Trump Policies That Hurt Workers May Be New Wedge Issue
| May 10, 2017
Chatting on her front porch with a Working America organizer named Sara, Phylis, an 87-year-old voter in Columbus, Ohio, talked about her views on good jobs and President Trump. “I wouldn't think much of him if he took away safety standards,” she said.
Phylis has good reason to be worried. In 2015, 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the United States, and nearly 3.7 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported.
What surprised me is that Phylis is a Trump voter who strongly supports him on nearly every other issue. Unfazed by his ties to Russia, conflicts of interest, and cabinet appointments, Phylis didn’t stop to reconsider her choice—until Sara raised the threats to job safety in Trump’s budget. And that’s an important lesson for all of us.
She, and the thousands of other Trump voters we talk to every week, didn’t show up at the Women’s March and don’t connect with the resistance. Phylis is one of millions of people we call “searchers”—Trump voters who are not ideologues, but are sincerely, even desperately looking for a way out of an increasingly grim economic future for their families. That’s where issues like workplace safety and equal pay come in.
My organization, Working America, which represents 3 million members in working-class communities around the country, recently asked nearly 1,000 swing voters in central Ohio to reflect on Trump’s first 100 days. We had in-depth discussions with people who were neither strong Republicans nor strong Democrats, were likely to vote in 2018, and had a household income under $75,000. Forty-three percent were Trump voters, 38 percent voted for Clinton, with the rest a combination of people who didn’t share their presidential choice, voted for a third-party candidate, or didn’t vote. Sixty-one percent were women. Our goal with this report was to reach a large share of the 2012 Obama voters who swung away from Clinton in 2016 and to learn how best to change their minds.
When we asked people where they get information, cable TV was the overwhelming answer, with Fox being a favorite of Trump supporters. Fox, of course, carefully selects the news it promotes and, more importantly, interprets it to benefit a right-wing agenda. That means that many women aren’t hearing about Trump administration actions that affect their lives. They didn’t hear, for example, that Trump recently revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, which ensures companies with federal contracts comply with 14 labor and civil rights laws. Revoking this order directly affects women’s access to fair pay and safety from workplace harassment, assault, and discrimination. Federal contractors don’t have to disclose sexual harassment problems in the workplace, unsafe working conditions, wage theft, or other violations of labor law.
The order also reverses the ban on forced arbitration, also known as “cover-up clauses,” which is used to keep sex discrimination claims out of the courts and out of public view. Contractors won’t be held accountable to their employees.
Trump’s order puts women’s safety—and ultimately, their lives—at risk. In 2015 alone, workplace violence caused more than 700 deaths and more than 26,000 serious injuries, leaving workers physically and emotionally scarred for life. Outside of his order, Trump’s proposed budget would slash the Department of Labor’s budget by 21 percent, eliminate worker safety training programs and the Chemical Safety Board, and cut the job safety reach of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health by $100 million.
The good news from the field is that giving people information about just these kinds of issues is what gets their attention and introduces doubt. In our report, 39 percent of the women we spoke to disapproved of Trump’s performance as president overall. However, 55 percent of women we spoke to disapprove of his position on pay and workplace safety.
There’s room to offer new information to connect with swing voters. During the Front Porch Focus Group study, our canvassers found it didn’t work to dispute Fox News’ talking points. Rather, offering new information about Trump’s policies broke through and showed just how out of step they are with the needs of working people.
Those of us in the resistance can reach out to the searchers, not by telling them they are wrong, but by giving them information about how the actions of the Trump administration will affect them, actions like revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order. It is these kinds of face-to-face conversations over time that will break through the Fox News stranglehold and begin to create common ground.
While the swing voters we speak to may never wear pink hats, we can still reach them. You can read our latest Front Porch Focus Group report to learn how, too.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
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