Union sues to stop Trump from killing workers’ protections

WASHINGTON — In an effort to save federal health and safety regulations, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizens are suing the Trump administration in federal court.

The aim of the suit is to overturn Trump’s executive order that federal agencies dump two regulations for every one they promulgate without taking into consideration the protections involved.

Trump’s order requires new rules to have a net cost of $0 this fiscal year.

Putting such a bind on federal rules, CWA said in their brief filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C. February 8, could harm workers, especially denying overtime pay and endangering job safety and health.

CWA and the other plaintiffs are asking the court to “bar agencies from following the order and to issue a declaration the order cannot be lawfully implemented.”

Chris Shelton, president of CWA, said in a written statement that workers shouldn’t be required to “trade off one set of job, health and safety protections in order to get protection from another equally dangerous condition.”

Shelton continued, Trump’s executive order “means the asbestos workplace standard, for example, could be discarded in order to adopt safeguards for nurses from infectious diseases in their workplaces. This violates the mission of the Occupational Safety and Health administration to protect workers’ safety and health. It also violates common sense.”

In the court papers, CWA listed other examples of the impact of Trump’s order on workers—and not just on job safety and health.

As Trump’s Office of Management and Budget “makes clear,” the suit states, “under the executive order an occupational health standard issued under the Occupational Health and Safety Act—and at least one other rule—will need to be repealed to enable an employee overtime regulation issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act” to be issued.

“Or an occupational health standard and one other rule will need to be traded in for a motor vehicle safety standard. And the netting out of costs is divorced from any consideration of the benefits (their emphasis) of these protections. This approach is not only irrational, it flies in the face of every one of these and similar statutes,” the suit says.

Making a bad situation even worse, Trump’s order and its ramifications also prevent CWA – and everyone else – from exercising free speech rights to advocate for workplace safety and fair wage rules, plus other protections on a wide range of issues, the plaintiff on the suit said.

“CWA frequently engages in the federal agency rulemaking process…advocating for rules that improve workers’ wages, hours, and working conditions,” the union explained.

Trump’s executive order “threatens this 1st Amendment-protected petitioning activity and participation in rulemaking because, under the executive order, successful advocacy in favor of a particular regulation will result in repeal of other important regulations protecting workers’ wages, hours, and working conditions.

“Workplace hazards currently slated” for federal rules “directly affect the health and safety of CWA-represented workers, such as trichloroethylene exposure for manufacturing workers and infectious disease exposure for nurses.

“Although in these examples CWA would press for strong worker protections that would save lives and are feasible, the executive order imposes a disturbing Sophie’s Choice by insisting that other to-be-determined health and safety protections for one set of workers must be repealed in exchange for health and safety protections for another set of workers.”

Trump’s order not only stops the union’s legally-protected advocacy for workers and members, but will also harm them “by causing agencies to not issue, delay, or repeal regulations that protect the members’ health and safety at work, or other workplace rights” in the first place, to comply with Trump’s command.

No date has been set for a hearing on the suit.




Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.