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Obernauer: Feeling the Pain

How Trump's Department of Labor cuts will hurt New Yorkers

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by Guest Post on
May 08, 2017

Training and enforcement and union jobs are needed now more than ever.

In our city, 33 construction workers have died at work since 2014.

Thirty-three funerals, 33 families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Ninety percent of these workers were not union members.

As the federal government strips our rights away, the city needs to protect workers with construction training legislation. New York state must increase penalties for criminally negligent contractors from $10,000 to $1 million — creating real consequences for employers who disregard workers’ lives — and maintain the Scaffold Safety Law. That law requires contractors to provide proper safety equipment for workers at high elevations.

We can do better as a country, and the city and state must step in where and when the federal government leaves workers out.

As a non-profit organization that fights to extend and to defend safe and healthy workplaces, we anticipate challenges to come. Our job won’t be easy with the Trump administration’s attempts to gut lifesaving jobsite protections when workers need them most.

President Trump’s proposals to reduce Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) record-keeping on injuries, to slash worker training, cut the Department of Labor budget and freeze hiring will only increase hazards for workers. OSHA currently only has 66 New York inspectors and will be unable to hire more.

And, if Trump’s 21% budget cut to the Labor Department goes through, that pain will be felt here too. The state Labor Department could have to further reduce its monitoring of workplace safety.

We’re already seeing the effects of some of Trump’s policies. Anecdotal evidence among community and worker advocate groups suggests that undocumented workers are less likely to report safety violations because they are afraid of deportation.

We will fight for a fully-funded OSHA — and for sensible immigration policies that do not criminalize workers. We’re also prepared to do battle with anti-union “Right to Work” laws that seek to diminish the influence of labor organizations — and make it harder for workers to unionize.

Union jobs have higher training requirements and increase the likelihood of workers reporting violations — and this has a direct role on making job sites safer. Decreasing union density means a greater likelihood of injuries and fatalities on the job.

Charlene Obernauer is the executive director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

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