Labor Perspective From AFSCME President Lee Saunders: A President Trump ‘Must Not Pull A Bait-And-Switch’ On American Workers
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: Lee Saunders (Pictured above addressing Civil Service Employees Association Delegates in Buffalo) serves as President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a National Labor Union of more than 1.6 million workers. You Can Directly Access AFSCME President Saunders’ Labor Perspective at: www.thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/labor/309825-trump-must-not-pull-a-bait-and-switch-on-american-workers
In this year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump tossed out the well-worn Republican playbook to run as an unabashed champion of Working People, promising to bring back jobs and take care of the forgotten man and woman.
He even went so far as to say: “I ‘consider myself in a certain way to be a Blue-Collar Worker.’”
Trump always seemed an unlikely populist, but enough people, in the right States, believed him and now, in a couple of days, will become president.
But will the governing agenda match the campaign rhetoric?
I’ve felt it was incumbent on all of us, even those of us in the Labor Movement and supporters of Hillary Clinton, to keep an open mind and give him a chance to surprise us.
While he doesn’t yet control the executive branch, there is building evidence to assess whether candidate Trump was sincere in his embrace of Working Families.
So far, it doesn’t look great.
Just weeks after winning the election, he arranged - with an assist from his running mate, the sitting Governor of Indiana - for tax breaks that would keep Indiana-based Carrier manufacturing jobs from moving to Mexico.
This was good news for those families immediately affected, who enjoyed the holiday season with security and peace of mind.
But let’s not confuse a one-off saving of jobs with a thought-out economic plan.
Eight years ago, President Obama - inheriting an economy on the verge of meltdown, moved quickly to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and implement a broader economic strategy that would eventually allow Donald Trump to inherit sub-5% unemployment.
If Donald Trump is serious about helping Working People, he will advance similar policies that ensure all Americans have a shot at a good paying job.
But it turned out the Carrier deal wasn’t saving quite as many American jobs as Trump boasted.
When Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers Local, said so publicly, Trump did what Trump does: he lashed out on Twitter, attacking Jones and claiming somehow that the Union was responsible for jobs leaving the country.
It was a pretty remarkable act of disrespect - an incoming president going after a private citizen for speaking the truth.
But even more profound disrespect, on a bigger scale, seems to be on its way.
The day after his Twitter attacks on Jones, Trump picked a Secretary of Labor with palpable hostility to Working People and the challenges they face.
Andrew Puzder, simply put, embraces a profits-over-people business model.
Puzder doesn’t believe we should raise the Federal Minimum Wage - frozen at $7.25 per hour for more than seven years - even though a majority of Americans support an increase.
He has been outspoken against President Obama’s Overtime Rule, arguing that what workers will sacrifice in time-and-a-half pay, they will gain in the “stature and a sense of accomplishment” that comes with a low-paying salaried position.
I guess it’s easy, when your own compensation package is in the millions, to forget that “stature and a sense of accomplishment” don’t pay the bills.
Puzder is also enthusiastically in favor of replacing Workers with robots.
Because machines, he explained in an interview earlier this year, are “always polite… never take a vacation… there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”
It’s all right there in one sentence: contempt for Working People, basic Employee Benefits, Occupational Safety and Civil Rights.
He stands against everything the Department of Labor stands for.
If confirmed, Puzder will join several other millionaires and billionaires in Trump’s cabinet, including Tom Price - who wants to privatize Medicare and repeal the Affordable Care Act, billionaire Betsy DeVos – who’s steered money away from public schools, and Steven Mnuchin - a former Goldman Sachs partner who also profited off of foreclosed homes during the housing crisis.
It is difficult to see how Trump will fight for the little guy if he surrounds himself with so few of them.
However, there’s still time to course-correct and Organized Labor stands ready to help President Trump do right by Working People.
But so far, it appears a cruel bait-and-switch is in the works: a campaign that promised to lift up Working People is transitioning into an administration that will tear them down.