Obama Administration Looking Out for Labor in 2010
On December 7, 2009, the Department of Labor released its annual Statement of Regulatory and Deregulatory Priorities. Don’t feel left out if you didn’t read about this in your newspaper or see it covered by cable news. Google search the report and you’ll find only a handful written about it.
But however dismissive mainstream media feels about the direction being taken in the Department of Labor, workers will be glad to know that, under the leadership of Secretary Hilda Solis, the Obama Labor Department is getting back to the business of looking out for labor rather than commerce.
“Good jobs for everyone” is the mantra running through the document. Among the new regulatory items, here are the highlights:
* Companies would be required to file financial disclosures on their union-busting activity. Through a decades-old loophole, the Wal-Marts of the World have avoided reporting how much they spend to intimidate and harass workers trying to form a union by claiming the firms hired are only “advising” the employer and in no way deal with workers.
* A rule change to allow third parties to report Wage and Hour violations. This is huge. As the DOL themselves put it, “because workers are fearful of losing their jobs in this economy and therefore less likely to file complaints when they are cheated,” a third party which has sufficient information to indicate a probable violation may report the abuse. It’s as easy as calling 866-4US-WAGE.
* Companies would be required to document a separate ergonomic job injury log in their Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports. No more dismissing carpel-tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries.
* Regulations are words on paper unless there are actual people to administrate, so the Wage and Hour Division will hire 250 new investigators – not nearly enough, but a major departure from a decade of attrition and a fox-watching-the-henhouse regulatory culture. The division will focus on industries with high violation rates including agriculture, restaurants, janitorial, construction and car washes.
* Advancing safety standards to protect workers from combustible dust – diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorn and the source of the potentially deadly disease – of grave concern to Iowa’s popcorn workers in Hamburg, Sioux City, Manson, or Sac City, Iowa.
* Also better regulation of exposure to crystalline silica dust which causes debilitating respiratory disease which ultimately may be fatal.
* Requiring pay stubs to break down how pay is computed to guard against wage theft.
* In the age of contractors, workers’ rights are often the first sacrifice to maximizing profits. Now all government contractors are required to post notices of their workers’ rights under federal labor laws — a move that will better inform a fifth of the private sector workforce of their rights. It seems ridiculous that employers have to be forced to do something so simple.
* Strengthening the restrictions of how much coal dust workers are allowed to inhale. Again, this seems so simple, yet the present rule of 2mg per cubic meter of air was set in 1972, and federal studies conducted over a decade ago had advised lowering the limits substantially – a piece of advice the Bush administration conveniently ignored.
Additionally, programs like Youth Build and Trade Adjustment Assistance for dislocated workers will also get revamping so they encompass more workers. The nineteen items described are listed below. Though they are not the concrete legislative acts that organized labor would like to see made part of our nation’s laws, these rules and administrative changes are indeed a blessing for the new year.
YouthBuild Program Regulation
Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers Program; Regulations
Equal Employment Opportunity in Apprenticeship and Training, Amendment of Regulations
Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Aliens in the United States
Lifetime Income Options for Participants and Beneficiaries in Retirement Plans
Definition of “Fiduciary” – Investment Advice
Health Care Arrangements Established by State and Local Governments for Non-Governmental Employees
Genetic Information Nondiscrimination
Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, as Amended
Records To Be Kept by Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act
Interpretation of the “Advice” Exemption of Section 203(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
Child Labor Regulations, Orders, and Statements of Interpretation
Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica
Cranes and Derricks in Construction
Metal and Nonmetal Impoundments
Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard
Occupational Exposure to Coal Mine Dust (Lowering Exposure)