The Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic marks the administration’s most glaring failure of leadership. However, the administration’s response to the pandemic is in no way distinct from its approach to governing since President Trump’s first day on the job. The administration has systematically promoted the interests of corporate executives and shareholders over those of working people and failed to protect workers’ safety, wages, and rights.
The pandemic has merely provided the administration another opportunity to continue its attacks on workers’ rights. Instead of instituting policies to protect the nation’s essential workers, the administration has remained largely silent on workplace safety standards, refusing to issue mandatory emergency standards to protect workers against the new threat of the coronavirus. As a result, workers continue to be required to work without protective gear and other measures necessary to keep them safe.1 Furthermore, sick workers continue to lack access to paid leave.2 And, when workers try to speak up for themselves and one another, they are fired.3
This report provides a review of the Trump administration’s 50 most egregious attacks on working people since Trump took office. This analysis reveals that President Trump’s time in office has been marked by a clear commitment to advancing a pro-corporate, anti-worker agenda.
It is critical that a new administration work with the same diligence from Day One to reverse these actions. But simply reversing the Trump anti-worker agenda will not be enough. A new administration must advance a workers’ first-100-day agenda that includes measures that provide working people with the rights and protections they need and deserve.
Here are 50 ways the Trump administration has failed workers, starting with recent actions (or inactions) and extending back to the beginning of Trump’s presidency.
1. It has failed to support adequate fiscal stimulus during the coronavirus pandemic
In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which included a temporary $600 increase in weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and $150 billion in aid to state and local governments. However, once the relief measures ran out, the Trump administration vehemently opposed the extension of the $600 increase of UI benefits4 and additional aid to state and local governments.5 The lack of fiscal relief will cost millions of jobs, including 5.3 million jobs due to insufficient federal aid to state and local governments6 and 5.1 million jobs due to the expiration of the $600 boost in UI.7
2. It has diminished the integrity and accuracy of the 2020 U.S. Census
In 2019, the Trump administration proposed adding an untested citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire, which would have depressed response rates, cost taxpayers more money, and diminished the accuracy of the 2020 Census.8 The proposal was ultimately blocked by the Supreme Court.9 In August 2020, the Trump administration announced that counting efforts for the 2020 Census would end a month early, despite significant delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.10 These actions by the Trump administration will diminish the integrity and accuracy of the 2020 Census, which plays a central role in allocating political representation and federal government resources across states and localities.
3. It stopped funding for Social Security
Under the guise of pandemic relief, President Trump signed an executive order suspending funding for Social Security.11 Specifically, the executive order allows employers to defer withholding and paying the 6.2% employee share of the Social Security payroll tax for workers making less than $2,000 per week. This poorly targeted tax deferral increases the disposable income of higher earners more and does nothing for unemployed workers.12 Only Congress has the authority to cut taxes—meaning affected workers may owe double taxes next year under the executive order. President Trump has said that he would like to permanently end payroll contributions to Social Security, but he has not offered a realistic plan to replace the lost revenue.13 Meanwhile, the Senate Republican leadership has tried to attach to a pandemic relief bill a fast-track, closed-door process that would make it easier to cut Social Security benefits.14
4. It dismantled fiduciary protections for retirement savers
The Trump Department of Labor (DOL) scrapped an Obama administration rule preventing conflicts of interest in investment advice offered to retirement savers, proposing to replace it with a misleading “best interest” standard based on vague and unenforceable language in an SEC rule.15 At the same time, the Trump administration reinstated a narrow definition of investment advice covered under a fiduciary standard that excludes most of the harmful “advice” offered to small savers.16 Dismantling fiduciary protections allows brokers and other salespeople to offer what appears to be expert advice while steering savers to higher-cost and lower-quality investments.17
5. It has engaged in persistent efforts to take away workers’ health care
The Trump administration sided with Congressional Republican allies18 in attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA)19 in 2017, asked the Supreme Court to rule the ACA unconstitutional in its entirety on a wafer-thin legal justification,20 and weakened the ACA greatly as part of the 2017 tax cut for corporations.21 Finally, even in the face of millions of workers losing their employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) due to the COVID-19 economic shock,22 the Trump administration not only persisted in its efforts to repeal the ACA (through its request to Supreme Court), but also did nothing to make it easier for workers who had lost ESI to slide into coverage under the ACA marketplace exchanges, even though an administrative fix was easily available at the time.23
6. It narrowed the scope of ‘protected concerted activity’ under the NLRA
The centerpiece of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is workers’ right to engage in “protected concerted activity”—for example, to protest, strike, or organize a union—to improve their working conditions. In a series of decisions and actions,24 the Trump National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has systematically narrowed its interpretation of what counts as protected concerted activity, leaving workers unprotected against employer retaliation when they protest or strike over safety conditions (for example, insufficient protections from COVID-19),25 employer rules on tipping, and other issues.
