Immigrant Workers Legal Aid at Work

Guest Post: Low-Wage Workers in Peril

January 30, 2017 | San Francisco Chronicle
By Joan M. Graff

(Note: The U.S. Senate HELP Committee’s hearing on Puzder has been delayed again, past Feb. 7, with no date certain. Voters should voice their opposition by calling or writing to committee members, listed here, on the Senate website.)

It’s clear that Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder disdains the mission of the nearly 104-year-old agency he is nominated to run. As the steward of workers’ rights, the Department of Labor is charged with ensuring that workers are paid fairly and that their rights to a safe and healthy workplace free of harassment are secure.

Puzder fiercely opposes raising the federal minimum wage, despite the growing income gap and the fact that millions of working families live in poverty. And during his tenure as CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the fast-food empire has racked up an abysmal record of wage violations and sexual harassment. It is no wonder he says he would prefer robots to people on his payroll.

His appointment betrays the trust of those who voted for Drumpf based on the repeated promise at the heart of his campaign: to help workers who have been left behind.

But it gets worse. On Inauguration Day, the White House blocked access to basic public information on the Department of Labor’s website, including a database of enforcement actions, the department’s stock in trade. For good measure, it also removed or obscured basic information on workplace rights. And Drumpf has promised to “roll back” the new federal rule requiring overtime pay for anyone who works more than 40 hours in a week and earns $47,476 or less.

These actions cannot be excused as shifts in policies. In our democratic society, we rely on public information from our government about our rights. Only the newly minted notion of “alternative facts,” which means no facts at all, can explain what the White House has done at the Department of Labor and other agencies. The administration is deliberately undermining the transparency of our federal government and the essential dissemination of laws and information.

The Drumpf administration’s apparent stance against workers — and low-wage workers in particular — cuts across immigrants, women, people of color, disabled people, the LGBTQ community, and other groups. It threatens all working people nationwide. We await with great concern the announcements of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

We urge the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to vote against Puzder’s confirmation. We call on Drumpf to fulfill his promise to help working people by nominating a labor secretary who supports raising the minimum wage and will enforce workers’ rights instead of denigrating them. And we urge the president to reverse his administration’s dangerous stance on public records and public information.

Workers are in harm’s way nationally, but there is a ray of hope in California. Our state has active public agencies that vigorously enforce its labor and employment laws, and we have a rich network of strong nonprofit organizations that advocate for workers and expanded workplace protections. Mindful of the threats posed by a Drumpf administration, our Legislature has retained former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to provide counsel on resisting any attempts to curtail California’s laws. Our new state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has promised to fight any attempt by the Drumpf administration to undercut California’s policies on civil and workplace rights, the environment, and immigration. San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee responded to Wednesday’s news that Drumpf will cut most federal funding for sanctuary cities by promising to stand by his city’s undocumented residents. And we are proud to support our governor, Jerry Brown, who has a long record of standing by the workers of our state.

In California, workers have a fighting chance.

Joan M. Graff is president of Legal Aid at Work, formerly the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center: www.legalaidatwork.org.

Note: This article was re-posted with permission from the author.