Donald Trump and GOP-Controlled Congress Strip Workers of Rights and Protections (and No One Is Talking About It)

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March 30, 2017

With each passing day, the federal government is looking more and more like Trump, Inc. – a company with questionable business practices that raise legal and ethical eyebrows.

Earlier this week, President Trump chose to take away an important tool for protecting workers that would have prevented federal agencies from awarding big-dollar government contracts to companies that discriminate against their employees and violate other worker-protection laws. Trump signed into law House Joint Resolution 37, which nullified the Department of Labor’s implementation of President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order.

And then, rather than standing up for American workers, he doubled down on his anti-worker agenda and rescinded the Order itself.

What did the Fair Pay and Safe Workspaces Executive Order do, you ask?

It did exactly what it sounds like. This E.O. was designed to ensure that the federal government only did business with entities that respect their employees and comply with federal labor laws.

And we’re not talking about onerous requirements. This is what compliance with the law looks like:

  • Paying workers a fair wage and on time, including overtime pay, as outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Providing a safe working environment, as outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
  • Guaranteeing workers job protection and unpaid leave to care for family members, as outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Providing equal employment opportunity regardless of disability, including HIV status, as outlined in the Rehabilitation Act.
  • Not discriminating on the basis of sex, including because someone has transitioned while employed or is gender-nonconforming (e.g. in a same-sex relationship), as outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and, for federal contractors specifically, Executive Order 11246, which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

President Obama issued Executive Order 13673 because many different studies found that government contractors repeatedly received federal funds while being in violation of labor laws meant to protect workers.

While most federal contractors comply with their legal and ethical obligations, the E.O. sought to weed out the bad apples from the bunch. It directed the Department of Labor to take steps (which it did in August 2016) to ensure that federal contracting dollars only went to companies that conducted their affairs in a responsible – and legal – manner.

Big business fought back, and in October 2016, a federal judge issued an order preventing the Department of Labor from implementing President Obama’s directive. Two weeks later – and before a court of appeals could review the decision – Donald Trump was elected.

But wait. It gets better. Or rather, worse.

Emboldened by the election and after an intense lobbying campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, Congress stepped in to roll back this guidance, and did so in a way that will likely prevent the Department of Labor from reissuing it in the future

In other words, Congress is tying the hands of the Department of Labor far after Donald Trump leaves office, and hard-working people, including LGBT people, will pay the price.

And did Donald Trump live up to his promises to protect American workers by vetoing this resolution? Of course not. He did American workers one better (or rather, one worse) by rescinding Obama’s Executive Order.

This is just one more way in which the Trump administration is looking to reverse the progress that LGBT people have made over the last eight years.

There is nothing about these actions that helps American workers or promotes good business practices.

Photo by: Gage Skidmore

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Donald Trump sees nothing wrong with the federal government doing business with companies that fail to pay their employees on time, don’t provide them with family leave, don’t provide safe working conditions or discriminate on the basis of sex or age or HIV status. After selling himself as a President for “working people,” once again, his actions – along with those of Congress – speak volumes about whose interests matter, and whose do not.

But make no mistake: This administration’s willingness to allow discrimination doesn’t erase the laws that ban it.

The agenda of the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress is clear, and they will continue in their efforts to roll back the rights and protections extended to LGBT workers by the Obama administration.

Title VII still prohibits sex discrimination – including discrimination against LGBT people – by these big businesses, and President Obama’s Executive Order still prohibits discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT people.

Employees of federal contractors should know their rights, and contact a lawyer (or Lambda Legal’s Help Desk) if those rights are violated.

If your employer is a federal contractor who thinks that, in the era of Trump, it can get away with discriminating against its workers who are LGBT or living with HIV, your employer is wrong. It’s true that President Trump has eliminated an important tool designed to keep these companies in compliance with the law. But Lambda Legal is still here to hold employers accountable, even if the Trump administration won’t.