Money bill tells labor enforcement agencies to work against corporate abusers
Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON—The $1.5 trillion federal money bill for the whole government, running at that rate through September 30, gives the National Labor Relations Board and other worker enforcement agencies more cash and often more staff.

And as if that wasn’t enough to help the feds crackdown on corporate crooks—though lawmakers didn’t use those words—the House Appropriations Committee, which wrote most of the measure, wants those agencies, including the NLRB and enforcers within the Labor Department, to work together on investigations and information about corporate abuses.

The measure, which Democratic President Joe Biden signed on March 15, funds all government agencies from now through the end of fiscal 2022. The measure is a 52%-48% split between military and non-military spending.

As in past years, there was interesting news not just in the raw figures, but in instructions lawmakers gave to agency chiefs.

Thus the NLRB, for example, got $317 million for this fiscal year, an increase of $42.7 million over the year ending last September 30. The Biden administration, which has turned the board around, expects it to hire 162 more staffers, rising to 1,387. That’s what the appropriators, led by panel chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., want. So do unions.

But DeLauro and her Democratic majority also want the NLRB, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Wage and Hour Division, and other agencies to work together on probing and punishing corporate malefactors.

The theory, after all, is that a boss who breaks labor law in one field, say by committing unfair labor practices, is also likely to break it elsewhere, such as shorting workers’ paychecks.

“The committee identifies a need for more inter-agency collaboration between the department (including the Wage and Hour Division and OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board to enforce labor and civil rights laws fully and effectively,” the lawmakers said.

“The committee encourages the agencies to review and evaluate current enforcement efforts, rescind harmful regulations and sub-regulatory guidance, and ensure each agency is using all the tools and policies at their disposal to protect workers. This includes robust coordinated outreach and education to rebuild trust in government enforcement, especially in communities of color.”

The other enforcement agencies get more money, too. OSHA the biggest winner, gets a $21 million bump, to $612 million. It  “has the lowest number of health and safety inspectors in the agency’s 48-year history,” the committee commented.

“OSHA enforcement is critical to preventing workplace tragedies from occurring, which is why it is concerning that, under current staffing levels, the agency would need 165 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once.”

Left unsaid was that under the GOP Trump regime, OSHA on-site enforcement collapsed, especially at high-hazard worksites such as hospitals, nursing homes, and especially meat and poultry production plants. Almost as soon as Biden won the popular vote, OSHA citations, especially for coronavirus safety violations, started to increase.

And Wage and Hour, which probes paycheck abuse—such as minimum wage and overtime pay violations—”has fewer inspectors now than it did in 1948 when the workforce was much smaller,” the committee said laconically.

Workers didn’t get all they wanted in the mammoth measure. The Hyde Amendment, approved in 1976, stayed in, even though panel Democrats tried to delete it, and getting rid of Hyde is a goal for several big unions. Republicans and renegade Democrats restored Hyde. It bans using federal Medicaid money for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

And the NLRB section still bans the use of the Internet and electronic voting for union representation elections. It also still bans the agency from extending its enforcement to farmworkers. That provision is a racist relic from the 1930s, when, to ensure against a Southern Democratic Senate filibuster, FDR let that ban go in.

Understandably, the Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 700,000 of the nation’s two million federal workers, had extensive comments on the money bill. Union President Everett Kelley lauded lawmakers for finally passing a whole-year spending bill and urged them to quickly pass agency money bills covering fiscal 2023, which begins October 1.

“Because of continued threats of government shutdowns from political obstructionists and uncertainty caused by stopgap continuing resolutions, agencies for a year and a half have been forced to operate under the budget priorities of the previous administration,” he said. Left unsaid: The GOP Trump regime tried to trash labor relations in the federal government, too.

“In the future, ideally beginning with the 2023 fiscal year approaching in just six months, Congress must pass agency operating budgets on time so government agencies avoid unnecessary obstacles to delivering for the American people.”

AFGE’s Bureau of Prisons local also said it accomplished many objectives in the money bill. The top one was more money so BOP could hire more corrections officers and study how to raise their pay. Chronic short-staffing, as officers leave for higher-paying equivalent law enforcement jobs elsewhere, leads to dangerous conditions, notably in maximum security prisons.

That’s because, to fill the slots the officers vacate, Bureau of Prisons officials often draft other, untrained, staffers—like social workers and cooks—to guard inmates.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.