Interfaith Worker Justice

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Labor Nominee Says He Won't Let Politics Influence Hiring

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From CNBC:

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Labor Department said Wednesday he won't allow potential political pressure from the administration to influence his hiring decisions and regrets he let that happen on his watch at the Justice Department.

But Alexander Acosta, testifying before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said little about what he would do about overtime pay and other issues if confirmed for the job. He would be the first Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet and is Trump's second choice for the post, after fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name.

Ultimately, Acosta said, the president would be his "boss."

Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said that's what concerns her.

The Florida International University law school dean, whose career was touched by a political hiring scandal while he led the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, said he's "very aware" that the department's internal watchdog criticized him for insufficiently supervising a subordinate.

"I deeply regret it," said Acosta.

Murray asked whether Acosta would stand up to any political pressure from Trump. Acosta's reply: "Political views on the hiring of career attorneys for staff should not be used. If I am asked to do that I will not allow it."

Acosta declined to outline many policies he would pursue, though he did speak in favor of the youth training program Job Corps. For example, he would not say whether he would defend the rule extending overtime pay to some 4 million more people that had been blocked last year by a federal court in Texas. Nor would he say which other rules and regulations he would pull back, noting that Trump ordered Cabinet secretaries to review them.

"I think it's important that we eliminate regulations that are not serving a useful purpose," he said under questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made clear he wants dozens of Obama-era rules overturned, including the prospect of overtime that he said would burden businesses.

"One rule after another has stacked a big, wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs," Alexander said.

Introducing Acosta were two 2016 presidential nominees, both Hispanic, were lost to Trump. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas said Acosta was qualified to head the Labor Department.

Acosta, the 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate three times — to the National Labor Relations Board, to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division and to become South Florida's federal prosecutor.

That means nominee has received some screening, a fact Trump and Senate Republicans have cited.

At the hearing, Democrats furnished reminders of Puzder's doomed nomination. He withdrew from consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing after questions about his hiring of a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and about other issues. Puzder could not get enough Republican support to be confirmed.

Read more from CNBC.

60 Congregations in the D.C. Metro Pledge to Provide Sanctuary

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A group of marchers moves from the US Capitol towards the Lincoln Memorial grounds for the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC


From Sojourners:

By  Catherine Woodiwiss

Nearly 50 ministers, priests, and leaders of faith marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., today, declaring their pledge to provide sanctuary to immigrants in the community.

The march signified the launch of a network of more than 60 congregations from 17 religious traditions — Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and more — in the D.C-Maryland-Virginia area, Sanctuary DMV, that will work to provide support to those in their communities and pews who fear being profiled, detained, or deported. “Our faith will not let us permit the criminalization and scapegoating of immigrants and people of color,” the Facebook event, "Sanctuary for All, Safety for All," announced. The congregations have also committed to receiving and providing trainings for their congregants, including briefings on federal policy, "know your rights" fact sheets, rapid response, and accompaniment for immigrants going to ICE appointments. 

This sanctuary launch comes in the context of rising concern over President Trump’s statements on immigration and a rise in raids by Immigration Customs Enforcement, some seeming to infringe upon directives outlined in an Obama-era Sensitive Locations Memo, which prohibits targeting schools, hospitals, sites of funerals, sites of public demonstration, and places of worship except under extenuating and urgent circumstances.

A recent ICE raid outside a Virginia church's hypothermia shelter sparked outrage that the memo was being disregarded. And last week, California's chief justice asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to stop ICE agents from "stalking" courthouses to make arrests. 

ICE says it removed or returned 240,255 individuals in fiscal year 2016, nearly 5,000 more deportations than in 2015. In January, officials arrested hundreds of immigrants in coordinated raids across six states, in what marked "the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 25 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally," according to the Washington Post.

Pastor Chaim "C.J" Abramowitz Rodriguez, pastor of the Latino-Hispanic congregation at the National City Christian Church, says concerns about detainment and deportation run high in his flock.

"Many of our congregants have been directly affected by these measures from this administration," he told Sojourners. "Many are scared. Many are worried. Many know people who are undocumented. There's a general fear and they want to know that the church is a safe space where they can take refuge." 

