The Bush budget sends a loud, ugly message to workers throughout the United States: work hard earn some money suffer the hazards die or become disabled and, the increasing unemployed can easily replace you.

That is the only explanation for the draconian cuts in the budgets for the three federal agencies in charge of protecting workers’ safety and health: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is cut by $9 million; the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is cut by $4 million and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, (NIOSH), the research arm of the federal government, will be reduced by $28 million. That is a total reduction of $41 million.

In addition, the Bush White House has further reduced spendable budgets with an underhanded method. Pension and health costs of agency employees will be shifted to the budgets of these three agencies. They were previously not counted in the operating budgets.

Training grants in OSHA were reduced from $11.2 million to a woeful $4 million. This marks a dramatic change in just one year under the Bush White House.

Last year’s budget actually had increases for OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH. What has changed? Targeted for sharp reduction are the inspection programs.

That means there will be even less federal inspectors responding to the calls from unions and workers to mine disasters; workplace hazards such as electrical fires, etc. or hazards related to asbestos, lead, infectious waste and other risks that workers face very day.

Reducing the NIOSH budgets sends a particularly harsh message to workers. Each year thousands of new chemicals are introduced into the workplace. If NIOSH doesn’t conduct research into their dangers, chemical manufactures will set the standards by which OSHA will conduct inspections. This already happens, but if this budget is enacted, the situation will be even worse.

Actuaries can calculate the number of workers who will die or become disabled with exposure to these new and existing workplace risks. For example, auto manufacturers calculate the number who will die when certain auto safety measures are not built into a car.

Those same calculations are made in regard to chemical exposure and no federal inspectors to cite scofflaw employers from their use. The old Republican refrain that regulations stop progress has never been more apparent since the World Trade Center crisis. This amounts to a calculated death toll in the name of economic progress.

The message from the AFL-CIO is clear. The World Trade Center crisis is being used by the Bush administration to expose working families to outrageous economic risks and now workplace hazards. This diabolical practice must end.

April 28 is Worker Memorial Day. It deserves a nationwide response to the Bush budget and the death sentence it hands workers. “Not over our dead bodies,” must be our response. This year’s congressional and state elections are the next step.

Let’s mobilize everyone to protect workers and their families. Political action on every level is needed to sweep the Bush/Enronomics advocates out of statehouses and Congress. If we do it right, criminal actions such as cutting the already bare-bones health and safety agencies’ budgets can help build the mass movement that is necessary if we are to turn our country around.

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