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The People’s Budget Confronts Trump’s Phony Populism on Workers

Amy Traub

Donald Trump campaigned as the defender of working Americans. In his inaugural address, Trump vowed that every decision he made would be to benefit America’s workers. Yet his proposed federal budget, Cabinet appointments, and other actions since taking office suggest little concern for workers’ wages, safety, and overall well-being. For a plan that actually puts greater economic power in the hands of working Americans, voters should look instead to the Progressive Caucus’s newly released People's Budget, which offers a powerful alternative vision for the nation.

Time and again, Trump has wrapped the rhetoric of jobs and working people around an agenda that fundamentally serves big corporations operating with little consideration for their workforce. Nowhere are his real priorities more evident than in the repeal of Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. The order took aim at corporations that cheat their employees out of pay and maintain dangerous work sites—yet still retain lucrative contracts with the federal government and even have their contracts renewed. Drawing on data from the Department of Labor, Demos research found that violations of core worker protection laws, from wage regulations to safety rules, are rampant among federal contractors. Yet Trump chose to go back to the old system of rewarding companies that shortchange their employees with continued government contracts.

Now consider Trump’s nominees to head the Department of Labor, an agency dedicated to protecting the rights of American workers. His first choice to lead the Department was a CEO who built his personal wealth in the fast food industry—cheating his own employees out of wages and championing a business model that treats working people as cheap and disposable. When that nominee dropped out in the face of intense criticism, Trump nominated an attorney with little history of defending the rights of working people and a documented history of biased hiring practices.

Trump’s newest “Buy American, Hire American” executive order may also prove to be more flash than substance, with analysts noting that it is likely to fall prey to the same carve-outs and caveats that have undermined similar orders for decades, leaving it unclear whether the order will actually result in any more jobs.

Even Trump’s proposed budget undermines the Department of Labor, outlining severe cuts that would slash $2.6 billion in funding for workplace safety initiatives and critical job training programs that serve dislocated workers, young people, and low-income seniors. These deep cuts—amounting to more than 20 percent of the Department of Labor’s total budget—would also hamstring the agency’s capacity to protect Americans who are cheated or have their safety put in jeopardy by their employers. While the budget also includes vague proposals encouraging states to expand apprenticeship programs, any promise is far outweighed by the severity of these cuts.

In contrast to Trump’s record of stripping away worker protections, the Progressive Caucus People's Budget would strengthen the ability of working Americans to get their fair share of the economic prosperity they help create. The budget proposal includes provisions raising the minimum wage, updating overtime pay regulations, guaranteeing basic benefits like paid sick time and paid family leave, and strengthening workers’ rights to join together in unions and bargain collectively. Where Trump shrinks the Department of Labor, the People’s Budget proposes an increase in funding for worker protection, enabling faster and more effective investigations of dangerous worksites and companies that cheat their employees. Where Trump pretends that rolling back the rules that check corporate greed is the same thing as defending jobs, the People’s Budget raises wages through concrete policies that empower workers.

On these issues that confront all of us at work, the real populist plan is obvious: the People’s Budget will give the power back to the people.