When Donald Trump was running for President, he specifically targeted the “White working class,” telling them that he’d prevent their jobs from leaving the country, that he’d bring back manufacturing jobs, and that he’d revive the oil and steel industries. He hasn’t taken office yet, but he has already celebrated the fact that Carrier, a furnace manufacturer in Indianapolis, Indiana, has agreed to keep jobs in the United States, even though they had earlier announced that they would have moved jobs to Mexico.
The Carrier deal that Trump has been crowing about is so deceptive, that some business writers describe it as a scam and a union leader accused Trump of lying his hind parts off. Trump says he saved over a thousand jobs, but the real number may be closer to 730. Carrier will still relocate more than 500 jobs to Mexico, and they had already planned to keep about 300 jobs in the United States. So Trump may have “saved” 400 jobs, not 800 or a thousand, and Indiana Governor Mike Pence had to give up $7 million in tax benefits to keep the jobs here. Trump and Pence have also signaled that they are willing to play “let’s make a deal” on a case by case basis to keep jobs in the United States, instead of using public policy to encourage the development of U.S. jobs and to limit the mobility of capital. And, Carrier is still closing another Indiana plant, but there has been no intervention for that closure.
Now, Mr. Trump has indicated that Andrew F. Puzder is his choice for Secretary of Labor. Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, a company that franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food outlets, has opposed minimum wage increases, worker protections, paid sick leave, and the Affordable Care Act. He has said that he welcomes automation in the restaurant industry, because machines are “always polite…never take a vacation, never show up late, there’s never a slip and fall or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” While the Department of Labor has been the advocate for workers, Mr. Puzder seems to be an advocate for worker exploitation.
Okay, y’all working-class White folks, those of you who voted for Mr. Trump, are you ready to swallow a bitter pill? Because Mr. Trump has shown you, yet again, what he thinks of you. The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about President Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals.” What Mr. Trump seems to have assembled is a team of war-mongering generals and bombastic billionaires. The Puzder appointment, then, is consistent with Mr. Trump’s philosophy, but it is inconsistent with the notion that the Labor Department should be an advocate for workers, and should regulate labor markets and enforce labor legislation.
The minimum wage was stuck at $5.15 an hour for ten years before it was increased in 2007. Then, Congress approved a three-step increase, raising the wage to $5.85 an hour in July 2007, then $6.55 an hour in 2008, finally increasing to $7.25 an hour in 2009. It has been stuck there ever since. President Obama has recommended an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, less than the $15 an hour that many activists are advocating through the Fight for Fifteen. Puzder does not think the minimum wage should be more than $9 an hour. He also opposes Obama Administration efforts to give overtime pay to more workers.
It would be crass to say that Puzder purchased his position, but it is important to note that he contributed more than $300,000 to the Trump campaign. His nomination is consistent with that of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Just as Pruitt has no intention of protecting the environment, prioritizing energy production over environmental protection, Puzder has no intention of advocating for or protecting workers.
Lots of people who voted for Mr. Trump swear they aren’t racists and say they simply voted for “change.” If Mr. Trump and Mr. Puzder have their way, they’ll get chump change for hourly pay. Is that the change they want to believe in?
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book is “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.juliannemalveaux.com.