Bush is going after workers when they are hurting most. In a period of high unemployment, growing length of unemployment, cuts in wages and benefits, and increased job insecurity under globalization and outsourcing, working people need to know that there is a safety net that will not allow them to fall into dire poverty.

Unfortunately for millions, the far right has successfully led the push to shred that safety net over the last two decades, and now Bush is proposing onerous funding cuts in his 2005 budget for worker-related programs, doing his level best to force workers out of the frying pan into the fire.

Agencies designed to protect workers from abuse and unsafe working conditions face funding and staffing cuts in this budget proposal, while bureaucracies that audit, investigate and prosecute unions would see a windfall.

The Wage and Hour Administration, a relatively tiny agency that administers and enforces important laws such as child labor protections, the minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the like, would receive amounts, according to the Bush plan, that do not even match its 2001 budget. If Bush has his way, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, which has oversight over anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action practices in granting federal contracts, will see its funding and staffing set at pre-2001 levels as well. Meanwhile Bush is proposing large increases for funding and staffing for anti-union activities at the Office of Labor-Management Standards and the Office of the Inspector General.

While the administration drags its feet in prosecuting corporate criminals like Bush’s personal friend Ken Lay, and with a system of retirement savings in desperate need of reform and oversight, Bush is calling for cuts in funding for federal agencies with the authority to protect worker benefits. Even after corporate scandals like Enron and WorldCom saw tens of thousands of workers robbed of their savings and pensions, Bush’s 2005 spending proposal for the Employee Benefits Security Administration remains woefully small and signals his lack of concern for protecting workers and retirees from being swindled.

The administration’s proposed slashing of funds and staff for OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and MSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, indicates its disinterest in the safety and well being of workers. Worker safety training programs are on the chopping block to make funds available for corporate subsidies called “employer compliance assistance,” money to help employers comply with safety regulations. Since 2001, Bush has cut OSHA staff by 132 people and has simply refused to address the ergonomics issue in any meaningful way. This year Bush also plans to freeze funding for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

While the number of unemployed and underemployed is over 15 million, the Bush budget proposes to slash worker-training funding by hundreds of millions. Proposed funding for the Workforce Investment Act is a cut over 2004 levels. Cuts include $100 million from programs for dislocated workers. Bush’s proposal massively underfunds Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a small concession made to workers in the era of “free trade” to provide income assistance, health care tax credits and retraining to workers who lost their jobs due to trade policies and outsourcing. Since Bush took office the total of TAA-certified workers has grown by 60,000. Failed economic policies and the administration’s refusal to fund TAA adequately continue this year as Bush’s 2005 proposal cuts TAA training programs by another $4 million.

Republican-sponsored block grants for retraining programs represent actual cuts in funding and would make access to these programs more difficult and subject to the whims and problems of state politics and budget crises. Additionally, the Bush administration has fought extending unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed workers since his entry into office. Lately, he and congressional Republicans are refusing to extend benefits to people who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.

So as the administration celebrates outsourcing as beneficial and touts its do-nothing jobs policy, working people in the U.S. are losing their jobs hand over fist and, if Bush gets his way, will find no recourse or safety net to help them. While Bush actively works to subsidize corporations with tax cuts, lucrative government contracts, and giveaways, worker protections are being targeted for elimination through neglect and underfunding. To stop this anti-worker trend, we have to remove Bush and the Republicans from power on Nov. 2.

Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs. He can be reached at jwendland @ politicalaffairs.net.

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