Labor Secretary Asks for More Funding for Enforcement

At a Senate subcommittee meeting in mid-July, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh asked for a 17 percent increase in the budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He also called for increased funding for other labor law enforcement agencies. Finally, he also asked for a budget increase for job creation programs.

This amounts to “$304 million in additional funding for the Department’s worker protection agencies, including $73 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, $67 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, $35 million for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, $31 million for the Wage and Hour Division, and $37 million for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.”

Course Change

This represents a significant departure from the Trump administration, under which the enforcement arms of the Department of Labor (DOL) lost personnel. With these proposed expanded budgets, the Biden administration is looking to hire new enforcement personnel to expand enforcement of labor laws. Under Walsh, the DOL is looking to increase enforcement. Employers should take note and see to it that they are in compliance.

Before heading for the DOL, Walsh worked as a construction worker. He is pro-union and pro-worker. As he put it in his testimony before the Senate subcommittee, “My father’s participation in the Laborers Union, Local 223 in Boston, was the pathway to a fair wage, so my family was not worried about housing insecurity.” As a second-generation laborer, he plans to increase enforcement as much as he can. He also noted that “I followed my father into construction and joined the same union, and experienced those same benefits of having a safe workplace, health insurance, a fair wage, and a pension. These are not abstract policies–these are life-changing rights.” Furthermore, “I have spent my career fighting for the rights of working people as a State Representative, as General Agent for the Metro Boston Building Trades Council, and as Mayor of Boston.”

Walsh is also concerned with relief for workers affected by the COVID pandemic. He said that that was why it “was so important that Congress worked with President Biden to pass the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to change the course of the pandemic and deliver immediate relief for American workers.” He further noted that “not only did the ARP extend unemployment insurance benefits for our friends and neighbors who lost their jobs during this pandemic, but it also laid the groundwork for shoring up and modernizing our unemployment insurance system to help workers get the benefits they deserve.” Lastly, “ARP also distributes more than $360 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to ensure that they are in a position to keep front line public workers on the job and paid.”

American Jobs Plan

Walsh also supports the administration’s American Jobs Plan. As he put it in his testimony, “The President’s American Jobs Plan is a historic investment in the working people of America. It will create millions of good paying, family sustaining jobs that rebuild the middle class by empowering our workers to build America’s future.” The plan will include “training programs focused on growing, high-demand sectors, such as clean energy, manufacturing, and caregiving, helping workers of all kinds to find good-quality jobs.” That is not all the plan is set to do. “In addition, the plan provides for a new Dislocated Workers Program that provides comprehensive supports for workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own, to ensure they are able to successfully participate in training that can prepare them for in-demand jobs.” The plan also aims to help “underserved communities,” offering job opportunities to women, people of color, the disabled, and those affected by the justice system. The plan will also offer “subsidized jobs programs” to the unemployed and underemployed. Furthermore, the plan will create “up to two million new registered apprenticeship slots,” with access emphasized for women, people of color, and the disabled. The plan also reaches into the schools, with money set aside to “increase access for underrepresented students to computer science and other STEM sectors.” Adults will also be able to go to school, with a program to make “key investments in expanded career services and adult literacy programs to equip job seekers with the tools, information, and foundational skills they need to be successful in the labor market.”

Enforcement

Walsh further testified that the plan “provides critical funding to strengthen the capacity of our labor enforcement agencies to prevent discrimination, protect wages and benefits, enforce health and safety rules, and strengthen health care and pension plans.” Furthermore, “the President is calling for increased penalties when employers violate workplace safety and health rules.” He is doing so because existing penalties have proven ineffective at stopping violations. Employers have simply written off penalties as the cost of doing business.

The DOL Budget

Walsh is asking Congress for an increase in DOL funding. In his testimony, he said that “The Department’s budget requests an investment of $14.2 billion in discretionary resources, which is a 14 percent increase above the FY 2021 enacted level.” This increase includes “$3.7 billion…for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and Wagner Peyser state formula grants to make employment services and training available to more dislocated workers, low-income adults, and disadvantaged youth hurt by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Moreover, “The budget also invests additional resources in programs that serve marginalized groups, such as justice-involved individuals, at-risk youth, and vulnerable veterans.” While high-income workers have largely recovered from the COVID pandemic, lower-income workers “have experienced persistent net loss,” with “over 5.7 million jobs that existed last February…yet to return.” The plan addresses this job loss with targeted investment in those most affected, including women and people of color. The DOL’s “budget prioritizes investments in these communities of color, with a goal of increasing success for all groups, because systems that are failing these populations are failing us all.”

Conclusion

In a dramatic change from the Trump administration’s policies, the Biden administration’s DOL plans to increase enforcement and spend billions on job development programs. These programs aim to increase the participation of women, people of color, and the disabled in the job market and to increase the number of jobs that pay a living wage. Employers should be on the lookout for chances to improve compliance and join in partnerships to hire newly trained workers.

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