Budget Day: Workers Under Attack

So how do working people fare in Donald Trump’s first budget proposal? The short answer, “not well.” This is what we know about the DOL budget and other labor and worker safety items, and what we don’t know (which unfortunately is more than we know at this point.) The budget document we have is only a summary of “highlights.” We know, for example, about many of the programs that are being eliminated, but nothing about others that may still be facing significant reductions.

What we do know is that the Trump Budget proposes to eliminate to government programs that have saved lives: OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant program and the US Chemical Safety Board.  Both of these agencies are tiny in budget terms. Their elimination has nothing to do with reducing the deficit and everything to do with undermining protections for workers, communities and the environment. To put things in perspective, the President’s pretty little wall alone (that we will pay for) is expected to cost $21 billion. These two programs come to about $21 million — and will save far more lives and jobs.

Remember, although this is bad news petty much everywhere you look, don’t despair. As I said last night, this is only the beginning of a long process. There’s time to organize and raise hell. But we need to start now.

Susan Harwood Training Grants: Trump proposes to eliminate this tiny $10 million program, dating back to OSHA’s New Directions grants of the Carter administration. Although OSHA is primarily an enforcement agency, OSHA also has an active training and compliance assistance programs because a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. Some of its success stories can be found here (at least for now.)

The Harwood program is a labor-management training program, providing grants to non-profit organizations whose members work in high hazard industries. The grantees provide hands-on classroom and field training for workers about hazards in the workplace and their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Universities, labor unions, COSH Groups and industry associations have been the recipients of these grants over the past 40 years.  Over the past several years it has particularly focused on vulnerable and hard to reach workers — those whose first language is not English, day laborers, temporary employees — and others in high hazard industries. Most of the grantees provide train-the-trainer programs, significantly multiplying the resources that OSHA invests in them. The value of the grants lies in the fact that these programs, and the training they provide reach workers that OSHA can’t easily reach by working with groups that have access to vulnerable workers. (Note: we are collecting success stories that describe how the Harwood grants save lives and prevent injuries. Send what you have to confinedspace2017@gmail.com.

US Chemical Safety Board: The Trump budget proposes to eliminate this important agency that conducts root cause investigations of the causes of chemical plant incidents and issues recommendations to government agencies, industry associations, states and unions on how to prevent future catastrophes.  The CSB has no enforcement authority, but the lessons learned from their reports are vital to protecting plant workers, as well as the environment and communities living in the shadows of chemical plants. The CSB is tiny, with only a $10 million budget, many times smaller than the enormous human and financial cost of a catastrophic chemical plant accident.

Bureau of International Labor Grant Funding: These $60 million grant programs help eliminate the worst forms of child labor around the world, build the capacity of foreign labor inspectorates to enforce labor laws, help other countries’ labor laws meet international standards, facilitate compliance with workers’ rights through global supply chains and support stronger workplace safety and health protections in law and practice globally.  Carol Pier, who ran the Bureau during the second term of the Obama administration noted that   “The budget document didn’t make clear how eliminating these programs would ensure that ‘U.S. trade agreements are fair for American workers’ if there is no longer any good way to help U.S. trading partners actually comply with labor standards under Free Trade Agreements.  International programs that help prevent U.S. workers and employers from having to compete against foreign employers using exploitative labor practices, like employing kids in hazardous conditions, is one of the main ways to level the proverbial global playing field, especially in the context of trade.”

Other Labor Department Programs: Still no word on MSHA (or NIOSH, which comes out of the Health and Human Services Budget). Overall, the President’s budget proposes cutting $2.5 billion or 21% from the Labor Department‘s budget,  mostly by significantly reduce funding for job training programs for seniors and disadvantaged youth, including its Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income job seekers age 55 and older find work. As Politico’s Morning Shift commented, “Trump might find it difficult to explain plausibly how he could be the tribune of industrial workers displaced by foreign trade if he were to cut programs to teach those same workers new skills.”

Environmental Protection Agency: Finally, let’s not forget about the catastrophic $5.7 billion, 29.6 percent cuts in the EPA budget, many of which will affect workers as well. More than 50 EPA programs would be eliminated altogether under Trump’s plan, including the Energy Star initiative administered with the Energy Department to help consumers identify efficient appliances and building supplies. $100 million worth of the EPA’s climate work, including international initiatives, research programs, partnerships and for the Clean Power Plan, a rule requiring states to pare greenhouse gas emissions from electricity. Also a 30 percent cut in the Superfund program that support the cleanup of toxic sites. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called the cuts, “a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.” “You can’t put ‘America First’ when you put the health of it’s people and its country last.”

And just to top it off,

Trump also recommended ending funding for United Nations climate programs, including the Green Climate Fund, which steers money to countries hit hard by rising seas, more intense storms and other consequences of a warming planet. The fund is a key part of the United Nation’s Paris climate accord.

Trump aims to shutter the Advanced Research Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, program, which steers government investment toward energy research that is risky but has the potential to yield breakthrough technologies such as flying wind turbines or motor fuels from algae.

Another $2 billion in cuts would be extracted from the Office of Renewable Energy, the Office of Fossil Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy and the Office of Electricity and Delivery Energy Reliability.

Trump also plans to dismantle the EPA’s Environmental Justice Program, whose director resigned last week in protest of the budget cuts. The EPA’s environmental justice program assists vulnerable, low income communities who live in areas impact by environmental devastation.

Budget Chemical Safety Board Congress Deconstructing the Administrative State Department of Labor Environmental Protection Agency Susan Harwood Worker Training Program

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