's strategy is difficult, if not impossible, but we can make some reasonable guesses based on his actions so far.
First, consider if his presence affects whether or not you have a workplace at all. Even before he assumed office, Trump made it quite clear that he would single out individual companies planning to move operations overseas, overstepping traditional presidential bounds (and possibly his legal authority). If you are a traditional factory worker in labor-intensive fields, President Trump may indirectly save your job.
The President's trade policy may also affect the viability of your workplace, in either a positive or a negative fashion. Those who primarily import their goods or raw materials are likely to suffer; those who export may see boom times.
Assuming you still have a job, will you have the same rights and improved wages? Trump's nomination of Andrew Puzder, then the CEO of CKE Restaurants (including the Carl's Jr/Hardee's fast food chains), for Secretary of Labor suggests an approach that is ultimately unfriendly to labor. Puzder withdrew his nomination on the eve of his confirmation hearing following a lack of support from Republican senators, and ironically, is now out of his CEO job.
It's insightful to note that one of Trump's early executive orders mandates that for every new regulation, two must be removed. It's not clear how this would be enforced in practical terms, or if this even could survive legal challenges, but it does signal the administration's aversion to regulations. Expect a collective review of workplace regulations and their enforcement, with an emphasis toward profitability and investment for businesses.
One likely casualty will be the broader joint employer standard enacted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under the Obama administration. The rules were expanded to allow more companies to be held liable in cases where their franchisees or subcontractors were cited for labor law violations. Expect that ruling to be scaled back, if not repealed outright. The 2014 NRLB rule expediting union elections seems like another likely target.
The Obama administration's overtime rule, shifting the cut-off salary for overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476, was already blocked by a District Court in Texas. While Trump may not affect this rule directly, Congress is likely to consider repealing that rule, or possibly nullifying it under the Congressional Review Act of 1996. Trump's second choice to head up the Labor Department, Attorney and Dean of the Florida International University College of Law Alexander Acosta, indicated in his confirmation hearing on March 22 that he would be inclined to revise the overtime rule to a straight inflation adjustment, which would be more favorable to employers than to workers.
It is less clear what will happen with paid leave and minimum wage issues. Trump has gone on record as supporting six weeks of paid maternity leave, going against traditional Republican pro-business philosophy. Meanwhile, states are now taking the lead on minimum wage increases — currently, thirty states have minimum wages greater than the federal standard of $7.25 — and Trump may be perfectly willing to sidestep the issue and leave it to the states.
For an admittedly litigious person, the President seems likely to pursue policies that attempt to reduce the number of lawsuits. The NLRB has argued in the courts against employers mandating dispute resolution through arbitration (preventing class-action lawsuits), but the nature of the NRLB itself will likely change under the new administration. The NRLB currently has vacancies, and Trump can be expected to appoint conservative members to the boards. Even if the NLRB is not a factor, the issue seems to be headed toward a Supreme Court that will be tilted conservatively by the time the case arrives.
Trump is also expected to sign into law the repeal of a significant corporate safety regulation issued by the Obama administration. The rule, which required large employers in dangerous industries to keep ongoing records of health and safety incidents, was changed by the Republican-led Congress to reduce the length of time these records are kept from five years to just six months. Former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advisors fear that this will make it impossible to identify recurring problems in specific industries and give unscrupulous employers license to neglect their record-keeping to prevent paying workers' compensation costs.
In short, President Trump will have an interesting time balancing a pro-business approach with his populist claims to return many good-paying jobs to the U.S. Let's see how he does, and whether wages and working conditions keep up with his expected economic growth.