The health and safety of millions of American workers should be one of the highest priorities to Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, but based on the department’s massive budget cuts, that does not appear to be the case.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is one of the most important areas within the federal government for ensuring that regular workers like you and me, can go to work in a safe environment. It is OSHA’s regulations, inspections, and training that protect millions of workers in every workplace, from hotel housekeepers to the ironworkers who work hundreds of feet in the air.
Despite the hard work the of OSHA and the Department of Labor approximately 4,500 US workers die each year from traumatic events in the workplace, such as falls from a height, drowning in trenches, getting crushed by machinery, and roadway collisions.
However now, OSHA is in serious peril as the Trump administration looks to slash the Department of Labor’s budget as well as many other “workplace safety” divisions within the government.
Every day, thirteen US workers are killed on the job. Instead of providing resources to prevent these tragedies, the proposed Department of Labor budget for FY 2018:
- Projects 2,300 fewer inspections of U.S. workplaces by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
- Cuts $6 million for safety inspections from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration which has already seen more coal miner deaths (9) in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016 (8); and
- Eliminates the successful Susan Harwood training grants, which have a proven track record of helping workers in dangerous industries avoid workplace hazards that can lead to illnesses, injuries and fatalities.
“Workers in New Hampshire can’t afford cutbacks in safety inspections or workplace training,” said Brian Mitchell, Director of New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NH COSH). “The price we pay for unsafe working conditions can’t be measured in dollars and cents. We pay with our lungs, our limbs – and sometimes our lives.”
Trump’s budget proposal took an axe to the Department of Labor’s funding cutting away $9 billion dollars, a 21% decrease. Trump praise how he would save taxpayers $11 million dollars by cutting the Susan Harwood grant program.
Just to be clear, President Trump spent more golfing in Florida this spring than this program, that serves tens of thousands of workers annually, needs to operate.
The Harwood Grant program provides “training and education for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces, and to inform workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the OSH Act.” These programs are specifically targeted to “underserved, low-literacy, and workers in high-hazard industries.” Over the 40 years since the Harwood grants began over 2.1 million workers across the country have utilized this training program.
The New Hampshire COSH, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the National Safety Council are just a few of the many organizations that helped to train over 88,000 workers in 2016.
Outside the 21% cuts to the USDOL budget, other key agencies tasked with protecting workers and communities face drastic cutbacks, including elimination of the US Chemical Safety Board. The Nation magazine explained in a recent article why the Chemical Safety Board is so vitally important.
“If the small agency is indeed defunded, the results could be catastrophic—and we might be left wondering, as the bodies are counted after some large chemical disaster, why nobody was angry when the CSB went away.”
Along with OSHA and the CSB, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is facing at a 40% cutback ($139 million) in Trump’s budget. NIOSH is the leading workplace safety research that leads to many of the new OSHA safety standards.
Secretary Acosta Defends Budget Cuts
This week, Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, went before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies committee to talk about the DOL’s proposed budget cuts.
“Too many Americans struggle to get by. Too many Americans have seen good jobs in their communities disappear. Too many Americans see jobs that are available, but require skills that they do not possess. We at the Department look forward to working with you in the Legislative Branch to fulfill the Department of Labor’s critical mission: to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of our Nation’s workers, job seekers, and retirees.”
This well crafted statement makes it appear that Acosta is fighting for working people who need retraining to find better jobs and continued training for those who already possess a job. This is in complete contrast to the budget cuts Acosta is supporting within the DOL.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo), called Sec. Acosta out for his cuts to worker training programs.
“I have serious concerns with the worker training program reductions – particularly the proposals to cut state grants by 40 percent and close Job Corps Centers. The President has recognized that there are millions of vacant jobs in this country and I hear about the difficulty finding work in the sectors impacting building trades all the time. We need to make certain that our workforce training programs and apprenticeships equip individuals with the skills they need to meet the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.”
Sec Acosta tried (and failed) to explain away the $10 million dollar cuts to the Harwood grant program by saying that a “$4 million dollar increase to OSHA’s federal compliance assistance budget” eliminated the need for the grant program. The blog, Confined Space, explains in great detail how the compliance assistance program is completely different from what the Harwood grants provide.
New Hampshire has long been one of the safest states to work. Last year Brian Mitchell from the NH COSH, identified 16 workers who died on the job in 2016. However in May of 2017, three workers died on the job in one week.
“After the deaths of three New Hampshire workers in one week in May, this is no time for a budget that makes job sites less safe for working men and women who have a right to come home safely to their families at the end of their workday,” Mitchell stated.
It is time to take action!
Now is the time to contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them that you oppose these cuts to worker safety programs as well as the elimination of the Susan Harwood Grants.
You can take action by signing the petition from the National COSH reminding Congressional members about how failing to properly train workers led to the death of Ricardo Oliveira in Boston, Massachusetts last year.
You can also take action by sending a letter directly to your Senator created by Interfaith Worker Justice, urging them to keep funding for the Susan Harwood Grants.
We cannot stand by while the Trump administration attempts to desimate worker safety programs and the Department of Labor.
— NH Labor News (@NHLABOR_NEWS) June 29, 2017
Read more about the cuts to OSHA and workplace safety programs from ISHN.
Read more about Acosta’s testimony to the Senate from Confined Space.