Other pastors highlighted the intersectional realities of rising detentions and deportations. Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor Metropolitan AME, explained his involvement:

"People have asked, 'Why do you stand with these people?' Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to this state. And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is, if we are silent when brown bodies are assaulted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assaulted, when female bodies are assaulted, then all of us remain in prison and in bondage."

One immigrant at the march, a woman named Veronica, faces possible deportation on April 4. Veronica came to the U.S. from Mexico 17 years ago, seeking medical surgery for her young son Juan, who was born with a heart defect. She is married to a U.S. vet. Her story mirrors thousands of others, said Richard Morales of PICO National Network.  

"There's one reason this is happening, and that's because our families are being torn apart. We as a faith community have a moral obligation to stand up against unjust laws," he said. 

There is now concern that ICE raids may target self-declared “sanctuary cities.” Just yesterday, a judge in Austin revealed that an ICE sting in January was “retribution for a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that dramatically limited her cooperation with them,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.

While the term sanctuary is widely understood to mean offering physcial sanctuary, Sanctuary DMV participating congregations are pledging to offer a variety of support to immigrants and communities targeted by the Trump administration. The New York City New Sanctuary Coalition defines "sanctuary" as moral, spiritual, financial, legal, and sometimes physical support to prevent deportation. Churches participating in the sanctuary movement may offer accompaniment to ICE check-ins, legal advice during proceedings, financial aid in securing representation or childcare, or simply the spiritual and emotional support of a congregation that values each member of the body.

Read more from Sojourners

Latinos Are Reporting Fewer Sexual Assaults Amid a Climate of Fear in Immigrant Communities, LAPD Says

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Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. The banner, in Spanish, reads "No human being is illegal".

From the Los Angeles Times:

By James Queally 

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence made by the city’s Latino residents have plummeted this year amid concerns that immigrants in the country illegally could risk deportation by interacting with police or testifying in court.

Beck said reports of sexual assault have dropped 25% among the city’s Latino population since the beginning of 2017 compared with the same period last year, adding that reports of domestic violence have fallen by 10%. Similar decreases were not seen in reports of those crimes by other ethnic groups, Beck said.

“Imagine, a young woman, imagine your daughter, your sister, your mother … not reporting a sexual assault, because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart,” Beck said.

Beck’s comments — which drew criticism from immigration enforcement advocates — came during an event in East Los Angeles in which Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive expanding the LAPD’s policy of not stopping people solely to question them about their immigration status to three other city agencies: the Fire Department, Airport Police and Port Police. The LAPD stopped initiating contacts with people in order to determine their immigration status in 1979. In 2014, the city ceased honoring requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people in custody for possible deportation.

“We want to focus on serious crime, but we also want to focus on making more citizens, not more criminals,” Garcetti said.

For months, law enforcement leaders across the U.S. have expressed fear that aggressive immigration enforcement promised by President Trump’s administration would weaken the already shaky bond between minority communities and police. In recent weeks, reports that ICE agents have identified themselves as police officers during raids and made arrests in courthouses have caused some to wonder whether immigrants in the country illegally will refuse to cooperate with police as a result.

In a statement released late Tuesday, ICE spokeswoman Virginia C. Kice dismissed Beck’s comments as speculative, pointing out that crime victims and witnesses who are in the country illegally are sometimes offered special visas. Federal officials also take a person’s status as a crime victim into consideration when debating whether to pursue deportation proceedings, she said.

“The inference by Los Angeles officials that the agency’s execution of its mission is undermining public safety is outrageous and wrongheaded,” Kice said. “In fact, the greater threat to public safety is local law enforcement’s continuing unwillingness to honor immigration detainers. Rather than transferring convicted criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, are routinely releasing these offenders back onto the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates for immigration restrictions, said she was concerned that Beck had rushed to conflate immigration enforcement with a local crime issue. It would be very difficult, she said, to argue that the decrease in reports from the Latino community is not simply the result of fewer assaults being committed.

“It’s highly premature to conclude that this decline in reports has anything at all to do with immigration,” Vaughan said.

Beck stopped short of blaming the dip in crime reporting solely on Trump’s immigration policies but said there was a “strong correlation” between the timing of the decrease and the panic among the city’s immigrant population. He expressed concern that ICE’s actions might deter crime victims who are in the country illegally from coming forward.

