Chamber Optimistic About New Labor Department Leadership

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 3:30pm

By Tyrone Richardson

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce could get help achieving its priorities for this year, given President-elect Donald Trump's business-friendly tone and his executive picks, Chamber President Thomas Donohue said Jan. 11.

Donohue is urging Trump and Congress to reverse regulation “overkill” at agencies such as the Labor Department and share some of the Chamber's concerns when it comes to discussing trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We'll also encourage the administration to remember that our trade with Canada and Mexico supports 14 million American jobs, and much of that depends on NAFTA,” Donohue said during his annual State of American Business speech. “But it's a fact that NAFTA is 23 years old, so we welcome the discussion on how it can be modernized and strengthened.”

Chamber Wants Involvement in Trade Talks

Trade has been a key issue for Trump. The president-elect has promised to renegotiate trade deals he has dubbed unfair and said have caused U.S. job losses. He specifically criticized NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed 12-nation deal that the Chamber has supported. Trump has promised to scrap NAFTA and TPP when he takes office.

Trump has bolstered his promise to tackle trade pacts with the formation of the National Trade Council, an advisory panel tasked with helping trade negotiations.

Donohue said Jan. 11 the TPP has some beneficial details.

“The TPP has a lot of stuff in it that has significant geopolitical and security benefits and massive opportunities to help drive economic growth,” he said to reporters after his speech. “We will have very positive and supportive conversations with the administration particularly on trade enforcement and making sure that the agreements of these arrangements are met and we support that.”

Puzder Prompts Optimism

Donohue also voiced optimism about working with many of Trump's cabinet picks. That includes DOL Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder, said Randel Johnson, senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the Chamber.

Chamber leadership is optimistic given Trump's choice for labor secretary, Johnson told Bloomberg BNA. The Chamber intends to address, through a combination of executive orders and new agency rules, the DOL's controversial rule to expand overtime to more workers and the fiduciary rule that imposes new conflict-of-interest restrictions on retirement investment brokers, he said.

“We are more optimistic that Andy will have a more pro-business sense than Tom Perez,” Johnson said, referring to the exiting labor secretary.

The Chamber's optimism comes a day after a group of Democrats criticized Trump's selection of Puzder. Several House and Senate Democrats, during a news conference at the Capitol Jan. 10, alleged that Puzder would be against protecting the rights of workers.

The lawmakers highlighted a recent Restaurant Opportunities Centers United-conducted survey that alleged wage violations and other abuses at fast-food establishments tied to CKE Restaurants Inc., of which Puzder is CEO.

“This is just outrageous,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said about the nominee to lead the DOL. “It should stand for workers, but instead President-elect Trump has nominated a multi-million dollar corporate head who treats his employees as disposable.”