Good decisions rolling out of the White House are coming too fast to monitor these days, and labor rights is a good first example. After watching workers’ rights erode and die for four years, advocates are actually cheering some good news.
“Peter Robb” is a name that doesn’t ring many bells, but Robb first made a name for himself as a union buster back in the 1980s. He served as general counsel for the president after then-President Ronald Reagan fired union air traffic controllers for daring to strike for livable wages and better working conditions. He turned out to be so good at fighting workers’ rights he later went to work for international law firm Proskauer Rosehe to help big corporations better litigate against their own employees. This, naturally, was the person former President Trump put over the National Labor Relations Board, a government entity charged with … wait for it … enforcing U.S. Labor Law. Of course, he immediately turned the organization against the workers it was supposed to be defending. While there, Robb argued that employers have no obligation to bargain with unions demanding COVID-19 protections in their work environment. He also sided with employers who fired workers for demanding more coronavirus safety in the workplace. Not surprisingly, management won most labor/management disputes under Robb’s board. Critics say Trump’s intent was more than obvious when he hired the man.
“The previous Administration put (Robb) in place so that corporate executives could have free reign to silence workers and prevent anyone from questioning their relentless pursuit of profit,” said Communication Workers of America union President Chris Shelton.
Biden fired Robb within an hour of becoming president, but this put another anti-union Trumper in charge of the agency. That would be Alice Stock—so Biden asked for her resignation, too, and then fired her when she refused to hand it over. Very ironically, both Robb and Stock whined they deserve worker protections for their jobs, namely the right to finish their terms. (They do not deserve any of this, of course, since they are at-will employees, so we sincerely hope they enjoy the taste of their own anti-union medicine.)
Biden also stepped up to finally help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. (Dear God, why are we just now helping Puerto Rico with a hurricane that happened in 2017?) In any case, it appears Puerto Rico will finally get access to billions in relief aid Congress passed four dang years ago. Biden approved the release of $1.3 billion in relief funding Feb. 1, and yanked the strings off an additional $4.9 billion, according to the New York Times. Congress had allocated about $66 billion to the island since Maria’s devastation, but only $18 billion of that has actually been disbursed. This is apparently because Trump told Republicans he didn’t trust Puerto Ricans to spend the money right. Watch for a Senate bill to make Puerto Rico a state soon, but also be sure to watch Republicans fight it.
Biden also announced in January he intended to work to reunite families cruelly separated by the Trump administration as a deterrent to immigration. On February 2, he signed several executive orders introducing a task force to reunify those families.
“I’m not making new law,” Biden told the press. “I’m eliminating bad policy.”
The task force, which will be led by the secretary of Homeland Security, is designed to identify the children and parents or guardians who were snatched by border security and ICE and then separated at the border. It is the task force’s job to “facilitate and enable reunification” of children with their families, but it will also provide a presidential report containing recommendations to ensure a monstrous policy does not repeat itself.
When Trump instituted the Great Snatch at the Mexican border, he did more than make the U.S. look like a bunch of racist villains who yank kids from their parents in order to prove a point. He, actually, ducked international law, because the U.S. has signed international treaties going all the way back to the Carter administration and beyond on how to treat asylum seekers. And shooting their kids all the way across the country and losing them does not follow those agreements.
President Ronald Raegan began this tactic by mislabeling Salvadorans and Guatemalans refugees as “economic migrants,” so his administration could deny they were violating any human rights when he drop-kicked them back over the border. Trump took it even farther, according to retired immigrant rights attorney Margaret O’Donnell, of Seattle.
“We don’t even have basic protections, which we took as a given in the 1980s, even though the system then was rigged, politically,” O’Donnell told the Lighthouse. “Our government has taken the letter of the law and screwed it down to the last inch.”
To this day, at least 600 children are still lost and separated from their parents, according to a survey—presumably, because the Trump administration didn’t bother keeping a record of people they were, basically, firing from a cannon-like gun powder.
Biden’s orders also require a review of the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols and it will review the Trump administration’s policies restricting legal migration to the country.
The new president also appears to at least be making commitments to correcting massive racial wealth inequality. Average wealth for a white family was $188,200 according to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, but it was only $24,100 for Black families and only $36,100 for Hispanic families.
“We need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government; it has to be the business of the whole of government,” Biden declared while putting his signature on four more executive orders allegedly dealing with the issue.
Those orders include a direct command for HUD to take steps to fully implement the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, as well as an order to draw down federal contracts with private prisons. Also included in the new president’s plan are calls for a $15 federal minimum wage, although that order must first survive a GOP blockade in the Senate. Democrats have already introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which incrementally increases the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, and are working to get it through their GOP comrades.
The wage increase, by itself, makes a huge difference in countering inequality because it gives more than 30% of Black and 26% of Latino employees an instant pay raise, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, almost one in four beneficiaries of the raise would be a Black or Hispanic woman.