Latino victims reported 123 sexual assaults between Jan. 1 and March 18 compared with 164 in the same time frame last year, according to crime statistics released by the LAPD. By comparison, sexual assaults reported by non-Latino victims dropped from 228 to 221, a decrease of roughly 3%.

The number of spousal abuse complaints made by Latinos fell from 1,210 last year to 1,092 in that same time frame this year, according to the LAPD data. Reports of spousal abuse among non-Latinos slid from 1,217 to 1,165, a decline of about 4%.

Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the decline in reporting is an obvious consequence of Trump’s tough talk on immigration and the increasingly aggressive stance taken by ICE and other immigration enforcement agencies.

“I think that these two sets of crimes are very good measures of the impact that the current climate is having on people’s ability to come out of the shadows and report crimes, particularly for these kinds of crimes, which already are underreported,” she said.

It was not clear if other cities in California were seeing similar declines. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was not immediately able to provide comparable statistics. Police officials in Long Beach and Anaheim said their agencies do not track crimes by the ethnicity of the reporting victim.

Oakland police said the number of sexual assaults reported in the city this year has remained almost identical compared with 2016, but the agency could not provide ethnic data on victims. Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, a Santa Ana police spokesman, said the number of sexual assaults and domestic violence cases reported in the majority-Latino city has remained static so far in 2017.

Still, officials in other areas of the country have said that ICE’s tactics have deterred some crime victims from coming forward. In the last few weeks, city officials in Denver and El Paso, Texas, have said several women in the country illegally who were seeking restraining orders against alleged abusers withdrew those requests for fear they would be arrested at the courthouse by ICE agents.

Read more from the Los Angeles Times.

What to Expect When You're Expecting Acosta as Labor Secretary

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From Bloomberg:

by Josh Eidelson

By the time President Donald Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary withdrew from consideration, there was little doubt where he stood on the big issues facing the department.

In contrast, his replacement, Alexander Acosta, heads into his hearing Wednesday with far more experience in government, but comparatively opaque views on key matters he’ll face at the Labor Department -- including choices that could reshape conditions for millions of U.S. workers and stoke conflicts within Trump’s base.

Now the dean of Florida International University’s law school, Acosta served under George W. Bush as a member of the National Labor Relations Board before moving to the Justice Department. During his eight months at the labor board, Acosta sided frequently with management, including in a controversial 2003 decision that found it was legal for a clinic to fire nurses because they started a strike four hours later than they had said they would. But he hasn’t weighed in publicly on recent policy moves, such as overtime expansion, which Trump’s withdrawn nominee, CKE Restaurants Inc.Chief Executive Officer Andrew Puzder, inveighed against in op-eds and on television.

“I think the jury is out on who he is,” former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, who was appointed by Barack Obama, said of Acosta.

Lu is one of 20 former Labor Department officials who discussed Acosta, nearly all of whom said they expect him to bring a conservative approach more in line with Bush’s Labor chief Elaine Chao than her Obama-appointed successors. But none are certain what he’ll prioritize, or how he’ll navigate some thorny issues awaiting him at the Labor Department.

“Acosta, who is as traditional a conservative Republican as there is, will be caught in this back-and-forth between the populist Trump and the anti-regulatory, business-friendly Trump,” said former acting labor secretary Seth Harris, who served under Obama.

Jettisoning Obama

If Acosta is confirmed, among his most immediate decisions will be how to handle the Obama regulations that business groups have sued to stop, from stricter Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for cancer-causing silica dust to expanded disclosure requirements for “union-busting” consultants. Republicans are also trying to undo recent Obama regulations, including a requirement that federal contractors disclose alleged labor law violations, via the Congressional Review Act

“Most members of the employer community cannot wait for the Department of Labor to jettison everything that happened in the last eight years,” said Paul DeCamp, a management attorney who ran the agency’s Wage and Hour Division under Bush.

Acosta was a management-side attorney and a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito before being tapped by Bush for the labor board.

Trump’s Labor Department has already released a proposed rule delaying Obama’s “fiduciary rule” requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests, which was slated to be implemented April 10. That delay, a potential prelude to repeal, was blasted by Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee that is questioning Acosta on Wednesday.

