WASHINGTON (PAI) — After dumping anti-worker schemes dreamed up by the House’s ruling Republicans, the GOP-run 114th Congress passed a money bill to keep the government going through Dec. 9. President Barack Obama (D) signed it after the solons’ final OKs on Sept. 28. Legislators then fled town to seek re-election.
The new law continues federal spending at the same rate as in the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, for everything from funding the Labor Department and jobless benefits to running the Affordable Care Act to paying for the Maritime Security Program – which the Seafarers lobbied for – to paying for Amtrak upgrades to money for food stamps.
But though anti-worker “riders” were eliminated, the fight is not over. When lawmakers return for a post-election session on Nov. 14, the radical right may again try to emasculate the National Labor Relations Board and to kill the Labor Department’s rule expanding overtime pay eligibility, among other brainstorms. The AFL-CIO is warning solons about that second idea.
And one “rider” survived: It bans the Securities and Exchange Commission from ordering corporations to disclose their political spending in their SEC reports.
The law contains full funding for the year that began Oct. 1 for Congress and for three programs: Combating the Zika virus, the Veterans Affairs Department and military construction. And it has enough VA money to reduce the backlog of veterans’ claims to less than 75,000, said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. The backlog had been as high as 650,000.
The law’s VA section also sets up a new system to protect VA whistleblowers, including punishments for supervisors who retaliate against them.
A supervisor’s first retaliation would bring anything from a 12-day suspension to firing to the supervisor. The second retaliation would bring immediate firing. And the retaliating supervisors would not get bonuses before they go.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents VA workers – including whistleblowers whose supervisors targeted them when they unveiled a scandal about treatment two years ago – liked the protections, but faulted Congress for waiting until the last minute to approve the funding.
“Averting a government shutdown with only days to spare is no reason to celebrate. Congress has merely kicked the can down the road for another 10 weeks, when we will face yet another budget showdown,” said AFGE President J. David Cox, a retired VA nurse.
“Public servants and American families deserve better. This November, we need to elect lawmakers who will lead this country forward and remove the obstructionists who are standing in the way of progress,” he added.
AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel warns right wing Republicans will try to kill the overtime expansion.
“The only rationale for delaying the overtime rule is to give the next Congress time to kill the rule altogether—robbing millions workers of the opportunity to earn more pay or spend more time with their families,” he wrote lawmakers.
“Workers waited decades for an update to the salary threshold. The Labor Department has updated it only once since the 1970s: In 2004, when it was set too low. Having experienced decades of wage stagnation and uncompensated overtime, workers should not have to wait a day longer for the protection the new regulations will provide.”
DOL’s rules, to start Dec. 1 unless Congress blocks them, would order automatic eligibility for overtime pay for any worker making less than $47,476, Samuel noted. Had eligibility tracked inflation since 1975, it would cover workers making up to $57,000, he said.
“For approximately 12.5 million workers, this new regulation is the most effective way to raise wages, create jobs, and restore the 40-hour work week. The AFL-CIO urges you to oppose…any legislation that would delay or weaken implementation of this important rule.”
Photo: Mosquitoes collected in order to understand disease transmission like the Zika virus. The spending bill passed by Congress includes funds to combat the Zika virus in the U.S. | Kathy Keatley Garvey/ucanr.edu