Acosta to Defend DOL/OSHA Budget Tomorrow

Acosta Budget

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing tomorrow morning at 10:00 am on the FY 2019 Department of Labor Budget. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta will testify.

Ticked Off About Tipping

This should be a rather lively hearing for Acosta. Among the top issues he will be grilled on is the Department’s failure to publish an economic analysis of its tipping rule when it was proposed earlier this year. You may recall that DOL’s Wage and Hour Division apparently hid an economic analysis from that was intended to back up their reversal of an Obama era regulation that would have allowed restaurant workers to keep their tips.  Not publishing an economic analysis is a no-no when trying to change or eliminate a regulation — especially when you’re doing it just because you don’t like what the analysis says.

Members of Congress were not amused. Senator Elizabeth Warren has sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta saying she is “alarmed and angry” about at the report that DOL hid the results of their economic analysis and requested copies of all final and interim economic analyses, a list of DOL, OMB and White House officials who received copies of the analyses, and all e-mails related to the analyses within the Department of Labor, and between DOL and the White House.

OSHA Issues

There are a number of workplace safety and health issues that members can be expected to discuss with Acosta.

Beryllium Standard Delay: OSHA announced earlier this week that it was delaying enforcement of the beryllium standard by two months for all workers, and that it was putting into effect its weakening of protections for construction and maritime workers even before issuing a final standard that would have put the rollback into law.

Elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grants: This is, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again.  Trump proposed to eliminate this highly successful program last year and the House agreed. The Senate, however, refused — on a bipartisan basis — to eliminate the grants, and although we still don’t have a final FY 2018 budget, it looks like the program will survive another year.

Last year Acosta testified that the elimination of the $11 million Harwood grants was being made up for with a $4 million increase in the federal Compliance Assistance budget.  This year they’re only proposing to add $3 million to the Compliance Assistance Budget. Despite Acosta’s failure in basic arithmetic, Harwood grants do different things than hiring more Compliance Assistance Specialists or expanding VPP, as I explained last year.

The Susan Harwood Grants, on the other hand, provide money to non-profit organizations — colleges, labor unions, business associations, community groups — to provide direct, hands-on training to workers about the workplace hazards they face and their rights under the law.  The organizations that receive Harwood money often focus on “vulnerable” workers — like day laborers, immigrants and others who work in high hazard occupations and who are difficult to reach by OSHA. This is a very different audience than the CAS’s talk to and the programs perform a very different function. In addition, Harwood grantees are required to conduct sophisticated evaluations to ensure that their training programs are effective. Grantees also produce worker-oriented training materials that are publicly available. Some of the program’s success stories can be found here.

Expansion of VPP: The FY 2019 budget proposes adding $3 million to add Compliance Assistance Specialists, who had been cut in previous years due to budget limitations, and an addition of eight staff to work exclusively on the Voluntary Protection Programs.  The agency “anticipates approving 155 new VPP sites and re-approving 395 sites in FY 2019.”  And, as we’ve explained before, although VPP has always been a favorite program of Republican administrations, the program has faced significant integrity and funding issues over the past several years. Congresspersons may want to ask about the outcome of the two stakeholder meetings that OSHA held last year to discuss problems with the program.

They may also want to ask why the President would want to add more of OSHA’s scarce resource to a program that helps the best companies get better, instead of investing that money in enforcing the law against the bottom-feeding employers who cut corners and endanger workers.

Regulatory Agenda: There are a number of important standards on OSHA’s regulatory agenda that seem to be Missing in Action. Two of them address serious hazards faced by our front-line health care workers: infectious diseases and workplace violence.  The next step for infectious diseases is a proposal. Although a Request for Information was issued last year for workplace violence, the agency hasn’t even announced a date for the small business (SBREFA) panel yet — the first major step in the regulatory process.  Aside from a final standard weakening the beryllium standard for construction and maritime workers (see above), and weakening of the Obama administration’s electronic recordkeeping regulation  the only step on a major standard in the budget proposal is a SBREFA panel on a cell tower worker standard.

And, of course, the Representatives may want to ask Secretary Acosta if OSHA has figured out which two worker protections the agency will take away in order to comply with Trump’s “1 in/2-out” Executive Order if they go forward with the cell tower standard or any of the others.

Alex Acosta Budget OSHA Regulations and Standards Regulatory Process

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