AFL-CIO, ally protest deep cuts in House Labor-HHS money bill

WASHINGTON (PAI)-The AFL-CIO and a top ally, Public Citizen, are protesting deep cuts in pro-worker programs in a money bill now moving through the GOP-run House.

The measure, which allocates funds for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services Departments and related agencies – including the National Labor Relations Board-shortchanges programs vital to workers and ends important protections, say AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel and Keith Wrightson of Public Citizen in separate letters.

The legislation cuts employment and training funds, job services and job safety and health (OSHA and MSHA) funding, they said. It kills health care quality evaluation and funding prevention programs under the Affordable Care Act, they add. It also cuts the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by 27 percent, Samuel said. That would “gut” the board, he added.

And the GOP would yank NLRB jurisdiction over Native American tribes’ private enterprises – such as casinos – halt the agency’s new union election rules initiative and end its case covering whether franchise-granters, such as McDonald’s headquarters, are joint employers with local franchise holders, and thus jointly responsible for obeying labor law.

But the GOP-run House Appropriations Committee, which actually helps disburse federal funds for the year starting Oct. 1, shoved the workers’ objections aside and approved the money bill on June 24 on a party-line vote.

The AFL-CIO opposes the bill’s restrictions, along with its money cuts. The restrictions include but are not limited to:

Banning automatic representation for workers when OSHA teams inspect plants.

“The bill would bar workers from designating a representative to participate in OSHA inspections on their behalf ‘except in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and by a vote of the employees of the affected worksite,'” Samuel said. Workers now have the legal right to have an employee representative accompany the OSHA inspectors. “The language appears to require workers represented by a union to have a separate vote to designate an inspection walk-around representative,” Samuel said.

A ban on the Labor Department’s current effort to write rules to force pension investment advisors, including advisors for 401(k)s, to avoid conflicts of interest.

A ban on DOL’s new final rule ordering firms that import workers on H2-B visas to pay them wages in the same range as those of U.S.-based workers. The DOL rule also includes other worker protections, Samuel said.

Banning the government from enforcing President Barack Obama (D)’s requirement for a $10.10 minimum hourly wage for all seasonal recreation workers employed by federal contractors. “This rider would deprive minimum wage and overtime protections to low-wage seasonal workers who need the additional income and protections provided by the regulations,” Samuel said. “The AFL-CIO opposes this rider and urges that it be deleted.”

Wrightson, who covers job safety and health for Public Citizen, cited many of the same provisions, but also went into detail about the money cuts. He called the overall bill “reckless.”

“The House majority is stacking this legislation with inappropriate policy riders and providing far less funding than necessary to appropriately support the agencies under its purview,” he said.

They include a $206 million cut, to $11.7 billion in overall Labor Department money. Part of that is an $18 million cut, to $535 million, for OSHA, and a $4.9 million cut, to $371 million, for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Obama wanted more money than Congress allotted this year for DOL and the agencies.

Republicans added another anti-worker “rider” neither Samuel nor Wrightson cited: A requirement that DOL, in so many words, revisit procedures for setting “prevailing wages” for government-funded public works projects. The right wing has long complained that prevailing wages are really union wages – and too high for cut-rate contractors.

And their committee report wants OSHA to return to “compliance assistance” for firms – a discredited Bush-era plan which let companies get away with OSHA violations in return for consultations with the agency. The Appropriations panel says that OSHA sought more increases only for enforcement.

“The committee directs OSHA to reorient its approach and refocus its efforts and resources on helping companies to comply,” the appropriations panel says.

“The AFL-CIO believes funding for workforce programs, public health, and education must be sufficient to meet the growing needs in these areas. Unfortunately, the Republican allocations for 2016 are inadequate and provide little hope that the chairman’s Labor-HHS draft will adequately fund these vital programs,” Samuel said.

“Congress should support policies that will help our economy grow, will raise wages, and will work for all people – not just the affluent,” he added.

Photo: CWA activists, allies, members of Congress and workers outline the importance of the NLRB. CWA.





Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.