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Dodging Two Outrageous Threats to Workers

Feb. 21, 2017
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Photo credit: Meshae Studios on Flickr

So many appalling actions are coming out of the White House these days it’s good to be able to celebrate some outrageous threats to American lives that we’re all fortunate didn’t happen.

In rapid-fire succession, we just dodged two near misses of disastrous appointments as secretary of Labor who would have endangered the livelihoods of working families all over the country. 

What it also did was expose the Biggest Lie of Donald Trump’s presidency that an obsessively self-centered billionaire who lives in a gold-plated tower would have any concern at all for ordinary working Americans or even give them a passing thought.

No one who cared about American workers would entrust their protection to an anti-worker Labor Secretary like Andrew Puzder, the chief executive of the low-wage Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurants or, hang onto your hats, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. 

Puzder, who was Trump’s first choice, was forced to withdraw after Senate Republicans began fleeing his nomination in horror. Still, most Republicans politely avoided pointing out why Puzder never should have been nominated in the first place.

That’s because Trump and Republican senators are far more concerned about protecting the rights of employers to pay their employees as little as possible than they are about achieving livable wages or better lives for working people.

Most Republicans withdrawing their support cited lesser embarrassments such as Puzder’s hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and ugly stories of domestic violence arising during a bitter divorce. 

No one mentioned Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants across the country being fined and required to restore back pay in thousands of labor law violations, primarily for failure to pay the minimum wage or the lawful rate for working overtime.

Puzder openly opposes increasing the outdated $7.25 federal minimum wage that keeps full-time workers in poverty and federal laws protecting workers from safety violations and discrimination. 

Showing his contempt for his own workers in an interview with the Business Insider website last year, Puzder welcomed increased automation to his industry—a far greater cause of disappearing American jobs than companies moving overseas—because, as he said, machines “never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

Scott Walker Is Even Worse

It’s hard to imagine a worse possible nominee for secretary of Labor, but moments after Trump realized Puzder couldn’t be confirmed his administration began floating the name of an even more absurd one. Aides put out Walker’s name as the possible replacement.

Seriously?

Were those hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers who occupied the state Capitol and the surrounding grounds for weeks in 2011 there to express their gratitude to Walker for stripping public employees of their legal right to engage in labor negotiations to improve their pay, benefits and working conditions?

The massive state layoffs, wage cuts and early retirements of public employees at every level of government that followed are still crippling Wisconsin economically as it lags behind the rest of the nation in job creation and recovery.

Walker followed up his assault on public employees with an equally vicious assault on workers in private industry by signing a law he once promised he wouldn’t approve to slash the financial resources of unions to improve wages by transforming Wisconsin into a so-called right-to-work-for-less state, joining low-wage Southern states where workers who benefit from unions don’t have to pay any dues.

During his brief, embarrassing run for the presidency, Walker compared his war on the working people of his own state to the worldwide conflict to defeat the terrorists of ISIS. 

Trump couldn’t claim ignorance of Walker’s hostility toward workers because he attacked Walker for it during the Republican primary, later boasting he sent Walker packing “like a little boy.”

Even though Walker’s desire for national office certainly hasn’t faded, he wasted no time distancing himself from the obscene suggestion he be allowed to nationalize his assault on workers as secretary of Labor.

Almost the instant his name surfaced, Walker used Trump’s own weapon of choice to tweet: “The future is too bright in WI for me to do anything other than being Governor.”

That’s not the whole truth and may not be remotely true. At this point, no one, probably not even Walker, really knows whether he is going to run for re-election in 2018. 

That depends on how successful Walker can be in rehabilitating his underwater approval ratings as governor. That’s clearly the motivation behind Walker’s surprisingly liberal proposed budget increases for K-12 education and the University of Wisconsin, even though they barely begin to reverse the destruction from his highly unpopular, historic defunding of state education at every level by hundreds of millions of dollars.

But Walker also recognizes joining the tumultuous, incoherent Trump administration is the likely pathway to permanent political oblivion. 

For that, American workers will forever be very, very grateful.

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