Trump Labor Secretary Acosta defends rules cuts, GOP tax plan
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta | AP

WASHINGTON—On the eve of a key vote on the Republican plan to cut taxes for the rich – and raise them for at least one of every four people among everyone else – Labor Secretary Alex Acosta vigorously defended the scheme as helping “job creators.”

Acosta, Republican President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary, also used that same reasoning to justify DOL rollbacks of pro-worker regulations, in his first appearance before the GOP-run House Education and the Workforce Committee, on November 15.

The GOP tax bill, Acosta told the politically polarized panel, “lowers taxes for job creators of all sizes and structures.” It would let firms compete internationally, win more business and create more “family sustaining jobs,” he claimed, without any evidence.

But Acosta spent much of his time discussing the rules DOL junked, all of which workers and their political allies back.

AFGE

The dead rules included: Raising the standard for which workers can get overtime pay, cutting worker exposure to beryllium and other workplace hazards, ordering “persuaders” – union-busters – to disclose more about whom they worked for and how much they got paid, and mandating financial advisors to workers and pension plans put their clients’ interests first.

The Democratic Obama administration promulgated all the rules. Led by the E&W Committee, the GOP-run Congress, Trump, or both, have rolled them all back. And quizzed about yet another rollback, Acosta ducked saying what he would do about an Obama rule – now tied up in court – to put teeth behind the federal law that says restaurants and similar employers must make sure their tipped workers are fairly paid.

All the other rules “place an undue burden on employers while producing a minimal impact on worker protections,” Acosta contended – again offering no proof for that statement.

The committee’s ruling Republicans lauded Acosta’s and Trump’s moves, with chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., declaring: “We know the department has its work cut out after eight years of an unprecedented regulatory rampage. But we look forward to building on the progress we’ve made together so we can get government out of the way and unleash prosperity and opportunity.”

Democrats had an entirely different take. “In its first 10 months” under Trump “there are troubling questions about whether the department reversed important progress made during the previous administration, and laid the groundwork to undermine workers’ wages, retirement security, workforce safety, affordable health care and skills development,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the panel’s top Democrat.

The overtime pay rule expansion alone, doubling the cap under which workers are eligible for overtime, to $47,476, would help 4.5 million workers, Scott told Acosta. Acosta told senators at his confirmation hearing he thought raising the cap to $32,000 would suffice.

The cap hasn’t risen since 2005, and then, the exempt group of workers extended all the way down to newspaper editorial assistants. That hasn’t changed, either.

And yanking the “fiduciary rule,” which orders investment advisors to put clients first, “would put the demands of Wall Street ahead of the interests of workers,” Scott said.

“While the previous administration issued rules to help end the scourge of black lung disease and to prevent deaths from silica-related diseases, the current DOL has proposed a rollback of protections for construction and shipyard workers who are exposed to ultra-toxic beryllium, and has jettisoned work on standards for toxic chemicals and combustible dust.

“It is also unclear whether DOL will finalize a December 1 deadline for employers in higher-hazard industries to submit summaries of their injury and illness logs. Without this data, there are questions about how OSHA will secure the information needed to target inspections at those worksites where workers are at greatest risk,” Scott warned.

Acosta ducked many of the specific criticisms. Instead, he emphasized “voluntary compliance” by employers with job safety rules, GOP-speak for letting firms call in OSHA for advice and, in return, escape inspections and fines.

He also said the fiduciary rule and the overtime rule have attracted tens of thousands of comments that DOL is plowing through. And the high-hazard deadline, already pushed back to December 1, has been further delayed by six months, Acosta said, due to 200,000 comments on a proposed DOL rewrite.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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