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By Stephen Lee
Aug. 9 — Labor advocates are growing increasingly worried about what Donald Trump's latest comments signal for worker safety, should the Republican candidate win the presidency.
In particular, the advocates fear that Trump's recent statements belie a lack of empathy for the plight of working people, as well as a dangerously poor grasp of the workings of government.
Adam Finkel, a former health standards director with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was drawn to Trump's response to Khizr Khan, the father of a U.S. soldier killed in combat, who said during the Democratic National Convention that the New York real estate mogul had sacrificed “nothing.”
“I think I've made a lot of sacrifices,” Trump told ABC's “This Week” July 31. “I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success.”
To Finkel, that statement suggests Trump is “taking credit for what other people did, who obviously worked harder physically and put themselves more at physical risk than he did.”
Finkel also took issue with the notion that business leaders are making sacrifices when they hire people to work for them.
“These people aren't doing a humanitarian service,” Finkel said. “They're creating jobs. To treat it like it's something noble is what bothers me. It means they get a free pass on a lot of other things. It's job creation in the sense that some of these people certainly would be unemployed otherwise. But they're not engaged in charity work. They're not walking barefoot through the streets of Calcutta.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to an interview request.
Other progressives are alarmed by Trump's increasingly bold vows to cut federal regulations on a massive scale.
“We're going to cut down regulations between 85 and 90 percent,” Trump said at an Aug. 1 rally in Cincinnati. “We're going to take care of the environment, we're going to take care of safety, but we're going to let it be that we're going to be growing, growing.”
Seven days later, during an Aug. 8 economic address in Detroit, Trump provided more details, saying he would issue a temporary moratorium on new agency rules and eliminate any regulations that “are not necessary, do not improve public safety and needlessly kill jobs.”
Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and former president of the Center for Progressive Reform, said those comments suggest Trump is unaware of how the nation's regulatory machinery works.
“He doesn't understand the system,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “He has no real sense of the system. I think that he would go to school and be schooled very fast, domestically.”
Striking down regulations would mean overcoming an arduous notice-and-comment process, not to mention resistance from the civil service and numerous court challenges, Steinzor said.
Ross Eisenbrey, vice president at the Economic Policy Institute, agreed, calling Trump's regulatory prescriptions “alarming and close to nonsensical.”
Moreover, worker supporters have long argued that agencies like OSHA vastly underregulate, rather than overregulate.
“It is not the case that workplaces are overregulated,” Eisenbrey told Bloomberg BNA. “To think that we could do away with 80 percent of the OSHA standards, I think, is crazy talk.”
Similarly, Finkel called Trump's remarks “more hysterical than the most hysterical things I've heard from the party” and “deeply concerning.”
“The last thing we need to do is talk about cutting 85 percent, or even 5 percent, or any number of the rules that have taken so long to get promulgated,” Finkel said.
Trump's recent comments on federal inspections also show a dangerously poor grasp of the government's workings, Eisenbrey said.
At an Aug. 1 campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pa., Trump said mines are subject to environmental inspections “two and three times a day, and they can't afford it any longer and they're closing all the mines.”
But the Environmental Protection Agency rarely inspects coal mines, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration only inspects underground mines four times a year.
“He's just making stuff up or misunderstanding it,” Eisenbrey said.
Finkel noted that the number of fatal accidents has plateaued across the nation, “but it could bounce back up in a heartbeat if rules were repealed or enforcement failed.”
Organized labor also has blasted Trump for refusing to negotiate with union members at his Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The workers, who belong to UNITE-HERE, want to negotiate on wages and working conditions.
“I think that the best that can be said for him, especially on the kind of granular labor and OSHA issues we would talk about, is that he is an empty vessel,” speculated Baruch Fellner, an industry attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “We can rest reasonably assured that he knows nothing about contemporary [OSHA] issues. That said, his views on labor and OSHA issues will largely depend on whom he trusts to pour ideas into his head.”
A search of OSHA's website turns up only a small handful of inspections linked to Trump's businesses.
Trump International Hotel and Tower Las Vegas has been inspected four times since 2011.
In 2012, Trump National Golf Club in Torrance, Calif., was fined $1,120 after a worker cut his fingers on a lawn mower. That penalty was later negotiated down to $900.
However, much of Trump's construction work is performed by contractors and subcontractors, which wouldn't turn up in a cursory search of OSHA's website, said Peg Seminario, safety and health director at the AFL-CIO. Officials at OSHA's regional offices covering New York and Nevada told Bloomberg BNA that they couldn't provide information about Trump's citations unless compelled to do so under the Freedom of Information Act.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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