Read more: Trump’s Second Pick for Labor Differs More in Style Than Policy

Acosta’s most challenging and revealing early decision, former Labor officials say, may be how he approaches Obama’s new overtime rule, which would extend coverage to millions of additional white-collar workers by doubling the salary threshold under which even employees designated as managers are owed time-and-a-half pay. Business groups have sued to stop the rule, and candidate Trump cited it as an example of burdensome regulation.

In Trump’s first week in office, the Justice Department asked an appeals court for additional time to consider its position on the rule, which is currently blocked by a preliminary injunction issued in November by a federal judge in Texas.

While the Trump Administration could simply cease defending the rule, that might not resolve the case because the court can grant the Texas AFL-CIO’s request to argue for the rule itself. Also, the language of the district court ruling goes so far that, unless it’s overruled, some management attorneys say the legality of the Bush Administration’s overtime rules could also be called into question.

Exempt Employees

A satisfactory resolution for the Trump Administration is likely to ultimately require a new round of formal rule-making, during which Acosta will get competing advice from fellow Republicans. Some will urge him to lower the salary threshold and also shift the rules in a more pro-management direction by re-writing the definitions of exempt employees’ duties; others, to simply rescind Obama’s changes and go back to the existing rules set in 2004; others, to place the salary threshold at some intermediate point in between Bush’s old salary threshold and Obama’s.

A new rule lowering the overtime threshold would itself be vulnerable to legal challenge, said former Obama Wage and Hour Division administrator David Weil, and politically volatile with Trump’s working class supporters. “This is a direct test of how serious are you about really remembering those folks who’ve been forgotten by the labor market,” said Weil, a Boston University business school professor who spearheaded the new rule at the Labor Department.

Enforcement Shifts

Along with overtime, said Harris, tensions between Trump’s populist rhetoric and pro-business side will play out over the guest worker programs that the Labor Department jointly administers, and is tasked with preventing from undermining wage standards. Acosta has taken a very different tone in the past than Trump, decrying the abuses he saw some undocumented immigrants experience when he was a federal prosecutor, and calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Labor Department veterans expect that under Acosta, as in past Republican administrations, enforcement agencies will take a less punitive approach to companies, with a shift in emphasis towards working cooperatively. “They’ll definitely be moving more to compliance assistance, helping employers be safe, helping employers be successful,” said Ed Foulke, who ran the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Bush and now represents companies as an attorney. “I don’t think you’ll see the really nasty press releases.”

Opinion Letter

Among the consequential, under-the-radar changes Acosta could make in enforcement would be reviving the “opinion letter” program, which provided companies individualized legal advice that they could use in court to defend themselves against subsequent lawsuits.

Republicans say the program provided clarity that helped improve compliance and avoid litigation; Obama officials, who ended the program in his first term, say it amounted to “Get out of jail free” cards. Acosta is also widely expected to quickly revoke or rewrite the Obama-era “Administrator’s Interpretation” letters that proffered a more progressive view of when workers count as employees rather than contractors, and when companies count as “joint employers” of sub-contracted staff.

Whatever Acosta wants to do will be complicated by Trump’s proposal for massive budget cuts, including a $2.6 billion reduction at Labor. "Being secretary of a department that is 21 percent less funded is a pretty significant change in his job description, and I would want to know what assurances he has about his ability to influence what that budget is going to look like," said Sharon Block, who served in the department under Obama.

One area where Republicans have historically focused more of the department’s enforcement resources is at the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which oversees the extensive reporting and disclosure requirements covering unions’ finances and operations. Congressional Republicans in recent years have also urged OLMS to start subjecting to review more non-traditional labor activist groups that aren’t bargaining collectively, like the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Trump's immigration policy affects Hispanic church attendance

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From Christian Daily:

by Lorraine Caballero

U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies are now affecting Hispanic churches in America, as some congregants have been opting to stay home rather than face the risk of being arrested while en route to church.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Trump's new immigration plan which could get more undocumented workers arrested, detained or deported. Weekly attendance in some Hispanic churches in America has gone down in the wake of the implementation of the immigration measures, with many fearing that they could be separated from their family any time, Christianity Today relays.

