Trump Administration Set to Scrap Much of Obama's Labor Legacy in 2019

By Higgins, Sean | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, October 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

Trump Administration Set to Scrap Much of Obama's Labor Legacy in 2019


Higgins, Sean, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


The Trump administration will release rewritten versions of two major Obama-era labor rules early next year, administration officials say: The 40 hour-a-week overtime pay rule and a rule determining when corporations can be held legally liable for workplace violations by their franchisees.

The changes would undo much of Obama's legacy on labor law. Both are eagerly awaited by business groups. The administration has added both to its fall regulatory agenda, setting the likely announcement sometime by March.

The new rules will cap two years in which the Trump administration has systematically torn down much Obama’s work to make federal rules and regulations more union-friendly. Most of what Obama did involved reinterpreting existing rules rather than shepherding new laws through Congress, meaning that the Trump administration just needed to re-re-interpret them.

“Much of President Obama’s legacy was written in sand. Instead of pursuing bipartisan legislation and working with congress, his administration ruled via regulation knowing that congressmen and senators would never go along,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, senior fellow at the free-market Mackinac Center. “Obama’s labor rules are the perfect example of this end run around congress.”

The reliance on administrative action, rather than legislative, cuts both ways — the Trump administration has used rulemaking extensively, too, to pursue its aims. But business groups argue the Trump administration is being more methodical and precise about following that process to the letter and that, accordingly, its efforts are likely to prove more lasting.

“Anything done through a rulemaking, generally speaking, can be undone," said Patrick Hedren, vice president for labor policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. "That applies to anything done in the Obama administration or the Trump administration.”

He added: “That said, when agencies do a good job of talking with the public and taking input from all sides, all sectors, then they do a better job in the final rule. Then it becomes much tougher as practical matter for a future administration to say it wants to go in a different direction.”

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta formally announced earlier this year that his department would revisit the Obama administration’s expansion of the number of workers covered by the federal overtime rule. The prior administration said the rule covered any employee who makes up to $47,000 annually, more than twice the level under previous administrations.

Obama’s version of the rule was struck down by a Texas court in 2016. To ensure it remains down, a new version will come out in January or February, according to administration sources speaking anonymously. The new rule will set the cut-off level below Obama’s $47,000 level, although it is unclear where exactly the new level will be set. Acosta has told Congress that while the Obama administration put it too high, the old level of $23,000 had not kept pace with the economy and an increase is merited.

The National Employment Law Project's Executive Director Christine Owens said the administration was fixing something that wasn't broken by "weakening the overtime pay protections the Obama administration adopted, despite the number of employers who have successfully implemented the increases without adverse effects. …

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