Trump rolls back worker safety rules


When President Donald Trump came into office pledging to cut regulations “massively,” he made a point of exempting regulations that protected workers’ health.

But almost two years in, the Trump administration has done the opposite, rolling back worker safety protections affecting underground mine safety inspections, offshore oil rigs and line speeds in meat processing plants, among others.

Trump’s deregulatory moves on worker safety are at odds with his public stance as a champion of working class Americans, but consistent with his naming two management-side attorneys bent on rolling back economic protections for workers to the National Labor Relations Board, which regulates labor unions, and with his nominations of two reliably pro-management jurists to a now-Republican-majority Supreme Court that recently dealt a heavy financial blow to public-employee unions.

One of those Supreme Court nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, will on Tuesday begin Senate confirmation hearings, where Judiciary Committee Democrats will almost certainly quiz him about dissenting opinions in which he denied undocumented workers had the right to bargain collectively and that San Diego’s Sea World bore responsibility for a deadly attack on one of its employees by a killer whale.

“When you look at core worker protections and union rights, the administration and the president have been totally anti-worker,” said Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO.

To Trump, rules that protect workers — even rules that protect worker safety — are often a hindrance to boosting employment, especially in traditional industries like manufacturing and coal mining.

Deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a written statement that the administration “is committed to protecting health and safety on the job while respecting the right of Americans to make their own decisions. Too often in the past, agencies issued regulations that constricted the freedom of American workers and small business owners to work in the best way.”

At an August campaign rally in Charleston, W.Va., the president said, “We are back. The coal industry is back.” Whether coal mining jobs are on the rebound is a matter of some dispute. But there’s no question that the Trump administration has taken steps to roll back mining safety regulations.

Trump’s mine safety chief, David Zatezalo, is a former coal executive who as recently as 2011 was cited by the agency he now leads for a pattern of safety violations. When Zatezalo was president and CEO at Rhino Resources, a West Virginia miner was killed when a portion of a rock wall collapsed. The accident occurred after Rhino already had been cited for one worker safety violation, and before it received a second.

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