President Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday night was far more measured than usual. But actions speak louder than words, and a single speech cannot assuage the chaos and fear that a month of drastic actions by the president has sown.
It’s great that Trump talked about improving jobs and raising wages and restoring America’s middle class—who would disagree? But uttering platitudes and spewing hyperbole is not the same as actually putting workers at the top of the agenda, with policies that actually promote workers’ interests rather than those of big business and Wall Street. The jury is out, and working people are waiting to see proof that the president will genuinely embrace and advance policies benefiting them.
Problem is, everything we know about the Trump agenda belies the lofty rhetoric about putting workers first. The proposals envisioned by the Trump administration will ultimately hurt, not help, America’s working people.
Let’s start with his administration’s master plan to—in the words of Trump strategist Steven Bannon—“deconstruct the administrative state.” It remains to be seen whether Trump’s latest nominee for labor secretary will be confirmed, but what this means for workers in the real world is a weakened Labor Department and the possible evisceration of labor standards designed to ensure that workers get paid what they’re owed and aren’t injured on the job.
Trump says he wants to get rid of “job-crushing regulations”—but tell that to a machine worker whose fingers have been amputated in an industrial injury that easily could’ve been prevented if the required safeguards had been installed; or to a poultry processing worker suffering from crippling repetitive stress injuries because she’s forced to carve up birds at the grueling line-speed rate of 40 birds a minute—a line speed that the poultry industry has sought to increase. The facts are clear: workplace safety regulations don’t kill jobs, they prevent jobs from injuring and killing workers. The Republican-controlled Congress is in midst of repealing two recent regulations that encourage worker safety: one required federal contractors to disclose any labor and safety violations during the bidding process for federal contracts, and the other required large companies to maintain accurate records of serious injuries on the job.
On the federal budget, Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending would require deep cuts to domestic programs and threaten to undermine important programs that millions of America’s families rely on, like Head Start and job training. So far, the budget plans being floated provide nothing for struggling workers like these. Indeed, the proposed tax overhaul is nothing more than a big giveaway to Wall Street, corporations, and wealthy CEOs, at the expense of working people and families.
On clear display during Trump’s speech was a continued scapegoating of immigrants, grossly exaggerating the threat they pose and denigrating the value they add to our economy and our communities. Ours is a nation of immigrants, yet Trump’s ill-conceived and brashly embellished pronouncements on immigration have stoked fear and panic in immigrant communities across America and given rise to shocking anti-immigrant violence and hate crimes. There’s no good reason for this, and it must stop.
Trump’s calls for more infrastructure spending and paid family leave were among the few potential areas of agreement in an otherwise troubling agenda, but even there, the devil is in the details—and what President Trump says versus what he does is the crucial difference.
The president made a lot of promises. Now it’s up to all of us to ensure that this president and his administration are held accountable.
Christine Owens is executive director of the National Employment Law Project.