The U.S. Labor Department will tell the owners of restaurants and other businesses this month that they can keep the tips that customers leave for waiters and other service workers.
In the past — before 2017 — you would have expected anger from every quarter if the government invoked a rule that took money out of the pockets of some of the country’s hardest-working and poorest laborers and gave it to their bosses. The United States became the world’s biggest tipping economy because people knew that waiters and waitresses were often exempt from wage-and-hour rules and largely depended on tips for their livelihoods.
But cheers are always in order at such moments now. This year began like last year, with promises from the Trump administration to lift the heavy hand of government from businesses and turn them loose to harvest bigger profits. Business deregulation was President Trump’s one achievement in his first year. Now you can add the law giving deep tax cuts and new tax loopholes to corporations, other businessmen, rich heirs and others with high incomes.
Trump is right. No president has undone so many government rules that were set up, by Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike, to protect workers, consumers, the environment and ordinary citizens from the perils of untrammeled commerce. By New Year, his administration had begun to unwind 67 business rules adopted by agencies under previous administrations.
That doesn’t count scores of bills by Republican members of Congress that would roll back laws or parts of them that were enacted over the past 45 years restricting industries in some way, mostly affecting the environment.
Richard Mason, an El Dorado businessman who writes a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, roared against one of them Sunday: a bill by south Arkansas congressman Bruce Westerman that would shut down public input and give the timber and paper industry that put him in Congress easier and more profitable access to national forests and other public lands. Other Republican members of Congress are herding bills to undo the Endangered Species Act, a goal of Trump.
Nearly all the business restrictions that Trump and many in his party inveigh against had their origins under President Richard Nixon, with primary support from congressional Republicans: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Council on Environmental Quality and Endangered Species Act.
A scientist whom Nixon recruited to write and help pass the endangered species rules recalled that he had asked Nixon’s chief of staff if he could work with congressional Democrats to get it passed and the Nixon aide said he could as long as he never got his picture in the Washington Post with Democrats. They wanted to keep it a Republican triumph.
Now it is a Republican triumph to undo it all.
All those laws were enacted as a result of a national clamor for the government to do something about the pollution that people saw killing their forests and streams (like the death valleys that marked nearly every creek along my childhood road), corrupting the respiratory systems of their children and causing death and disability in dangerous workplaces.
The passage of OSHA, the worker-safety law, started the cry from industry that government was taking away American freedoms by telling businesses how to run their workplaces. By the way, about 14,000 people a year were dying from workplace injuries or illnesses when Nixon signed OSHA in 1971. Although by 2009 the workforce had increased by 60 percent, deaths had fallen to 4,300.
What is shocking about the Labor Department’s plan to turn tips over to the owner is that it is a transparent attempt to advance the interests of business at the expense of workers and consumers, although the agency says companies could, if they chose, redistribute the tips among all its workers or lower prices.
But nearly all the regulations and laws that Trump and his congressional allies are scuttling are just as transparent. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the global-warming treaty, a profitable victory for the fossil-fuels industry. He is abolishing net neutrality, which allows AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to pick and choose who gets to sell their services on the Internet and at discriminatory rates.
Last week, the administration set out to roll back the safety rules imposed by the Obama administration on offshore oil drilling that aimed to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed a dozen people and billions of sea creatures in the gulf. Trump official said it would save oil companies $900 million over 10 years. They will take their chances on another disaster.
Also last week, they planned to stop government agencies — even Texas — from imposing restraints on oil and gas fracking, which is poisoning water supplies and causing earthquakes. They are undoing Obama rules that stopped mining companies from dumping poisonous debris in streams. They are … well, just watch the paper.