Irresponsible Labor HHS Appropriations Bill Puts Corporate Interests Before Workers on all Accounts

On Wednesday, the House Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee on appropriations passed a funding bill which hinders the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s ability to do its job. If this funding bill is approved by the entire House, the American workplace will have to wait a little longer for proper oversight, as the committee voted 8-5 in a partisan effort.

In this vote, the ideological differences between members of the House Appropriations Committee were clearly displayed. In their press statement on July 17 the House Majority stated, “In addition to spending cuts to various ineffective, unnecessary, or lower-priority programs, the legislation contains several policy provisions to promote good government and economic growth.” However, Congresswoman DeLauro stated, “this bill does not even come close to meeting the needs of the American people or our responsibilities as appropriators and I am sorry to say, it represents a new low for this Committee.”

Let’s take a moment and translate exactly what is meant by the House Majority’s statement.

As a result of the committee passed appropriations bill, the Department of Labor can expect a 497 million dollar reduction from their budget. In addition, OSHA will not be allowed to pursue new rules for residential roofer’s construction enforcement, grain silo enforcement, and its important injury and illness prevention program. Additionally, the proposed Bill is a full 6.8 billion dollars below the current fiscal years funding level.

What does this mean? The House majority says it is cutting ineffective programs, but what it is actually doing is cutting desperately necessary programs for residential construction workers. Take those programs away and we see serious risks to those workers. According to data from the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, “an average of 40 workers are killed each year as a result of falls from residential roofs. One-third of those deaths represent Latino workers, who often lack sufficient access to safety information and protections.”

In their statement the House GOP also mentions promoting economic growth by cutting agency funding. However there is no proof that there is a connection between the two. What is evident is the fact that healthy workers have built this country and they need proper protections to get America back on its feet. With this vote, the House majority has seen fit to rescind rules that will ensure safe worksites for residential roofers in the construction industry. We hope that they see the error of their ways before it reaches the full House floor.

Reckless and irresponsible are the only words that can characterize this bill. The slash and burn budget tactics of the House and the misplaced rhetoric around regulations will now affect one of America’s greatest resources, our workers. By removing safeguards that promote worker health and safety the House majority can expect to hinder economic growth, not improve it.

Now, the bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14 is another story. The Senate version of this proposal approved 565 million dollars in OSHA funding for fiscal year 2013, a difference of 68 million dollars from the House bill.

At Public Citizen we hope that the full House will refuse to pass this reckless bill. With less oversight and worker protections, we can only expect higher fatality and injury rates in the workplace. We hope that the House will choose to protect our citizens rather than pass this bill into law, and that in the battle of appropriations, the Senate bill wins the day.

Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen‘s Worker Safety & Health Advocate