Felix Cabrera, who leads the Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, is one of the pastors in the U.S. who are now complaining about the effects of Trump's immigration policies on the church. He said being a pastor at this time has become more difficult than ever.

Based on a Pew Research Center study, half of Latino Christians in the U.S. are living in fear that they or a loved one would be deported. The findings also reflect that green card holders have the highest (71 percent) level of worry over deportation.

"The anxiety in Christian conservative, evangelical churches has grown exponentially, because many of our worshipers, many of the families we serve, many of the families in our pews, may very well lack the appropriate documentation, even though we have a don't ask don't tell policy," National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez said in a press release.

When the new immigration policies were announced last month, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex accused Trump of planning to "break up families" and take back their civil rights protection. In light of the situation, he vowed to come up with strategies to fight back against Trump's immigration measures, The New York Times reports.

In addition, Alex said Trump started his first day as president by targeting the Hispanic community with his new policies. Part of their plan to fight back is the establishment of sanctuary cities that will refuse to fully cooperate with authorities that might detain illegal immigrants.

Read more from Christian Daily

Trump’s Budget Endangers American Workers

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From The Huffington Post:

by Leo W. Gerard

After the president issued a budget last week slashing and burning environmental, labor and educational programs, the guy responsible for the thing, Mick Mulvaney, contended those financial massacres are the heart’s desire of the “steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit.”

Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, asserted that members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), coal miners and urban parents are eager to kill off Public Broadcasting’s Big Bird, to drink lead-laden water, to breathe cough-inducing air and to work among life-threatening dangers.

This illustrates a complete lack of knowledge of the working and living conditions of huge swaths of Americans. Big Bird and Mr. Rogers are way more popular than Congress. Americans would much rather pay their freight than the wages of politicians. Americans are horrified by the poisoned water in Flint, Mich., and are willing to invest in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would prevent such health hazards. And steelworkers and coal miners have seen dismemberment and death on the job and don’t want the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) eliminated or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decimated.

Americans balk at a budget that renders them less safe in their homes and workplaces.

The entire function of the CSB, which Mulvaney claimsAmericanswantabolished,isworkerandpublic safety. It investigates catastrophic incidents and recommends changes to prevent recurrence. It doesn’t fine corporationsorrevokelicenses. It advocates for safety. Its annual budget is $11 million. Not billion, $11 million.

Many incidents the CSB investigates are calamities. In 2005, a Texas City refinery, then owned by BP, exploded. The blast killed 15 workers and injured 180. Many of those killed were receiving training in trailers located near the unit that detonated. The CSB recommended refiners conduct instruction as far as possible away from dangerous processes, and the industry has largely complied.

It’s not just workers injured in these incidents. More than 15,000 Richmond, Calif., residents sought medical treatment for breathing problems, chest pain, sore throats and headaches after an Aug. 6, 2012 fire at a Chevron refinery sent toxic smoke billowing for 10 miles. Residents sheltered in place, but the smoke still seeped into buildings. Among the many recommendations CSB made after investigating this incident was that refineries replace pipes made of a material susceptible to corrosion, which again, the industry has tried to do.

After a 2015 explosion at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., that injured two workers, the CSB found a much deadlier incident had been narrowly averted. Large pieces of debris from the blast that had the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake had nearly struck a tank containing thousands of pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid. The explosion rained chemical ash around the plant for two miles. Release of the acid into the atmosphere could have chemically burned or killed everything living in that area.

The residents of Texas City, Torrance and Richmond don’t want the administration to evaporate the CSB. Nor do workers at refineries and chemical plants. And neither do refinery owners.

“I don’t think anyone in the industry wants to see the Chemical Safety Board be abolished,” Stephen Brown, a vice president with Tesoro Corp., told Bloomberg.

This endorsement of the CSB came from an executive of a corporation that the agency concluded in 2014 conducted deficient oversight of its Anacortes, Wash., refinery, continuing to operate it with severely cracked and degraded equipment to the point where an explosion occurred on April 2, 2010, killing seven workers.

The cost of an incident like the one at Anacortes could be more than $100 million, by the time the corporation pays fines, victim compensation and reconstruction fees. That’s more than nine times the annual budget of the CSB. And the money doesn’t erase victims’ pain.

