PUNCHING IN: Trump Week One

Punching In

Monday morning musings for workplace watchers


By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn

Turbo Trump| A Weekend at the DOL Beachhead | Same Old EEOC?

Chris Opfer: The Trump administration isn’t wasting any time getting down to business. A small group of political appointees and career staffers reported to the Frances Perkins building to start working on the new president’s agenda just a few hours after he was sworn in. Meanwhile, Reince Priebus instructed federal agencies to pump the break on all pending regulations. There seems to be some debate about whether that extends to rules that were finalized, but not implemented, like the overtime, fiduciary and persuader rules, new pay data disclosure requirements and labor and employment violation disclosure obligations for federal contractors. What we do know is that most or all of those rules are on life support at this point.

Thoughts on where the administration heads next? Home remedies for everyone who picked up a cold out and about in the gloomy D.C. weather this weekend? Hit us up at copfer@bna.com and bpenn@bna.com, or on Twitter: @ChrisOpfer and @BenjaminPenn.

Ben Penn: The DOL “beachhead” team landed and included some overlap with members of the landing team. Whether their government service is temporary or if the crew of 30 will have an opportunity to stay after the Senate confirms a secretary and agency heads will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Wayne Palmer and Bob Bozzutto are leading the beachhead operation, I’m told. Their resumes reflect GOP operational experience but no labor policy chops. Palmer was a longtime Senate chief of staff and Bozzutto was executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Time will tell whether what appears to be a lack of labor/employment experience impedes progress on setting a new political agenda at DOL or how much the newbies will lean on career staff to catch them up to speed. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some veteran labor insiders, perhaps from management firms, working in an unofficial capacity to ensure that Trump’s plans to get America back to work don’t stumble out the gate. That five-year lobbying ban that Trump is pushing may keep those conversations unofficial.

If Trump demolition experts do get fast to work knocking down the Obama labor agenda, the worker-focused Economic Policy Institute will be watching their every move. The left-leaning EPI launched a new watchdog project this morning designed specifically to call out the Trump workplace policies where it sees the big three employment agencies failing to live up to the new president’s worker-protective promises.

EPI has a familiar face leading the initiative. After a two-year stint as DOL’s chief economist, Heidi Shierholz has boomeranged back to head up the think tank’s Perkins Project on Worker’s Rights and Wages. While the full list of measures Trump’s DOL, NLRB and EEOC decide to take on still hasn’t come to light, EPI is fully prepared for those agencies to be dismantling what they say are worker-friendly rules and executive orders.

“President Trump promised to fight for working people, but with his nominees and policy proposals, he’s signaling that he is gearing up to do the opposite," said Shierholz in a statement.

She’ll be joined in the project by new EPI Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas, who until last week was the NLRB’s director of congressional and public affairs.

Some project that Trump’s influence on the DOL will be one of the most visible signs of whether the new administration lives up to the populist message that swayed many Obama voters and union members. And if he doesn’t, Democrats will see that it gets all the publicity it deserves. But if Trump fulfills his job creation promises – perhaps through a massive infrastructure package – that could muffle the effectiveness of the Perkins Project.

Regardless, the new DOL has been served a clear message that it’s not just the press that will be watching.

CO: With all of the talk about labor secretary-in-waiting Andy Puzder these days, it’s easy for some of us to forget about the EEOC. If Las Vegas were taking odds on how fast the Trump administration will move to completely scrap the agency’s new pay data requirements for employers, anyone looking for me might wanna check poolside over by the Wynn. That one is as good as gone.

Still, not everyone thinks we’re necessarily in for a wholesale shift in the way the EEOC does its work. Reed Russell, who served as the commission’s legal counsel during the George W. Bush administration, told me he expects the agency to continue to try to root out discrimination through its charge process. That process allows the EEOC to pursue remedies against employers accused of discrimination.

“Although there’s been talk of expecting all sorts of radical changes, I would not necessarily assume that’s the case,” Russell said “You get five commissioners plus the general counsel, legal counsel and director of legislative affairs and then the rest of the agency are career staffers. Yes, there might be a different tone and some changes at the margins, but I wouldn’t expect wholesale changes.”

BP: Chris Lu has been the star of Punching In during our infancy stage, making several appearances in his capacity as deputy labor secretary. Well today I present to you: Chris Lu, the private citizen and senior fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. But rather than discuss his new job, I tried to get him to give us the insider’s scoop on what the transition revealed to him about how the new agency will behave. 

He didn’t bite. “Count me as part of the group of people who are confused as to what his policy actually is,” Lu said, referring to both Trump and Puzder. Lu spent three hours with Puzder at a continuity exercise held between Cabinet members and nominees earlier this month. And while they briefly schmoozed and exchanged contact info, Lu said they didn’t engage in policy discussion. Guess he’ll be waiting for Feb. 2 like the rest of us.

For what it’s worth, Lu said he’s not concerned about the labor legacy of Obama, his boss for 11 of the past 12 years. But he will be keeping a discerning eye on the new DOL actions. “I will be watching it closely, because I do think if Donald Trump is serious about helping the working class Americans, he would be well served by taking a look at some of the pro-worker policies that we have put forth in the last three years. I will be interested to see whether the policies that come out of this department match the campaign rhetoric.”

CO: That’s all for now. Daily Labor Report subscribers can check back in with us during the week for Patrick Dorrian’s look at the legal issues surrounding mental health conditions in the workplace. Bloomberg Law’s Martin Berman-Gorvine is also diving into strange moments in job interviews. 

We’re punching out. See you here next Monday morning.

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