Tomorrow, Members of Congress return to work and face a pretty sizeable piece of business -- enactment of a budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1. Unfortunately, the Republican budget plans launch a double-pronged attack on the workers we are celebrating today.
The Republican appropriations bills are stacked with ideological provisions known as “riders” that are unrelated to spending levels and weaken basic protections for workers, the backbone of our economy. These riders undermine worker safety, the ability of workers to save for retirement, and workers’ ability to have a meaningful, unionized voice in their workplaces. On top of that, the bills cut funding for key agencies that are charged with enforcing these and other worker protections -- including basic requirements that workers be paid what they earn and work in a safe environment. And they also underfund programs that help workers obtain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s economy.
In other words, the Republican budget plan would weaken worker protections, weaken enforcement of those weakened protections, and deny training to workers who want to build skills and a career. That’s just one reason the President has said that the Republican budget plans are unacceptable.
1. They’d weaken the Department of Labor’s ability to protect wages for more than 135 million workers, costing workers an estimated $70-$80 million in back wages.
The Senate bill cuts $67 million from the Wage and Hour Division, the part of the Department of Labor that enforces wage protections like the minimum wage, overtime pay, and the right for workers to be paid what they have earned. That’s a 24 percent cut compared to the President’s Budget. The House bill cuts the Division by $62 million, or 22 percent, below the President’s Budget. These bills would weaken the Division’s ability to protect wages in more than 7.3 million establishments for over 135 million workers, including the ability to recover back wages for workers.
2. They’d cut funding for workplace inspections and enforcement of standards that prevent illness, injury, and fatalities on the job.
The House would cut funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by $57 million – or 10 percent – compared to the President’s Budget. The Senate cuts OSHA funding more deeply, by $68 million, or 11 percent. This means fewer inspections of dangerous workplaces, a slower response to fatalities and serious injuries, and diminished protections for workers who report unsafe and unscrupulous behavior.
The cuts in the Wage and Hour Division and OSHA are part of a larger cut to the Department of Labor’s worker protection efforts under the Republican budget plans. The Senate cuts $260 million from these worker protection agencies in total, while the House cuts about $200 million.
3. The House would reverse an existing policy that lets independent experts accompany workplace safety inspectors.
This would deny OSHA and workers the help of industrial hygienists and safety engineers who provide expertise, and translators and worker advocates who help ensure that workers have a voice in identifying and understanding hazards in their workplace. These third-party experts would not be allowed to participate without a vote being organized among workers first – a requirement that would unnecessarily delay the identification and abatement of hazards that put workers at risk of harm.
4. The Senate would effectively block, by endless delay, a rule to protect workers from carcinogenic silica dust. OSHA needs to update a decades-old rule limiting workers’ exposure to this known lung carcinogen.
But the Senate rider would delay improving protections for workers until unnecessary, additional studies are completed.
5. They’d make it harder to prevent unlawful treatment of workers who take action to improve their working conditions.
The House and Senate bills slash funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by 28 percent and 11 percent, respectively, below the President’s Budget. At this level of funding, the Board would be forced to reduce its staffing level by up to one-third, severely hindering its ability to investigate and litigate unfair labor practices and conduct secret ballot elections, as required by law, around the nation.
6. They’d use multiple riders to further disempower the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Both the House and Senate bills include numerous riders that would block common-sense rules to level the playing field for workers who want to vote on whether or not to form a union, and interfere with the Board’s adjudicatory functions by prohibiting it from considering cases regarding joint-employer standards or the appropriate size of a bargaining unit.
7. They’d block protections for workers saving for retirement.
The Department of Labor’s “Conflict of Interest” rule would protect those saving for retirement from being steered into investments that are in their advisors' financial interest but not theirs. The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that conflicted advice leads to annual losses of about $17 billion for IRA investors.
8. They’d underfund employment and training programs that employers need to build a skilled workforce and workers rely on to prepare for 21st-century jobs, depriving at least 2 million workers of job training and employment services.
The Senate and House bills fail to support the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which last year passed the Senate in a 97-3 vote, and other key employment services. The Senate funds employment and training programs at $650 million less than the President’s Budget level, while the House bill reduces the funding level by nearly $500 million. Under the Republican bills, at least two million fewer workers would receive job training and employment services, as compared to the President’s Budget. The Republican bills also deny funding for the Administration's proposed Apprenticeship Grants, depriving American workers of the chance to participate in this proven learn-and-earn model, which offers a clear gateway to the middle class. The Senate bill in particular also slashes funding for targeted grants to help workers whose jobs are lost as a result of mass layoffs and natural disasters, providing only $74 million for program year 2016 – $167 million (69 percent) less than the President’s Budget.
The President’s Budget would reverse sequestration, continue to cut the deficit, and invest in areas that are critical to our economy.
It’s a budget that makes significant new investments in employment services, job training, and apprenticeship programs and provides sufficient funding to support strong enforcement of our nation’s labor laws. It’s a budget that builds on -- rather than tears down -- efforts to strengthen protections for America’s workers in today’s economy. The President supports ensuring that retirement investment advisors are free from conflicts of interest that shade their recommendations to workers trying to save for retirement. He believes we should protect workers from carcinogenic dust. And he supports American workers’ right to choose whether to organize into unions in a timely and efficient manner. (Learn more about the President’s proposed budget here.)
The bottom line is this: Worker protections and job training are critical for workers, families and our economy. The Republican budget plans seek to underfund and undermine these key priorities.