Mike Wright, director of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, explained how crucial the CSB is to workers and community members:

“Its recommendations have certainly made the industry safer and helped prevent major chemical accidents. The 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.”

The CSB was created in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act, and that might be its Achilles heel. The agency suffering the hugest hack in the Mulvaney budget is the EPA. It would lose nearly a third of its funding.

A big reason for that is the administration’s rejection of science showing the human impact on climate change.

“Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward – we’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that,” Mulvaney said.

Read more from The Huffington Post

The Federal Budget: What It Could Mean for Occupational Safety, Health and the Environment

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Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

From EHS Today:

by Sandy Smith

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls “FY 2018 America First - A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – President Donald Trump’s first budget – “fairly compassionate.” But with a number of federal programs aimed at the elderly, children, workers and the environment facing deep cuts or complete elimination, environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals and others are concerned, particularly when combined with several Executive Orders signed since Trump took office.

When questioned by CNN’s Jim Acosta, Mulvaney said the budget “simply reallocates and reprioritizes spending as any family or business would do,” adding that the budget reflects Trump’s campaign promises to prioritize national defense and homeland security, including immigration reform.

But with deep cuts and even elimination proposed for a number of programs, including EPA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the Chemical Safety Board, the proposed Trump budget makes a statement about the administration’s priorities.

The Department of Labor is facing a budget cut of $2.5 billion, nearly 21 percent of its total budget. If approved, this will result in cuts to:

  • Job training/employment/re-employment services.
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program (eliminated)
  • Job Corps
  • Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) grants (eliminated)
  • OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program (eliminated)

“Working people in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t vote for a budget that slashes workforce training and fails to invest in our nation’s infrastructure,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “President Trump’s proposed budget attempts to balance the budget on the backs of working families. The $54 billion cut to programs that benefit working families is dangerous and destructive. Huge cuts to the departments of Labor, Education and Transportation will make workplaces less safe, put more children at risk and make improving our failing infrastructure much more difficult. The administration can and should do better.”

Laura Barrett, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, called the proposed budget “a sellout of working people,” and took particular issue with cuts to the OSHA budget.

“Proposed cuts to (OSHA) – the agency charged with ensuring workplaces are in compliance with safety regulations – are particularly galling,” said Barrett. “Currently, there is only one OSHA inspector for every 59,000 working people in the nation, making it impossible for OSHA to inspect each and every workplace in the country. Instead, the most cost-effective way to prevent workplace injuries or death is to have a workforce educated in health and safety on the job.”

She noted that since its inception in 1978, more than 2.1 million working people have completed health and safety training under OSHA’s Susan Harwood Grant Program. “In the past five years, Interfaith Worker Justice and its affiliates have trained thousands of difficult-to-reach and often vulnerable working people on occupational health and safety issues. These trainings have saved lives and prevented serious workplace injuries and illnesses,” she added. “Cutting this relatively low-cost program from OSHA’s budget will put working people across the nation at risk of serious injury or death on the job.”

Read more from EHS Today.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Workers Will Strike May 1, Organizers Say

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May Day March, Chicago 2016

From BuzzFeed News:

by Cora Lewis

Almost 350,000 service workers plan to strike on May 1, a traditional day for labor activism across the world, in the most direct attempt yet by organized labor to capture the energy from a resurgent wave of activism across the country since the election of Donald Trump.

Tens of thousands of members of a powerful California branch of the Service Employees International Union will participate in the strike, according to David Huerta, the president of the chapter.

“We understand that there’s risk involved in that,” Huerta told BuzzFeed News, “but we’re willing to take that risk in order to be able to move forward in this moment, while the most marginalized are in the crosshairs of this administration.”

Since Donald Trump’s election, there has been no shortage of wildcat strikes by groups disproportionately affected by his administration’s policies. But this time around, organized labor is driving the effort. According to a coalition of groups leading the strike, more than 300,000 food chain workers and 40,000 unionized service workers have said they will walk off the job so far.

Huerta’s union chapter represents tens of thousands of workers, including janitors, security officers and airport staff, while the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which represents workers throughout the food industry, says hundreds of thousands of its non-unionized members have committed to striking.

