Workplace Health and Safety | Corporate Greed | Labor Law

The War on Regulatory Protections

The Trump administration, along with the Republican leadership in Congress and their allies, have launched a war on regulation. These efforts have been advanced with bogus claims that regulations cost jobs and impede economic growth. There is no less than a concerted effort to roll back regulations and leave the public unprotected. This agenda should not come as a surprise, as we were warned during the Trump campaign that the real goal is “the deconstruction of the administrative state” to fundamentally change the role of government in protecting the public, and leave corporations and employers unaccountable and unchecked. These attacks threaten more than 50 years of labor, health, safety, financial, consumer, environmental and other laws and safeguards that have protected working people on the job and made Americans safer, healthier and more secure.

The assault on regulatory protections has been swift and unrelenting.

Using the Congressional Review Act, 14 rules issued during the last year of the Obama administration were repealed. Protections overturned include Department of Labor rules implementing the executive order on fair pay and safe workplaces for federal contractors, requiring accurate workplace injury reporting by employers, and allowing the establishment of retirement accounts for private-sector workers by state and local governments.

Recent rules not subject to CRA repeal have been delayed or targeted for rollback. Enforcement or implementation of OSHA rules on silica, beryllium and injury reporting, and MSHA’s rule on mine examination, have been delayed, and efforts are under way to roll back some of these measures. DOL’s fiduciary rule that requires retirement investment advisers to act in the best interest of their clients has been delayed and is being revisited, while House Republicans have moved to block it entirely through an appropriations rider. The administration is seeking public comment on new overtime rules that raise wages for millions of workers with an eye toward eliminating them. Financial, environmental and consumer protections are being similarly attacked.

House Republicans recently passed a bill that guts commonsense reforms adopted after the Great Recession to prevent another financial crisis and protect consumers from predatory loans, and eliminates investor protections that have existed since the Great Depression. The Department of Treasury also has proposed sweeping deregulation of the financial markets that would harm consumers by undermining the ability of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to prevent predatory lending practices, thus increasing the risk of future financial crises.

The scope of the attack far exceeds recent Obama administration rules. President Trump issued an executive order requiring that for any new rule issued, two existing regulations must be
repealed, which will result in less protection for workers and the public. Another order requires agencies to review all existing rules, to identify those that “impose unnecessary regulatory burdens” and to repeal or revise these measures. These actions have given license to the most sinister interests in Washington to pursue a wholesale dismantling of critical public protections under the guise of job creation and economic growth.

Republicans in Congress are pushing dozens of regulatory reform bills, including legislation to require congressional approval of all new regulations before they take effect, and the periodic retrospective review of all existing regulations. The most significant threat is the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 5, S. 951). This bill would tilt the regulatory process squarely in favor of corporate interests and anti-government zealots. It would make cost, not protection of workers or the public, the primary consideration, overriding existing laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act and transportation safety laws. This bill would add dozens of new analytical and procedural requirements to the rulemaking process, adding years to the already lengthy process, and provide new opportunities for special interests and their lobbyists to block or weaken rules they oppose.

All of these actions to weaken protections for workers and consumers come at the same time the administration is rolling back regulations to require companies to disclose when they hire union-busters and ratcheting up the regulatory burden on labor unions with even more extensive reporting.

The labor movement has joined with allies to fight this assault on protections for workers and the public. We have vigorously opposed legislation to overturn rules and have filed legal challenges to oppose executive orders and delays and rollbacks of rules. We have united to oppose and stop the Regulatory Accountability Act and other bills that would undermine our regulatory protection system.

The labor movement has been at the forefront of efforts to win the legal framework to ensure a fair, just society that protects workers and the public. We fought for decades to win safeguards for workers and the public from harm and abuse. We will fight to defend these hard-won gains.

Protecting the public should be a priority of elected officials in both political parties. The Trump administration and its allies on Capitol Hill should end this war on regulatory protections before their efforts place millions of Americans at risk.