A License to Exploit

The Trump administration seems to be taking a page out of the illusionist’s handbook as the president sends outrageous middle-of-the-night tweets about his predecessor to distract us from dismantling protections for American workers. The latest don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it tactic was Congress lifting President Barack Obama’s executive order called the Fair Play and Safe Workplaces rule that kept companies with poor safety records from competing for government contracts if they didn’t agree to fix their problems first. This may seem like a sane provision to ensure the kind of psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces I wrote about in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. However, most Republicans in Congress didn’t agree—the executive order was overturned 49 to 48. It seems fairly certain that Trump will sign the repeal.

It’s additionally unsettling that Congress used the rarely invoked 1996 Congressional Review Act to eliminate it, meaning that it can be revoked with a simple majority vote and can’t be reinstated by executive order by another president—to be reinstated it would have to be passed by Congress as a law.

There’s no doubt why the Fair Play and Safe Workplaces rule was necessary. According to a staff report from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 66 of the government’s 100 largest contractors have violated federal wage and hour laws. In addition, a third of the largest OSHA penalties have been imposed on federal contractors. This affects a huge number of employees: The Washington Post estimates that companies with federal contracts employ 1 in 5 American workers. Clearly by fulfilling the wish list of private interests Congress has granted an open license to exploit working Americans—the very people Trump promised to champion while on the campaign trail.

And all of this is being done at breakneck speed and deflected by sleight of hand. What’s the rush? I suspect Trump and the Republicans are hurrying to fulfill their agenda before the American people rise up and put them out of power. We can only hope that happens before truly serious damage is done.

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