Best known for its creative and militant organizing, Huerta’s SEIU United Service Workers West local was one of the forces behind the successful campaign to unionize janitors in the 1990’s, which many see as the model for today’s wave of fast-food organizing. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, for its part, has built a nationwide network of workers across the food system, from farm fields to restaurant kitchens.

“We are a workforce made up mostly of immigrants, women, African Americans, and indigenous people,” wrote the alliance in a statement announcing the strike, provided to BuzzFeed News. “Without workers, who does Trump think will harvest the crops, craft the food, transport it to market, stock the shelves, cook in kitchens, and serve the meals?”

Speaking by phone from Milan, Missouri, organizer Axel Fuentes, of the Rural Community Workers Alliance, told BuzzFeed News that a thousand workers at a pork plant in the town will be striking May 1. Fuentes provides services to meat-processing workers in three towns in the northern part of Missouri, most of whom are immigrants and refugees.

“There are workers in this area that voted for Donald Trump,” Fuentes said, citing abortion as the decisive issue for many. “But what they are seeing is not what they were expecting to happen with this administration. They’re seeing freedom of religion under threat, immigration under threat, and they’ve expressed regret for voting for him.”

Fuentes said he has never seen workers express a desire to go on strike in his ten years of organizing, but on May Day, the majority of workers at the local Smithfield meat processing plant have pledged not to go into work, shutting down operations. They also plan to keep their children home from school and not to shop, he said.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, a food industry worker advocacy group, will also be participating in the strike, according to Saru Jayaraman, its co-director. ROC United and its network of restaurant owners and workers were instrumental in organizing the recent Day Without Immigrants protest, which shuttered hundreds of restaurants in cities across the country.

America’s last major general strike was the first such Day Without Immigrants, in 2006, in which more than a million workers struck.

“That was the largest national rising in many, many decades,” said Daniel Gross, founder and executive director of Brandworkers, which organizes food manufacturing workers. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to be involved, we’ll tell you, it was a strike. That 2006 momentum has not yet been duplicated on May 1 to date.”

Read more from BuzzFeed News.

Trump Budget Would Slash Worker Training And Safety

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A March 2017 Interfaith Worker Justice Health and Safety Training funded by an OSHA Harwood grant.

From The Huffington Post:

by Dave Jamieson

The austere budget proposed by President Donald Trump on Thursday would take an axe to worker training and safety programs, prompting Democrats to accuse the White House of reneging on its promises to workers.

The Labor Department would be one of the top victims under the White House blueprint. The president is looking to slash the agency’s budget by 21 percent, from $12.2 billion this year to $9.6 billion next year. Only the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department would see greater cuts if Congress approved Trump’s plan.

Program cutbacks and closures would account for some of the $2.5 billion in lost funding. For example, the administration wants to eliminate a job training program for low-income senior citizens, calling it ineffective. It would also shut down youth training centers under the long-running Job Corps program.

The proposal would cut what are known as Harwood grants, which are doled out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The grants fund non-profits to train workers in dangerous jobs. Backers say the grants help save money by reducing costly on-the-job injuries and deaths.

The plan also eliminates grants that go toward training for workers with disabilities, a proposal that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said was particularly cruel.

“Not only is this an especially heartless component of this deeply ill-conceived budget,” Murray said in a statement, “but it is yet another clear example of President Trump breaking his campaign promise to stand with workers and create jobs.” 

But the savings specified in the Trump blueprint from training cuts accounts for not even half of the proposed funding drop. So if the budget were enacted as is, it’s possible it would cut into other core missions as well ― inspecting workplaces for hazards, looking into allegations of wage theft and holding unscrupulous employers accountable when they endanger or cheat workers.

Jordan Barab, a former deputy director of OSHA under President Obama, said it’s hard to tell under the proposal how OSHA would be impacted. Its funding is relatively small compared to worker training, meaning it could be spared the brunt of the cuts. “That being said,” he added, “relatively small budget cuts can have a huge impact on the small agencies.”

On the whole, Trump’s budget would divert money away from basic government functions like those, steering it toward the military and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the cuts would fall on the backs of poor people. If anything like it is approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, it would mark a historic shrinking of the federal government.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former labor secretary under Obama, said the Trump budget would “devastate” working families.

