From bad to worse

Trump’s picks for Secretary of Labor

Left: Alexander Acosta, Trump’s first pick for Secretary of Labor. Center: Patrick Pizzella, the interim secretary. Right: Eugene Scalia, Trump’s nominee as Acosta’s permanent replacement.
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Alexander Acosta, Patrick Pizzella and Eugene Scalia. What do they all have in common? They are Trump’s pro-business choices to head the Department of Labor. Why are these men such bad selections for Labor Secretary? Opposition to the goals of the department would be the short answer.

According to its own website, the department’s role is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

Sounds pretty straight forward. And yet, with every changing of the guard, the position appears to be about protecting the ability of the bosses to maximize exploitation of workers.

Women and girls last. Alexander Acosta was Trump’s first confirmed Secretary of Labor, and the only Latino to serve in the cabinet to date. Compared to the others, his record looks almost pro-worker. It’s not.

Acosta is responsible for the slap-on-the-hand plea deal with sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein. This was exposed during his confirmation hearings in 2017. But he was extolled as “the compromise candidate,” and even the AFL-CIO supported him.

What did this compromise get working people? A man whose department proposed cutting their own International Labor Affairs Bureau from $68 million to under $20 million. This is the office that combats human trafficking (including child sex trafficking), child labor and forced labor internationally.

It seems only fitting that when the Epstein scandal exploded this summer, Acosta was forced to resign.

Condoning discrimination. Trump elevated Patrick Pizzella to Acting Secretary of Labor in mid-July. On August 14, with Pizzella’s full approval, the Labor Department proposed a rule to allow “religion-exercising organizations” with federal contracts to raise religious exemptions if accused of bias in their hiring practices. That includes any organization whose owner claims personal beliefs, not just organizations tied to a church or faith.

The goal is to help companies “make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.”

The plan is an outrageous and underhanded attempt to green-light discrimination. Many have come out against this change. The ACLU tweeted that the proposed rule, “aims to let government contractors fire workers who are LGBTQ, or who are pregnant and unmarried, based on the employers’ religious views. This is taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion. Period.”

A lifetime defending bosses. Of course, Pizzella was only a placeholder until Trump officially put forward Eugene Scalia as the next Secretary of Labor. Given the makeup of the Senate, his confirmation is pretty-well assured.

Eugene Scalia, the son of deceased right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, spent most of his life representing the interests of business.

The AFL-CIO is opposing this one, saying, “Eugene Scalia has spent his entire career making life more difficult and dangerous for working people.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Scalia led the fight on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against ergonomics rules designed to protect workers from injuries caused by unsafe workplace design. These regulations could have prevented 600,000 injuries a year. EPI wrote “Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as ‘quackery.’”

Scalia got a class action suit against United Parcel Service (UPS) overturned. Workers returning to work following medical leave for on-the-job injuries sued UPS to provide legally-mandated reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. They won certification of a national class of similarly situated workers to pursue their claims. Scalia, on behalf of UPS, got the class certification reversed.

On behalf of Walmart he got struck down a Maryland law requiring large corporations to spend 8 percent of payroll on either providing private health insurance or paying into the state’s Medicaid fund.

As Secretary of Labor he will decide what new regulations are needed, and be responsible for enforcement. That is leaving the fox in charge of the hen house.

Workers demand more. What all three nominations underscore is a lack of accountability in the U.S. government. This isn’t about one bad apple. There is a laundry list of people working against the best interests of their departments including Betsy DeVos in Education, Ben Carson in Housing and Urban Development and David Bernhardt in Interior.

These honchos actively subvert the stated mission of their sections, often to line the pockets of business buddies. Scalia appears to be cut from the same cloth.

Whoever ends up serving as secretary won’t be a friend of labor. But that won’t stop people from organizing. Despite the obstacles, workers are on the move.

In Oregon and Washington state, United Food and Commercial Workers are negotiating for gender wage parity. In Kentucky, miners are demanding promised pay and benefits (see editorial on page 6). And teachers’ unions continue to push for better classroom conditions.

Unionized or not, workers are standing up for good wages, benefits, and safe conditions on the job. They deserve much better than anything Trump and his cronies want to give.

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