Newsweek: States Must Act Now to Protect Workers’ Rights From Trump Courts

Note: This op-ed comes from the NELP Action Fund. 

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s attack on federal agencies’ ability to protect the public last week, a federal judge in Texas appointed by former president Donald Trump blocked a Biden administration rule banning corporations from locking workers into jobs with so-called “non-compete” requirements, which prevent workers from quitting to take better jobs.

The ban on non-competes was just one of many urgently needed and broadly popular protections for working families rolled out by the Biden administration. Others include making more workers eligible for overtime pay and preventing employers from misclassifying workers as independent contractors. All of these policies help working families struggling with the high cost of living by boosting their pay and ensuring access to better jobs.

But these pro-worker protections are being attacked and blocked by Trump-packed courts. Following the same playbook they used to roll back reproductive freedom, activist right-wing judges are erasing workers’ rights and undermining the government’s ability to crack down on abusive corporations.

Working families need state legislatures and governors to step in and protect them in the same way they’re doing when it comes to reproductive rights: by locking these standards into state law to safeguard workers.

The Biden administration has been actively updating worker protections to crack down on businesses’ unfair and abusive practices. In April, the Federal Trade Commission banned virtually all non-compete restrictions, which deny workers one of their most basic means of economic mobility: quitting a job for a better position with another employer. Non-competes are especially abusive when companies use them to lock workers into low-paying jobs, but they harm workers at all income levels. They have been shown to drive down pay, impede economic innovation, and even prevent workers from escaping abusive workplaces where they face sexual harassment.

That same month, the Labor Department updated overtime protections to restore the 40-hour workweek and promote work-life balance by ensuring that millions more workers are guaranteed time-and-a-half pay when they work long hours. And earlier this year, it issued new “independent contractor” guidance clarifying when workers are truly running their own businesses and so are not covered by federal minimum wage and overtime protections—guidance that will prevent companies from evading labor protections by claiming their workers are independent businesspeople rather than employees.

But all of these crucial new worker gains are now threatened by activist Trump-appointed federal judges. As with so many other issues, these judges are distorting legal doctrine to undermine government agencies’ long-established authority to protect workers and the public.

Last week’s ruling blocking the Biden non-competes ban—and the many other legal attacks—should be reversed on appeal. But because business groups manipulate the litigation process to bring these lawsuits before hand-picked conservative judges in regions of the country where they will then be reviewed by appellate courts dominated by Trump judges, the outcome is uncertain and pro-worker policies may be blocked in the end. The fast-approaching presidential election injects even more uncertainty into this picture, raising the possibility that many common-sense job protections could be undone even if they are upheld.

That’s why workers across the country need state leaders to step in to protect them, in the same way they have done to safeguard reproductive rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. States should start by banning non-competes—and they should do it for workers in all industries and all income levels, as California, North Dakota, and Oklahoma did more than a century ago and Minnesota did last year.

States should do the same for the Biden administration’s other key new worker protections, which are under attack by the Trump courts. They should restore a guarantee of overtime pay for far more workers—as states like Colorado and Washington have done. And they should protect workers from being stripped of fundamental employment protections, like the minimum wage and unemployment insurance, by adopting clear independent contractor standards that ensure that only persons who truly operate their own independent businesses are excluded, as Massachusetts and other states have done.

The judicial hijacking of the federal government’s ability to protect the public poses a grave threat to U.S. workers. More states need to act quickly to head it off.

Paul Sonn is the director of NELP Action, a workers’ rights research and advocacy organization.

Source: This commentary was original published by Newsweek.

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About the Author

Paul K. Sonn

Areas of expertise:
  • Living Wage & Minimum Wage

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