“Trump built his campaign on a mountain of populist promises, then he brought a swamp to Washington with an administration full of Goldman Sachs bankers,” Perez said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now he’s cutting after-school programs and college financial aid, gutting help for American manufacturing and slashing infrastructure investments that could create jobs in rural communities.”

Cuts at the EPA would be even more drastic than the Labor Department. The 31 percent proposed drop at the agency would leave less money to combat global warming, reduce pollution and enforce the country’s environmental laws. Meanwhile, entire programs in the arts and media would be eliminated wholesale, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, suggested Thursday that much of the non-defense spending was somehow a burden on poor and working-class people. “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers, said that Trump’s budget is “virtually a complete breach of faith with America’s workers,” violating his own campaign pledge to create good jobs and boost wages.

“It would walk us back decades on worker safety and health, including eliminating critical grant training programs to workers in the most dangerous jobs, leading to more injury, illness and death,” the group said.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

A day in the life of a poor American under Trump’s proposed budget

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Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

From The Washington Post:

by Philip Bump

The first thing you notice when you wake up is that it’s cold.

It’s unseasonably cold for March, sure, but it’s also colder in the house than it should be. The winter was long and heating oil is expensive — and although the government used to provide assistance with the heating bills, that support ended when the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was cut. The house could use better insulation, too, to hold in the heat, but an upgrade like that is expensive, and the government program to assist with weatherization was cut, too. You’d happily move, but affordable housing is in short supply and cuts to a federal affordable-housing program means that you’re not moving up the Habitat for Humanity wait list anytime soon.

Breakfast. Luckily, cuts to WIC’s nutrition assistance program haven’t affected your family. But you still need to be judicious about what food is in the house, now that the Meals on Wheels program that helped your father has been cut, as a result of the elimination of federal Community Development Block Grants. Something small, then. You still get the same supplemental nutrition assistance as before, but it never went very far. Your younger son’s asthma is acting up. The county’s efforts to cut down on the air pollution that exacerbates it were slowed when the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant program was axed.

For now, the kids are off to school — one of the new charter schools near town. Three years ago, your older son’s class visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site about this time of year, but it, along with 48 other historic sites, closed after funding was stopped. No field trip for your younger son, then. And no reading assistance from members of City Year, either. The elimination of AmeriCorps meant the end of such service-oriented programs. Once upon a time, your father may have been able to step in, thanks to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, but that has been cut, too.

You head to work. You’d been hoping to start your own business for some time, but a business incubator that had been planned in your area was canceled after the Appalachian Regional Commission was shut down. Besides, you’ve been having a hard time getting a loan from a bank, something that would probably have been easier if Community Development Financial Institutions hadn’t been eliminated. So back to the same old service-sector job and the same old hourly wage.

Your father stays home; the senior center lost its block grant, too. He calls you around lunch time to let you know that you just received a foreclosure notice from your landlord. You know they can’t do that under the terms of your lease, but a lawyer is expensive and the pro bono firm you’ve used in the past can’t help you anymore, after it lost funding from the Legal Services Corporation.

Before your workday is done, the kids are back home. There used to be a latchkey program that your younger son went to, but: budget cuts. Same with the local library, where your older son used to attend a reading group twice a week. Cuts to the Institute of Museum and Library Services meant losing the staff member who ran the program, and that ended that. Instead, you know the boys are on the couch flipping through channels. No “Sesame Street,” of course, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting lost its funding, crippling the organization. They’ll have to make do.

Your shift over, you start the long trip home. A planned bus route that would have sliced your commute in half was shelved after a TIGER grant from the federal government was canceled, meaning that the county couldn’t afford more buses. While you’re waiting for your transfer, the weather takes a sharp turn for the worse. No snow was expected, but forecasts have been shaky recently. You know what this means, though: melting snow backing up the storm drains near your house, because you could never afford to have them fixed, and the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program was canceled before you could apply.

You finally make it home after a long day. Dinner. Your older son is starting to think about colleges, but the end of Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants means that you need to be honest with him about what you can and can’t afford. That’s a problem for another day. Like tomorrow. Tomorrow it all starts over again, and you know that it will start the same way.


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