[These are the comments I made on a press call just now about the revelations from this article by Ben Penn. He tells of how the Labor Dept. is denying the public access to its estimates regarding the costs to tipped workers of the Trump admin’s proposed rule to let employers take the tips of minimum wage workers. Heidi Shierholz was also on the call–I recently interviewed her on this issue.]
I’ve developed an awfully high outrage bar over the past year, but this Dept. of Labor suppression of evidence incident clears it by a mile, for at least 3 reasons.
First, consider what this rule change goes after: The tips of minimum wage workers. I know of none–not one—bit of evidence that the fact the waitpersons get tips is an economic problem in America. To the contrary, tips are one way low-wage workers in tipped industries, many of whom these days are family breadwinners, meet their family budgets while holding minimum-wage jobs.
So, let’s be clear. The Trump Labor Dept is doing the bidding of the Nat’l Rest Assoc, not low-wage workers. And trust me, we’ve already got a whole administration and Congressional majority that’s tilted against working people. We don’t need the DoL, an agency that is supposed to represent workers’ needs, to pile on.
Second, while this rule is wholly unnecessary—tip-pooling arrangements are, of course, common—it would have been perfectly easy to write it in such a way as to prohibit employers from pocketing the tips. But the pen of the DoL was guided by the hand of the restaurant lobby, such that if this rule takes effect, employers will be able to legally pocket workers tips.
Finally, let’s also be clear about what happened here. The DoL’s analytic staff did what it always does in these situations—based on its best knowledge of the industry and the affected workers, it estimated the transfer costs of the rule. Then, as we understand it, political appointees didn’t like the answer so they instructed the analysts to knock it down. They still didn’t like the answer—and I should point out here that it is still the case that no one outside the DoL knows that answer—and so they buried it.
We are thus left with are two disturbing realities of politics in the Trump administration: a behind the scenes attack on economically vulnerable workers, and a willingness to dispose of inconvenient facts. History is replete with governments driven by these sorts of motivations, but I assure you, they are not called democracies.