Policy Watch: Amid a Busy Week, Congress and the President Find Time to Roll Back Protections for Working People
By Celine McNicholas, Economic Policy Institute
Congress will begin a two-week recess when the Senate concludes its business today. Leading up to today’s adjournment, the Senate spent much of the week focused on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans found time to hold a legislative hearing on a bill that would provide employers a new right to avoid paying workers for overtime hours when the overtime is worked—letting them hold onto those wages for as long as an entire year. On Tuesday, President Trump’s Department of Labor announced that it will delay implementation of the fiduciary rule until at least June 9, costing retirement savers $181 million this year. And, on Thursday, the administration announced that it would delay enforcement of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule limiting workers’ exposure to silica dust, which has been linked to lung cancer. Roughly 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust in their workplaces. The rule, which was to be enforced beginning June 23, was projected to provide net benefits of $7.7 billion, annually and would have saved more than 600 lives and prevented more than 900 new cases of silicosis a year.
This week also marked the seventh anniversary of an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed twenty-nine miners. The Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded that the conditions that led to the explosion were the result of a series of basic safety violations that were entirely preventable. While President Trump offered no official statement commemorating the largest coal mine disaster in 40 years, his actions make clear that, for all of his rhetoric about bringing back lost jobs in the coal mining industry, he is not concerned with something he could actually deliver for miners and their families: making mining jobs safe jobs. Last Friday, his administration announced a proposed delay of a rule aimed at improving the health and safety of miners.
When Congress returns from recess they will deal with the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of labor. The position will have a significant impact on this nation’s workers and our economy. Congress will also have to quickly pass a funding measure to keep the government running. Currently, the government is being funded through a temporary spending bill that expires on April 28, 2017. If Congress is unable to pass an additional funding measure, President Trump’s 100th day in office may be the first day of a government shutdown. The Perkins Project Policy Watch will continue to track all of this and provide information on the impact on our nation’s workers.