Proposed Budget: A Good Sign for Workers?

Early last week, the Obama Administration released a proposed budget for fiscal year 2013.  Many believe President Obama’s final budget request has no likelihood of passing, but will serve as a line in the sand for the upcoming presidential campaign. Regardless, examining the proposed budget can shed light on current labor and employment trends. It is clear that President Obama has shifted his focus from bringing down the nation’s deficit and is willing to spend to help rebuild a strong middle class.

Some aspects of the budget proposal clearly address the needs of the working class. In the civil rights arena, the proposal would provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which serves to enforce federal discrimination laws, with 373.7 million dollars in funding for fiscal year 2013, a fourteen million dollar increase from its current budget.

In the employee safety and health arena there are a few programs aimed at protecting employees. The proposal requested a slight increase for the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and 565.5 million dollars for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s proposed budget is approximately the same as the current budget. However, OSHA’s proposed budget would provide a large increase for its whistleblower program.

The budget also includes 59 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS’s mission is to secure the nation from the many threats we face. More specifically, DHS is in charge of border security and federal immigration law and the proposal would include 111.9 million dollars for E-Verify. E-verify is an internet based employment verification system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of employees.

Numerous advocates of workers’ rights have provided support for the proposal. Peg Seminario, a safety and health director at AFL-CIO, was pleased with the budgets commitment to strong regulatory and enforcement programs. The Secretary of the Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, said the proposal “focuses on programs that will help keep America’s workforce strong and innovative, while providing needed worker protections.” Regardless of the viability of the proposal, it highlights a number of labor and employment issues that may come to the forefront of the 2012 election.