Trump's Vow to Erase Obama's Executive Orders Takes Aim at Diversity

  • More than 25 executive actions aimed at hiring, discrimination
  • Six Obama actions directly affect broader employee treatment

A First Look at Trump's Agenda

President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to cancel the executive orders of his predecessor would have wide-ranging implications in compensation, paid leave, diversity in hiring, and protection for gay and transgender employees in the workplace.

Among more than 240 executive orders signed by President Barack Obama since he took office in 2009, about 27 relate to the workplace or societal actions that benefit minorities, younger workers and under-served communities among federal contractors and employees, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News.

Many of those orders already have affected corporate policy and societal expectations, said Clayborne Carson, professor of American history and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

“There’s always that sense that if you bring about the change, and it has become institutionalized to a degree, it’s going to be hard to reverse,” Carson said. “Denying people rights that they don’t already enjoy is one thing; denying people rights that they’ve learned to take for granted is another. ”

For instance, after failing to get action from Congress, Obama issued orders requiring paid leave and a $10.10 minimum wage for federal government contractors, as well as adding protections against discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Rescinding the orders “would have a direct and immediate effect for some workers,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president for the National Partnership for Women & Families, which advocates for more equitable workplace rules. “It also sends the wrong message overall to employers because, in some cases, the requirements will be instituted for all employees at a company.”

Pressure on companies to accommodate employees, such as paid time off, have had mixed results. More companies now offer paid maternity leave -- that benefit rose to 26 percent of companies last year from 21 percent in 2015 and 16 percent in 2012, according to an annual survey by the Society of Human Resource Management. Unpaid leave beyond what’s required by federal law, meanwhile, fell last year to 21 percent from 26 percent in 2015, SHRM reported. About half of companies still offer no paid time off.

Only Congress can enact laws that dictate policy for the entire U.S., and the president’s executive orders are limited to federal contractors and employees. The Labor Department estimates there are about 24,000 companies employing 28 million workers that have such contracts, although not all work directly on those projects.

The Obama executive orders also addressed minority education and services, reducing violence against women, protection for HIV patients, and resources for veterans or students. 

“Probably in the longer term, Obama will be remembered more for the advancement of gay rights and LGBT rights than for advancing black rights,” said Carson, who has edited and published seven volumes of speeches and writings from King. “His role there has been more defensive -- trying to prevent reversals. Part of that was a self-conscious desire to not be seen as the black president.”

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