What Slashing the Labor Department Budget by 21 Percent Would Mean

Elizabeth Grossman

“This is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,” said David Golston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. (Matt Popovich/ Flickr)

The Trump administration’s bud­get blue­print” would dev­as­tate work­er safe­ty, job train­ing pro­grams and legal ser­vices essen­tial to low-income work­ers. Its cuts include a 21 per­cent, or $2.5 bil­lion, reduc­tion in the Depart­ment of Labor’s budget.

The bud­get would reduce fund­ing for or elim­i­nate pro­grams that pro­vide job train­ing to low-income work­ers, unem­ployed seniors, dis­ad­van­taged youth and for state-based job train­ing grants. It elim­i­nates the Occu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Administration’s (OSHA) train­ing grants as well as the inde­pen­dent Chem­i­cal Safe­ty Board. Also tar­get­ed for elim­i­na­tion is the Legal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion, which pro­vides legal assis­tance to low-income Americans.

Cut­ting these pro­grams is cut­ting the safe­ty net for the most vul­ner­a­ble work­ers, those striv­ing for the mid­dle class,” said Matt Shudtz, exec­u­tive direc­tor at the Cen­ter for Pro­gres­sive Reform. This bud­get would elim­i­nate train­ing pro­grams for them, the kind of things peo­ple need to move up in the world. It is very anti-work­er and anti- the most vul­ner­a­ble workers.”

Judy Con­ti, Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project (NELP) fed­er­al advo­ca­cy coor­di­na­tor, didn’t mince words.

This bud­get will mean more ill­ness, injury and death on the job,” she said Thurs­day, the day the pro­posed bud­get was released.

Tar­get­ing pro­grams that pre­vent injury and illness

The White House bud­get pro­pos­al jus­ti­fies its enor­mous cuts to the Depart­ment of Labor by say­ing it focus­es on the agency’s high­est pri­or­i­ty func­tions and dis­in­vests in activ­i­ties that are duplica­tive, unnec­es­sary, unproven or ineffective.”

The bud­get would close Job Corps cen­ters that serve dis­ad­van­taged youth,” elim­i­nate the Senior Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vice Employ­ment Pro­gram, decrease fed­er­al fund­ing for state and local job train­ing grants — shift­ing more finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty to employ­ers and state and local gov­ern­ments. The bud­get would also elim­i­nate cer­tain grants to the Office of Dis­abil­i­ty Employ­ment Pol­i­cy, which helps peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties stay in the job market.

Also slat­ed for elim­i­na­tion are OSHA’s Susan Har­wood train­ing grants that have pro­vid­ed more than 2.1 mil­lion work­ers, espe­cial­ly under­served and low-lit­er­a­cy work­ers in high-haz­ard indus­tries, with health and safe­ty train­ing since 1978. These train­ings are designed to mul­ti­ply their effects by train­ing train­ers” so that both work­ers and employ­ers learn how to pre­vent and respond to work­place haz­ards. They’ve trained health­care work­ers on pan­dem­ic haz­ards, helped con­struc­tion work­ers avoid dev­as­tat­ing acci­dents, and work­ers in food pro­cess­ing and land­scap­ing pre­vent ergonom­ic injuries. The pro­gram also helps work­ers for whom Eng­lish is not their first lan­guage obtain essen­tial safe­ty training.

The cuts to OSHA train­ing grants will hurt work­ers and small employ­ers,” said David Michaels, for­mer assis­tant sec­re­tary of labor for OSHA. Train­ing is a proven, and in fact nec­es­sary method to pre­vent work­er injuries and ill­ness­es. OSHA’s train­ing grants are very cost effec­tive, reach­ing large num­bers of work­ers and small employ­ers who would oth­er­wise not be trained in injury and ill­ness prevention.” 

Every­one, labor and man­age­ment, believes that a work­force edu­cat­ed in safe­ty and health is essen­tial to sav­ing lives and pre­vent­ing occu­pa­tion­al dis­ease. That is the pur­pose of the Har­wood grants,” said Michael Wright, direc­tor of health, safe­ty and envi­ron­ment at Unit­ed Steelworkers.

The White House says elim­i­nat­ing these grants will save $11 mil­lion, a minis­cule frac­tion of the $639 bil­lion the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is request­ing for the Depart­ment of Defense.

No words to describe how cru­el it is”

Elim­i­nat­ing the Chem­i­cal Safe­ty Board (CSB) would mean no inde­pen­dent fed­er­al agency ded­i­cat­ed to invest­ing dev­as­tat­ing indus­tri­al acci­dents such as the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon dis­as­ter, the West Fer­til­iz­er plant explo­sion, Free­dom Indus­tries chem­i­cal release in Charleston, West Vir­ginia, and the Chevron refin­ery fire in Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia. Those are among the hun­dreds of cas­es CSB has inves­ti­gat­ed over the past 20 years or so.

Our rec­om­men­da­tions have result­ed in banned nat­ur­al gas blows in Con­necti­cut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased pub­lic safe­ty at oil and gas sites across the State of Mis­sis­sip­pi. The CSB has been able to accom­plish all of this with a small and lim­it­ed bud­get. The Amer­i­can pub­lic are safer today as a result of the work of the ded­i­cat­ed and pro­fes­sion­al staff of the CSB,” said CSB chair­per­son Vanes­sa Allen Suther­land in a statement.

The cost of even one such acci­dent would be more than the CSB’s bud­get over its entire his­to­ry. And that cal­cu­la­tion is only eco­nom­ic. The human cost of a cat­a­stroph­ic acci­dent would be enor­mous,” said Wright. The CSB’s work has saved the lives of work­ers in chem­i­cal plants and oil refiner­ies, res­i­dents who could be caught in a tox­ic cloud, even stu­dents in high school chem­istry labs.”

The bud­get pro­pos­al also jeop­ar­dizes essen­tial legal sup­port for low-wage work­ers. While not ded­i­cat­ed to employ­ment issues, the Legal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion pro­vides vital ser­vices to low-wage work­ers, includ­ing on issues relat­ed to work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and oth­er job benefits.

Gut­ting the Legal Ser­vices Cor­po­ra­tion,” said NELP’s Con­ti, there are no words to describe how cru­el it is, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing gross­ly under­fund­ed the agency is.”

The gov­ern­ment should be invest­ing in work­ers, their fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties, but instead this bud­get dras­ti­cal­ly cuts the pro­grams meant to uplift them,” said Emi­ly Gard­ner, work­er health and safe­ty advo­cate at Pub­lic Citizen.

The White House calls the bud­get pro­pos­al a Bud­get Blue­print to make Amer­i­can Great Again.” On a call with reporters, Mick Mul­vaney, direc­tor of the Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, this is the Amer­i­ca First’ bud­get” and said it was writ­ten using the president’s own words” to turn those poli­cies into numbers.”

This is not so much a bud­get as an ide­o­log­i­cal state­ment,” said David Gol­ston, gov­ern­ment affairs direc­tor at the Nat­ur­al Resources Defense Council.

Eliz­a­beth Gross­man is the author of Chas­ing Mol­e­cules: Poi­so­nous Prod­ucts, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chem­istry, High Tech Trash: Dig­i­tal Devices, Hid­den Tox­i­cs, and Human Health, and oth­er books. Her work has appeared in a vari­ety of pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, Yale e360, Envi­ron­men­tal Health Per­spec­tives, Moth­er Jones, Ensia, Time, Civ­il Eats, The Guardian, The Wash­ing­ton Post, Salon and The Nation.
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