7. It has persisted in attempts to end DACA
The Trump administration vowed to persist in its efforts to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) through the courts, despite legal challenges and despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the administration had not followed proper administrative procedures in previous attempts.26 DACA is an initiative started in 2012 that allows eligible migrants who entered the United States without authorization as minors to obtain a temporary reprieve from deportation. Those eligible for DACA can renew every two years and are able to obtain a Social Security Number and an employment authorization document, allowing them to work lawfully and attend college. DACA has been one of the most successful immigrant integration programs ever, allowing recipients to have labor rights that have translated into massive wage gains and that make it more difficult for employers to exploit immigrant workers and the U.S.-born workers who work alongside them.27
8. It suspended the issuance of green cards
In June 2020, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation that suspends the issuance of permanent immigrant visas—also known as “green cards”—to migrants who are applying for them from abroad.28 Green cards grant lawful permanent resident status, which provides a path to citizenship for immigrants who wish to naturalize. Ironically, President Trump issued this proclamation at a time when nearly all forms of temporary and permanent immigration to the United States were already stopped or suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, if the proclamation were to remain in force for one full year during a period with normal levels of immigration, it would result in a reduction of nearly one-third of all green cards. This effort was clearly an attempt to scapegoat immigrants and blame them for a crashing economy in the spring of 2020.29
9. It has failed to act to protect the health of workers during the pandemic
Despite the widespread reach of COVID-19 in the workplace, the Trump administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has refused to issue any required measures—via an emergency temporary infectious disease standard—to protect workers from the virus. OSHA even rejected a petition by unions representing affected workers and by the AFL-CIO for mandatory rules to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus on the job.30 OSHA and the CDC have issued only general and vague guidance that OSHA is not enforcing.
Further, the Trump administration halted all work in 2017 on a permanent infectious disease standard that would have protected workers from COVID-19 and mitigated the spread of the disease at work and back out into the community.31
OSHA is also failing to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act during the pandemic. Despite over 9,000 complaints from workers about unsafe working conditions from COVID-19, the agency had issued only four citations for failure to protect workers as of August.32 A report by DOL’s Office of Inspector General found that understaffing of the agency has created significant delays in investigating these complaints.33 These delays put more workers at risk for being exposed to unsafe working conditions.
Not only has the Trump administration failed to protect the health of workers by issuing an infectious disease standard and by enforcing OSHA, it has in fact done the opposite. The CDC issued dangerous guidelines that allowed essential workers to continue to work even if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus—as long as they appear to be asymptomatic and the employer implements additional limited precautions.34 This guidance is in stark contrast to the guidelines issued for the general public that acknowledges the significant risk of infection from asymptomatic and presymptomatic infected individuals and recommends exposed individuals be quarantined.35
10. It issued guidance that allows states to deny unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to workers who refuse to return to unsafe jobs
The Trump DOL issued temporary guidance that encourages state UI agencies to push employers to report workers who fail to return to work—so that the workers can be disqualified from receiving further UI.36
11. It issued an executive order that intimidated local health departments from closing meat-processing plants with significant COVID-19 outbreaks
In April 2020, President Trump issued an executive order that claimed to require the nation’s meat production plants to remain open.37 The executive order did not actually prevent public health departments from closing plants, nor did it designate the industry as an essential industry, but it has been used by the Trump administration to intimidate local agencies from closing plants with multiple deaths and huge outbreaks.38 State and local agencies mistakenly thought that their hands were tied and they could not demand that the meat industry implement the most basic CDC guidance of providing masks and social distancing. The result is over 40,000 meat and poultry workers sick and hundreds dead.39
12. It excluded millions of workers from paid leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), including 9 million health care workers and 4.4 million first responders
The Trump DOL issued a temporary rule exempting certain employers from the FFCRA paid leave requirement, including health care providers and companies with fewer than 50 employees.40 According the Department’s own estimates, this would exempt 96% of firms covered by the law.41 It is worth noting that companies with 500 or more employees were already excluded from the FFCRA requirements.
13. It significantly narrowed benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program
DOL issued guidance narrowing the framework for eligibility and duration of PUA benefits.42
14. It allowed poultry plants to increase line speeds during the coronavirus pandemic
In April 2020, the Trump Department of Agriculture allowed 15 large poultry plants to increase their line speeds in the middle of the pandemic, despite many of the plants being sites of COVID-19 outbreaks.43 Poultry workers already faced high risk of work-related COVID-19 infections and serious injuries; this decision only exacerbated that risk.
15. It issued interim guidance that removed most employer responsibility to investigate or record workplace-related coronavirus cases in non-health-care workplaces
In issuing this guidance, Trump’s OSHA signaled that it did not consider the spread of COVID-19 in non-health-care essential industries to be work-related and gave employers a pass on their obligation to protect workers. After a huge public outcry, the agency rescinded this guidance.44
16. It pushed to lower wages for migrant farmworkers
Farmworkers in the United States are some of the lowest-paid workers in the labor market, despite the work they do being declared “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic.45 In mid-2019 the Trump administration proposed a lengthy regulation seeking to change a number of H-2A visa program rules. The H-2A is a temporary work visa program used by agricultural employers to hire migrant farmworkers for seasonal jobs—including by President Trump himself at his wineries.46 One of the proposals would change the way the required wage rates are calculated for H-2A jobs: The current rule would be replaced by one that is more complex and lowers wages for most H-2A workers. The change was opposed in formal comments by 42 organizations, including EPI.47 A final version of the proposed regulation has not yet been issued, but in the meantime the White House has been justifying the wage cut as necessary given the challenges posed to employers by the pandemic.48
The 200,000 H-2A farmworkers working in the United States last year represented approximately 10% of the crop farm workforce. Sadly, abuses by labor recruiters and employers are all too common.49 The program desperately needs reforms to protect migrant and American workers, but over nearly four years Trump’s proposals have all been employer-friendly—not worker-friendly—even as the program has grown rapidly.50
17. It suspended all union elections
The Trump NLRB suspended all union elections, including mail ballot elections, between March 19 and March 31, 2020, and then allowed mail ballot elections only if the employer agreed to that arrangement.51
18. It completed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s (anti-worker) wish list
The Trump NLRB actively pursued the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Top 10 wish list and adopted 10 out of 10 changes sought by the Chamber—all of which weaken workers’ ability to organize with their co-workers to bargain collectively with their employers.