Bitter pill to swallow

12/16/2016, 9:01 p.m.
When Donald Trump was running for president, he specifically targeted the white working class, telling them he would prevent their ...
Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

When Donald Trump was running for president, he specifically targeted the white working class, telling them he would prevent their jobs from leaving the country, bring back manufacturing jobs and revive the oil and steel industries.

He hasn’t taken office yet, but he already has celebrated the fact that Carrier, a heating and air conditioner manufacturer in Indianapolis, Ind., has agreed to keep jobs in the United States, even though the company had announced earlier that it would move jobs to Mexico.

The Carrier deal President-elect Trump has been crowing about is so deceptive that some business writers describe it as a scam and a union leader accused President-elect Trump of lying. The Republican says he saved more than a thousand jobs, but the real number may be closer to 730. Carrier still plans to relocate more than 500 jobs to Mexico and planned to keep about 300 jobs in the United States.

So President-elect Trump may have “saved” 400 jobs, not 800 or 1,000. His vice president-elect, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, had to give up $7 million in tax benefits to keep the jobs here. Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence also have signaled they are willing to play “Let’s Make a Deal” on a case by case basis to keep jobs in the United States, instead of using public policy to encourage the development of U.S. jobs and to limit the mobility of capital. Carrier still is closing another Indiana plant, but there has been no intervention for that closure.

Now Mr. Trump has indicated that Andrew F. Puzder is his choice for U.S. Secretary of Labor. Mr. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, a company that franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food outlets. He has opposed minimum wage increases, worker protections, paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act. He has said that he welcomes automation in the restaurant industry because machines are “always polite … never take a vacation, never show up late, there’s never a slip and fall or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” 

While the federal Department of Labor has been the advocate for workers, Mr. Puzder seems to be an advocate for worker exploitation.

OK all of you working-class white folks, particularly those of you who voted for Mr. Trump, are you ready to swallow a bitter pill? Mr. Trump has shown you, yet again, what he thinks of you. 

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about President Abraham Lincoln’s Team of Rivals. What Mr. Trump seems to have assembled is a team of war-mongering generals and bombastic billionaires for his cabinet. The Puzder nomination is consistent with Mr. Trump’s philosophy, but it is inconsistent with the notion that the Labor Department should be an advocate for workers and should regulate labor markets and enforce labor legislation.

The minimum wage was stuck at $5.15 an hour for10 years before it increased in 2007. Then Congress approved a three-step increase, raising the minimum wage to $5.85 an hour in July 2007, then $6.55 an hour in 2008 and finally increasing to $7.25 an hour in 2009. It has been stuck there ever since.  

President Obama has recommended an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, less than the $15 an hour that many activists are advocating through the Fight for 15. Mr. Puzder does not think the minimum wage should be more than $9 an hour. He also opposes Obama Administration efforts to give overtime pay to more workers.

It would be crass to say that Mr. Puzder purchased his nomination to the Trump cabinet, but it is important to note that he contributed more than $300,000 to the president-elect’s campaign. 

Lots of people who voted for Mr. Trump swear they aren’t racists and say they simply voted for “change.” If Mr. Trump and Mr. Puzder have their way, they’ll get chump change for hourly pay. Is that the change they want to believe in?

The writer is an economist and author.