The Department of Labor: Of -For-and By Greedy Companies; To Hell With the Worker!  

I've been in training all week. Lots and lots of reading about strategic planning and how it all relates to an agency's over all mission. This brought me to the Department of Labor's mission and their mission statement:

The Department of Labor fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.

I highlighted the pieces in the mission statement most important to this blog post. After sitting through 3 days of strategic planning and hearing all about how fantastic the Department of Labor's Strategic plan is, it really got me to wondering how it is that DoL behaves like this:

A copy of a eleventh-hour proposed rule that would make it harder to set new safety rules limiting workers' exposure to chemicals on the job has been obtained by the Washington Post.

The Labor Department has refused to discuss or disclose the proposal, which has spurred anger and condemnation from unions, Democrats in Congress and public health scientists. They claim the rule is a "midnight regulation" that will block the next administration's efforts to reduce workers illnesses and deaths.

Okay, the Post caught my attention, it's true, they did. But here's the money quote for me from the same article:

The proposal calls for adding another procedural step and round of challenges before the department can consider regulations for a workplace toxin. It also challenges the agency's longstanding assumption that it should set limits low enough to protect workers who could be exposed to a toxin every day on the job and work for 45 years.

Pretty freaking cool, huh? Well, take a look at the Strategic Plan for the DoL, Performance Goal 3A:

Improve workplace safety and health through compliance assistance and enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations and standards.

The Department's efforts to protect workers' safety and health are built on the foundation of a strong, fair, and effective enforcement program and outreach, education, compliance assistance and voluntary cooperative programs. Although the Department seeks to assist the large majority of employers who want to meet their obligations under its worker protection laws, it will direct its enforcement resources to those who expose employees to serious hazards. DOL will conduct its inspection programs to ensure that they identify the most hazardous workplaces and make the best use of inspection resources. DOL will also continue to make available effective compliance assistance programs and tools and offer employers and employees opportunities to participate in a variety of voluntary cooperative programs. Through these efforts DOL strives to improve workplace safety and health protections and prevent occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

The Department will continue to use a balanced approach to protect the safety and health of America's workers. The Department's OSHA regulations and standards will continue to be developed or revised under the agency's focused regulatory agenda. DOL will continue to direct inspections and outreach at establishments and industries with the highest injury, illness, and fatality rates and will respond to complaints of serious workplace hazards. As part of the Department's outreach effort, selected sites with high injury and illness rates will be notified in writing of available services for addressing workplace hazards. Small business employers who receive notification will be provided an opportunity to seek assistance through the free, DOL-funded State Consultation Program. These efforts will be supplemented by National and Local Emphasis Programs designed to target unsafe conditions or high hazard industries. To complement its enforcement and standard-setting activities, the Department will provide compliance assistance, outreach, and training for employers and employees. DOL also offers a variety of cooperative programs including the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), the Alliance Program, the Strategic Partnership Program, the Consultation Program and its Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), under which employers, employees, and other stakeholders work with the Department to improve workplace safety and health.

Experience demonstrates that the implementation of VPP principles results in a significant reduction in injury and illness rates. Overall, VPP participants experience an average of 50 percent fewer injuries and illnesses than non-VPP sites within their respective industries, and continued participation in VPP maintains these results. Both a 2005 Gallup study and OSHA's experiences in the Challenge Pilot support these findings.

First off, check out those bolded areas. I went through and pointed out something a little odd. The Department of Labor's mission:

fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions

It says nothing about the employer. Instead, the goals and objectives in their strategic plan does. It means that the Department of Labor has a mission that no longer relates to their strategic plan. That mis-alignment needs to be adjusted and how is DoL adjusting this mis-alignment, well, by suggesting new regulations to curtail the ability of workers to obtain safe workplaces, again, from the Post:

Political appointees at the Department of Labor are moving with unusual speed to push through in the final months of the Bush administration a rule making it tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.


The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals.

The rule would also require the agency to take an extra step before setting new limits on chemicals in the workplace by allowing an additional round of challenges to agency risk assessments.

The department's speed in trying to make the regulatory change contrasts with its reluctance to alter workplace safety rules over the past 7 1/2 years. In that time, the department adopted only one major health rule for a chemical in the workplace, and it did so under a court order.

DoL no longer sees it's mission as one of protecting workers. It's mission is:

Today, that mission continues in a vastly different, global context. While the interests of wage earners remain a core value for the Department, its policies and programs have evolved to address the emerging needs of workers and employers in a competitive 21st Century economy.

I suppose I should be thrilled that DoL can have the balls to tell us they intend to screw us and do so right there, in their strategic plan, but you know, I'm not thrilled. Instead, I just feel screwed and, not in a good way.

So, let's give a few cheers to Elaine Chao, Secretary of the Department of Labor. PSSSTT, the Cheer here is, Shame,Shame Shame Elaine. Shame on you.

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