President Trump’s Budget Leaves Workers Behind

July 11, 2017 | 8:58 am
Kathleen Rest
Former Executive Director

Budgets reflect priorities; they also reflect values. And the Trump Administration has signaled where it stands loud and clear via its agency appointments (Scott Pruitt, need we say more?) and its FY18 budget proposals. We have already said plenty about what the proposed cuts to the EPA budget mean for public health and the environment.

A recap here, here, here, here. Many others are also ringing that alarm bell (here, here, here).

Less in the public eye is the Administration’s budget proposals for agencies that protect another critical resource—our nation’s workforce! We do have some indication of where Congress and the Administration stand on worker health and safety (here, here)—and it’s not reassuring.

Trump budget puts worker health on chopping block

Let’s cut to the chase. President Trump’s FY18 budget proposals are not good for working people; these are our loved ones, our families’ breadwinners. They are also essential contributors to powering our economy…you know, making America great.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the cuts our President has proposed for our primary worker health and safety agencies—the agencies that safeguard and protect our nation’s workforce:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). $9.5 million budget cut; staffing cuts in enforcement program; elimination of safety and health training grants for workers. OSHA was created by Congress to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” It is our nation’s bulwark in protecting workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and assistance to employers and workers. At current budget levels, OSHA can only inspect every workplace in the United States once every 159 years.
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). An astounding 40% budget cut. NIOSH is our nation’s primary federal agency responsible for conducting research, transferring that knowledge to employers and workers, and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury. These draconian cuts will essentially eliminate academic programs that train occupational health and safety professionals (occupational medicine physicians and nurses, industrial hygienists, workplace safety specialists) that serve both employers and workers. It will eliminate extramural research programs that conduct, translate, or evaluate research, as well as state surveillance programs for occupational lead poisoning, silicosis, and other diseases.
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). $3 million cut to the agency’s budget on top of previous $8 million cut. This will reduce the number of safety inspection in U.S. coal mines by nearly 25%. MSHA was established in 1977 to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and to promote safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners. (The first federal mine safety statute was passed in 1891.)

Some context

My reflections on this year’s Worker Memorial Day pretty much capture it. But here’s a quick summary:

  • In 2015, 4,836 U.S. workers died from work-related injuries, the highest number since 2008. That’s about 13 people every day! In the United States!
  • Deaths from work-related occupational disease—like silicosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), occupational cancer, etc.—are not well captured in data surveillance systems. It is estimated that another 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases—an astounding number. And, for many, their deaths come years after suffering debilitating and painful symptoms.
  • And then there are the nonfatal injuries and illnesses. Employers reported approximately 2.9 million of them in private industry workers in 2015; another 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported among the approximately 18.4 million state and local government workers.
  • There were nine fatalities and 1,260 reportable cases of workplace injury in the US coal mining industry in 2016.

Speak out opportunity this week

The House subcommittee on Labor–HHS Appropriations has scheduled the markup on the FY 2018 Labor–HHS funding bill for Thursday, July 13, 2017. This is the bill that funds OSHA, MSHA, and NIOSH, as well as the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Now is the time to give the appropriators an earful on these proposed cuts—cuts that seriously endanger workers’ safety and health, essentially leaving them behind. Reach out to members of the House appropriation subcommittee and committee and urge them to oppose these cuts to our worker health and safety agencies. Also urge them to oppose any “poison pill riders” to block or delay the implementation of worker protection rules.

Here’s a list of members of the Labor–HHS subcommittee. Members of the full Appropriations Committee are listed here.