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House Republicans' Labor Budget Cuts Rules That Protect Rooftop Workers From Falling, Coal Miners From Coal Dust

Construction

First Posted: 09/30/11 06:44 PM ET Updated: 11/30/11 05:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- In addition to blocking President Obama's health care law and slashing funding for job training, the budget plan presented by House Republicans for health and labor programs this week would scuttle several worker safety protections put forth by the Department of Labor.

Among other anti-regulatory measures, the budget would block the department from moving forward with its Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which would require employers to develop written plans to address workplace hazards and reduce worker injuries. Under the Republican plan, no Labor Department funding could be devoted toward the program.

The budget also takes aim at an obscure but notable Labor Department rule intended to reduce the death and maiming of construction workers who labor on rooftops. The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration had planned to ramp up the enforcement of harness rules for roofers working on residential construction sites, but the Republican plan forbids the agency from doing so, as noted by the public-health blog The Pump Handle.

Another OSHA rule gutted by the bill relates to repetitive-motion injuries. The agency has been developing a rule that will require employers to check a box on agency forms in cases where workers have developed musculoskeletal disorders. Although the rule costs practically nothing and goes primarily toward data collection, the Republican budget forbids it from moving forward.

Although the bill would slightly boost funding for OSHA, it would prevent the agency from carrying out several of its missions, says Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate at the watchdog group Public Citizen. Feldman believes the budget is in keeping with Republicans' anti-regulatory zeal, even when the regulations protect workers at little or no cost.

"The Republican platform is 'No regulations are good regulations -- regulations kill jobs,' " Feldman said. "So they're just attacking everything indiscriminately, it seems."

The budget plan would also eliminate the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which provides money to train hard-to-reach laborers, such as migrant workers, who toil in high-hazard industries. At the same time, the plan would spike a Labor Department rule that would boost wages for low-paid temporary guest workers who are here on visas. The rule has been strongly opposed by the seafood, forestry, and hospitality industries, which have launched a well-funded lawsuit to fight it.

The money provided for the education and training of migrant and seasonal farmworkers would be slashed in half. David Strauss, Executive Director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, said the cuts would be devastating, noting that many of the association's member programs receive all of their funding through the Labor Department. The programs helps low-wage agricultural workers in remote areas learn English, earn GEDs, and move on to better-paying jobs.

"To be honest, we're kind of outraged that the House would take this step," Strauss said. "The people who would miss out would be the neediest."

In the realm of mine safety, the budget would prevent the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from tightening coal dust regulations to curb the number of miners suffering from black lung disease. For over a decade the labor department has been working to lower the amount of respirable coal dust legally allowed in a mine's atmosphere, a move the coal lobby has opposed. The Republican budget would stop any such rule changes in their tracks.

"It's something that's certainly needed," Tony Oppegard, an attorney and mine safety advocate, previously told HuffPost when discussing the MSHA rule. "And the coal industry is crying about it."

In a statement, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, made no apologies for blocking the rules, saying that the budget plan would help to "invest in people by freeing them from stifling government regulatory burdens that replace productivity with paperwork."

"By spending tax dollars strategically," Rehlberg said, "we can balance critical funding for programs that actually help people and families with the real need to rein in government over-spending."

Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly said that AFOP receives all of its funding through the Labor Department. In fact, it's many of AFOP's members that receive all of their funding through the Labor Department.

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