Will Republicans Cut Budgets for Worker Safety, Pension Protection, and Wage and Hour Enforcement?

The White House sent a Labor Day message from Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan about the many important issues affecting working Americans that will be decided in the next month of congressional budget negotiations. The message is well worth reading.

Donovan describes what he calls a “double-pronged attack on the workers we are celebrating today.” This attack includes deep cuts at the Wage and Hour Division, which protects workers against wage theft by crooked employers, and which collected $250 million in back pay for workers last year. Republicans also want limits on the use of third-party experts to accompany OSHA compliance officers on workplace safety inspections, where they can point out hazards OSHA might miss. They want to cut the budget and limit enforcement of the National Labor Relations Board’s rules to protect workers who join together for better working conditions. They want to block a new OSHA rule that will save thousands of workers from death, disabling lung disease, or cancer from inhaling silica dust. And they are trying to kill a new effort by the Department of Labor to protect retirees from financial advisors who put their own interests ahead of their clients’ interests.

None of the laws protecting working Americans from wage theft, on-the-job injury, unlawful retaliation, or self-dealing by financial advisors is meaningful if the government doesn’t enforce them. That takes resources and staff—investigators and lawyers who can take on big corporations or reckless businesses. Yet congressional Republicans want to cut funding for enforcement of all these laws. At OSHA, for example, Republicans want a 10 percent cut—$57 million, even though OSHA’s inspectors already can’t get to even one percent of workplaces in a year, and negligent employers put workers in harm’s way every day and kill nearly 100 employees a week.

A glance at the Labor Day issue of OSHA Today, a private publication that follows workplace safety news, shows the danger of the Republican plan to cut workplace safety enforcement: four construction workers injured, one seriously, when a barn under construction collapsed; a 19-year old construction worker killed and two others injured when a wall collapsed; an explosion (the second this year) burned four workers, at least one seriously, at a bio-diesel plant; a man was hospitalized after the trench in which he was working collapsed and trapped him; a construction worker died after falling 40 feet at a warehouse; a food processing company failed to report nine injuries; two workers lost fingers at a plastics plant; and federal OSHA is implementing a special compliance effort to combat an epidemic of amputations in Arkansas, where 40 workers have lost body parts in industrial amputations this year.

OMB Director Donovan is right: cutting worker protections is bad for working Americans and their families, and bad for the economy.