By Scott Schneider

Thanks to Scott Schneider for filling us in on Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta’s hearing this morning before the House Appropriations Committee on the Department of Labor’s FY 2018 budget.  Acosta will also soon testify before Senate although no date has been set.  Over the next few weeks, Confined Space will be following the appropriations process, dive more deeply into specific issues, and discuss what you can do to help ensure that the Labor Department budget is adequate to support American workers.

Secretary of Labor Acosta went up to Capitol Hill this morning for his first hearing today before the House Appropriations Committee to defend the Labor Department budget.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member of the Health and Human Services and Related Agencies, started off by trying to pin Acosta down on how he was going to effectively enforce the laws with huge cuts in the budget. She also mentioned issues like the delay in the Silica and Beryllium rules, the Fiduciary rule, and the revocation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order.

Republicans and Acosta generally focused on the need for budget cuts and “hard choices,” although Acosta kept insisting that despite the budget cuts, the Department would vigorously enforce the law. Don’t use the size of the budget to judge their efforts, he argued, but rather how effective their programs are, based on outcomes. He claimed that the cuts or revocation of any program are not meant to reduce enforcement.

Much of the hearing revolved around the proposed cuts to Apprenticeship programs, which Acosta claims to be a big supporter of. He claimed, as do most Republican Cabinet heads, that we have to have a “balanced approach” to enforcement and compliance assistance, while claiming he was “fully committed” to enforcement. He said that decisions on cutting programs should be “data-driven.”

He also made the interesting remark, when questioned about why he was letting the Fiduciary Rule go into effect latter this week, that we must go through the congressionally mandated process to change the rule. Rulemaking is cumbersome, he said. No one should be able to snap their fingers and undo rules because that’s undemocratic. We must go through Administrative procedures. And we need the data to base decisions on the record. So he obviously understands the process and won’t be changing any existing rules fast. The fiduciary rule simply requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients in retirement accounts.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) questioned him about Crane Operator Certification and he said he would love to talk with representatives of industry and “representatives of workers” about it. Pocan also asked him about OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant program. He responded that while that program would be eliminated, it would be made up for by increases in compliance assistance. He obviously doesn’t understand the difference between compliance assistance which is outreach by the Agency and Harwood, which funds outreach by workers, unions and industry to their own employees and members. Pocan later asked about the Silica rule. Acosta said that although enforcement of the rule was delayed until September, they were proceeding with the rule.

On the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule, Acosta insisted that even without that Executive Order, the Department would use its enforcement powers against “bad actors.” However, they wouldn’t be keeping a “blacklist.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL) specifically asked a softball question about the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), which both she and Acosta lauded and want to continue supporting since it has been “particularly effective.”

There was also a lot of discussion of H2B visas (specifically at Mar-A Lago), the proposal to merge the Office of Federal Contract Compliance with EEOC, the Overtime rule and its impact on seasonal workers and cuts to job training programs.

Acosta did a good job of bobbing and weaving around the President’s budget and its impact. He seemed personally committed to enforcing the laws against bad actors, but the budget numbers don’t jibe with his stated commitment.

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