Trump Administration De-Regulatory Agenda Threatens Worker Safety

Workplace Safety

When Donald Trump ran for President in 2016, it was as a champion of blue collar, working Americans. It set him apart in the Republican primary, when he successfully out-flanked GOP rivals who ran on the usual Republican supply-side talking points.

And that pose – while always of questionable sincerity – worked well enough in the general election to squeak out narrow victories in crucial Rust Belt states that had long voted for Democrats.

As President, however, Trump and his appointees have relentlessly pursued a de-regulatory agenda that values the profits and flexibility of large companies over the health and well-being of employees. It is, perhaps, an inevitable consequence of the President’s staffing strategy: fill federal agencies with individuals who used to work – or lobby – for the very industries those agencies are supposed to regulate.

Workers Bear the Burden

It’s worth acknowledging that regulatory decisions of the sort these agencies make can be complicated, and reasonable people can disagree on how those regulations should be written and how the line should be drawn between worker safety and commercial interests.

But while some individual Trump Administration decisions can be defended, the totality of those decisions writes a clear narrative: the administration consistently sides with big business over workers.

In the story linked above, the publication Politico lays out multiple examples of this dynamic:

  • Nominating – and getting confirmed – Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. As a lower court judge, Kavanaugh consistently sided against employees on questions of collective bargaining and employer responsibility for worker deaths
  • Loosening regulations on coal mine inspections in a way preferred by mine operators
  • Proposing a new rule that would ease Obama-era regulations on offshore oil rigs put in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.
  • The Agriculture Department is considering raising line speeds at meat-packing plants, where workers already deal with dangerous, unsanitary conditions and suffer injuries at greater rates than other workers
  • OSHA is looking to loosen reporting requirements for on-the-job injuries

In addition, the administration’s controversial proposed asbestos rule could have an out-sized impact on employees working near asbestos.

The Administration’s Response

Unsurprisingly, administration spokespeople defend all of these decisions.

And to be sure, then-candidate Trump promised to remove regulations that he said were stifling American industry, particularly in the coal industry. This was, in fact, a key element of Trump’s economic agenda, so it’s not quite accurate to say that the administration’s de-regulatory steps represent broken promises. However, Trump, as a candidate, did vow to protect the health and safety of American workers.

Generally speaking, administration officials claim that the new rules and proposals provide both employers and employees with greater “flexibility,” a long-standing conservative talking point. Officials say that these decisions retain important protections for employees while removing onerous regulatory burdens.

In addition, the new rules would save money – the new rules for offshore oil rigs, for example, would reduce the frequency with which operators have to test equipment, saving these companies more than $900 million over the next 10 years.

Regulatory Capture?

Perhaps none of these decisions should be surprising, considering who the President has chosen to perform crucial jobs within the federal government.

Politico notes that David Zatezalo, the Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health at the Department of Labor, used to be President and CEO of Rhino Resources, a mining company repeatedly cited for safety violations. One incident resulted in the death of a coal miner.

This, in fact, is a pattern throughout the Trump Administration. Acting EPA administrator Roger Wheeler used to lobby for chemical companies, while Nancy Beck, head of the EPA’s chemical safety office, previously worked for the chemical industry’s chief trade group.

There’s a certain logic to bringing former industry officials into government – these officials often possess unique insight into complicated questions and don’t need to be brought up to speed. And just because someone used to work for an industry doesn’t mean he or she is incapable of effectively regulating that industry.

However, the Trump Administration has shown that when you staff federal agencies almost exclusively with people who have worked most of their lives to undermine and defeat regulation, the results are sadly predictable.

If you or someone you know has been injured on the job, talk to a skilled accident attorney in your area today.