Now is the time for all good activists to come to the aid of working people.
Funding for the Federal Government runs out on April 28. This means that before that date, if we are to avoid a government shutdown, the Senate and the House of Representatives will have to pass — and the President will have to sign — a new bill funding the government through the rest of Fiscal Year 2017. FY 17 ends on September 30. So far, for FY 17, the government has been running on a Continuing Resolution (CR) — agencies are pretty much working off of the same budget that they had last year.
We previously discussed the President’s “Skinny Budget” proposal for FY 2018, which begins on October 1. But there are a number of important OSHA programs that are at risk right now, through the rest of FY 17, and only you can save these programs. The good news is that Congress is heading out of town next week for their two-week State Work Periods. That means they want to hear from you, their constituents, about what you think is important. If they are brave enough, they will even hold public meetings. There are obviously a lot of important issues that Congress is dealing with right now (the fate of our democracy, the fate of the earth, etc.) — all the more reason why the voices defending worker safety need to be heard loud and clear. Congress must act on the FY 17 budget as soon as they get back, so the next two weeks are critical.
What are the issues and what are the messages?
It’s hard to tell what they are thinking on the Hill right now. They have to move fast on the FY 17 budget when they come back or risk a government shut down and the Republicans can’t pass a budget without some Democratic support.
The White House has requested a $18 billion cut in the FY 17 budget to pay for building THE WALL and increase defense spending. Democrats have lined up pretty solidly against funding THE WALL using 2017 money, but there are some strongly pro-defense spending Democrats.
It’s quite possible that there will be a proposal for an “across-the-board” cut in the budget — for example a percent cut on every budget item to pay for THE WALL or defense. In terms of specific cuts, the only thing we have to go on are the FY17 proposals put forth by the Republican-controlled Senate and House Appropriations Committees last year and proposals from the Trump administration. Needless to say, they are not good.
OSHA: Lowlights in the House include complete elimination of the Harwood Grant program and a 7 percent ($15 million) cut in enforcement. The Senate, on the other hand, leaves Harwood and enforcement alone, but cuts 10 percent ($2 million) out of standards. Compliance assistance, on the other hand, receives a significant increase in both budgets.
MSHA: Both House and Senate chopped MSHA’s enforcement budget, with a draconian 11% cut in coal, as well as metal/non-metal in the House and “only” a 3% cut for both enforcement items in the Senate. The Senate also proposes to cut MSHA’s standards program by 5%.
NIOSH: Trump administration has proposed to cut NIOSH’s FY 17 budget by $100 million by eliminating its new research grants and the Education and Research Program
Aside from the actual budget numbers, we have to worry about poison pill “riders.” Riders are language added to the budget that prohibit an agency from spending money on a specific item. For example, while it would be a long, difficult process to use the regulatory process to repeal the Silica standard, Congress could simply add a rider to the OSHA Appropriations bill forbidding OSHA from spending any money to enforce the standard.
What is to be done?
Senate and House members need to receive a strong message. If you live in a district or state with members on the Appropriations Committees, your voice is especially important:
- No funding cuts in OSHA, MSHA or NIOSH.
- 13 workers die every day in American workplaces.
- At current budget levels, OSHA can only inspect every workplace in the United States once every 145 years.
- A strong enforcement program is needed to ensure that low-road employers follow the law. This helps responsible employers – why should they be at a disadvantage competing with law-breakers?
- Mining continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Coal miners deserve protection.
- NIOSH performs needed research on best practices, new hazards and needed solutions that help map our way to improved injury and illness prevention
- Fund worker safety and health training — the Harwood Grants
- Harwood grants have trained more than 2.1 million workers in dangerous jobs since 1978.
- Harwood grants provide resources to non-profits (universities, unions, small business associations, worker rights groups) to provide hands-on training to small businesses and vulnerable workers.
- Evaluations have proven them effective in saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses.
- The program is tiny: less than $11 million, or 0.0002 percent of the overall budget
- No poison pill riders that would block worker safety protections or rights. No riders on silica, injury reporting and anti-retaliation protections.
- Silica causes cancer and serious lung disease.
- About 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers
- The Silica standard was issued a year ago and will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.
- Many employers are already implementing the requirements
- Injury Reporting and anti-retaliation
- As of July 1, covered employers must send the summary of their workplace injury and illness logs to OSHA (Industry is trying to delay this requirement)
- This information is important for workers and for employers to be able to compare their safety performance with other employers in their industry.
- This regulation also forbids employers from retaliating against workers for reporting an injury or illness.