Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush Budget Eliminates Worker Training Grants

President Bush's Fiscal Year 2006 budget proposal, issued today, calls for the complete elimination of OSHA's worker training program. The program, known as the Susan Harwood Worker Training Grants, was created under the administration of Assistant Secretary for Labor Eula Bingham during the Carter administration to provide hands-on training to workers about their rights and the hazards they face. Although the Reagan administration cut the grants back significantly, no administration has ever attempted to completely eliminate the program, until now.

In a rather misleading statement, Acting Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare said:
OSHA's FY 2006 budget also calls for the reduction of $10.2 million by eliminating the agency's Susan Harwood training grants program. Snare explained that OSHA has a variety of outreach, compliance assistance and training programs. Many of OSHA's Alliances address training components, while the agency's web-based training materials continues to expand. The agency also offers training through the OSHA Training Institute, 19 Education Centers and train-the-trainer Outreach Training Program that reaches more than 360,000 workers annually. "The availability and success of these programs and capabilities within a constrained budget environment," he said, "will ensure that training and outreach to thousands of workers and employers is not compromised by the elimination of the training grants program."
So the worker training program that currently provides thousands of dollars to unions and other public interest groups to train workers will be replaced by programs run by rather pathetic industry alliances and various classes run by OSHA and universities around the country?

The worker training grant program grew to over $11 million per year during the Clinton administration, after being cut to the bone during the Reagan and first Bush administrations. The current Bush administration has tried every year to cut the program back to $4 million, and replace direct training with websites and CDs, but the Congress has restored full funding every year -- largely thanks to Republican Senator Arlen Specter who chairs the Senate Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Appropriations Sub-committee.

Meanwhile, while programs that provide outreach to workers are zeroed out, a total of $127 million is being proposed for programs to provide compliance assistance to employers. The Voluntary Protection Program, one of OSHA's various voluntary programs, will increase by over 25%, even though the Government Accountability Office recommended that OSHA not exand these programs until it had determined whether or not they were effective.

The total OSHA budget proposal is $467 million compared with $464,224 last year. While the budget shows a small dollar increase in the budgets of OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH, adjusting for inflation, the Bush budget proposal means a real dollar cut of $6.7 million for OSHA, $4.9 million for MSHA and a $5.1 million cut for NIOSH. Taking into account all three budget, according to an AFL-CIO analysis, the Bush Administration proposes to spend less than $8 per worker to protect American workers from job injuries, illnesses and death. Since the beginning of the Bush administration, 162 full-time positions have been cut from OSHA's staff, mostly from employees working on standards and federal enforcement programs

Taking inflation into account, this year’s proposed budget freezes OSHA’s and MSHA’s enforcement programs. The standards budget is seeing an increase, but that will go toward reviewing existing standards. According to the AFL-CIO:
The proposed budget requests $17 million in funding for safety and health standards, compared to $16.1 million appropriated in FY 2005. Instead of developing new protections, the Bush Administration has set as its priority the review of existing rules. According to the Administration’s latest Regulatory Agenda issued in December 2004, no new significant final standards are planned, making this the first Administration in OSHA’s history to issue no major safety and health standards during its tenure. Instead, the Administration overturned OSHA’s ergonomics standard, killed pending final rules on indoor air quality and tuberculosis and withdrew or delayed dozens of other important safety and health rules.
Meanwhile, there is no mention in the budget of program to address immigrant or Hispanic worker injuries and deaths, or to address ergonomic hazards. Since the Bush administration repealed the ergonomics standard in 2001, federal OSHA has issued only three voluntary guidelines – for nursing homes, retail groceries and poultry processing plants - and issued only 15 general duty citations for ergonomic hazards.

Bush's FY 2006 budget proposes $280 million in funding for MSHA compared to $279.2 appropriated in FY 2005, but the budget cuts MSHA’s program for standards development (from $2.3 million in FY 2005 to $2.0 million in FY 2006) and cuts in program evaluation and program administration. Since the Bush Administration took office in 2001, they have reduced MSHA staff by 170 positions.

The NIOSH budget would be $286 million compared with $285.4 million last year.

Oh, and one more thing. In the interests of a balanced budget, the administration may not have been able to find enough money for worker training or more safety & health inspecters, but
The 2006 budget also includes $7 million to fight fraud and corruption in labor unions. Money would be used to beef up audits, help hire 48 new auditors, and investigate and combat embezzlement of union funds.