The Trump administrationâs âbudget blueprintâ would devastate worker safety, job training programs and legal services essential to low-income workers. Its cuts include a 21 percent, or $2.5 billion, reduction in the Department of Laborâs budget.
The budget would reduce funding for or eliminate programs that provide job training to low-income workers, unemployed seniors, disadvantaged youth and for state-based job training grants. It eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administrationâs (OSHA) training grants as well as the independent Chemical Safety Board. Also targeted for elimination is the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income Americans.
âCutting these programs is cutting the safety net for the most vulnerable workers, those striving for the middle class,â said Matt Shudtz, executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform. âThis budget would eliminate training programs for them, the kind of things people need to move up in the world. It is very anti-worker and anti- the most vulnerable workers.â
Judy Conti, National Employment Law Project (NELP) federal advocacy coordinator, didnât mince words.
âThis budget will mean more illness, injury and death on the job,â she said Thursday, the day the proposed budget was released.
Targeting programs that prevent injury and illness
The White House budget proposal justifies its enormous cuts to the Department of Labor by saying it focuses on the agencyâs âhighest priority functions and disinvests in activities that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven or ineffective.â
The budget would close Job Corps centers that serve âdisadvantaged youth,â eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, decrease federal funding for state and local job training grantsâshifting more financial responsibility to employers and state and local governments. The budget would also eliminate certain grants to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which helps people with disabilities stay in the job market.
Also slated for elimination are OSHAâs Susan Harwood training grants that have provided more than 2.1 million workers, especially underserved and low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries, with health and safety training since 1978. These trainings are designed to multiply their effects by âtraining trainersâ so that both workers and employers learn how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards.Â Theyâve trained healthcare workers on pandemic hazards, helped construction workers avoid devastating accidents, and workers in food processing and landscaping prevent ergonomic injuries. The program also helps workers for whom English is not their first language obtain essential safety training.
âThe cuts to OSHA training grants will hurt workers and small employers,â said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. âTraining is a proven, and in fact necessary method to prevent worker injuries and illnesses. OSHA’s training grants are very cost effective, reaching large numbers of workers and small employers who would otherwise not be trained in injury and illness prevention.â
âEveryone, labor and management, believes that a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. That is the purpose of the Harwood grants,â said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers.
The White House says eliminating these grants will save $11 million, a miniscule fraction of the $639 billion the Trump administration is requesting for the Department of Defense.
âNo words to describe how cruel it isâ
Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) would mean no independent federal agency dedicated to investing devastating industrial accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the West Fertilizer plant explosion, Freedom Industries chemical release in Charleston, West Virginia, and the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. Those are among the hundreds of cases CSB has investigated over the past 20 years or so.
âOur recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public are safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,â said CSB chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland in a statement.
âThe cost of even one such accident would be more than the CSB’s budget over its entire history. And that calculation is only economic. The human cost of a catastrophic accident would be enormous,â said Wright. âThe CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.â
The budget proposal also jeopardizes essential legal support for low-wage workers. While not dedicated to employment issues, the Legal Services Corporation provides vital services to low-wage workers, including on issues related to workersâ compensation and other job benefits.
âGutting the Legal Services Corporation,â said NELPâs Conti, âthere are no words to describe how cruel it is, especially considering grossly underfunded the agency is.â
âThe government should be investing in workers, their families, and communities, but instead this budget drastically cuts the programs meant to uplift them,â said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.
The White House calls the budget proposal a âBudget Blueprint to make American Great Again.â On a call with reporters, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, âthis is the âAmerica Firstâ budgetâ and said it was written âusing the presidentâs own wordsâ to turn âthose policies into numbers.â
âThis is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,â said David Golston, government affairs director at theÂ Natural Resources Defense Council.
This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.