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Latest News - February 2015

February 2, 2015
Obama Budget Boosts Labor Department Funding

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 plan calls for stepped up enforcement of wage and workplace safety laws by the Labor Department and would overhaul extended unemployment insurance benefits during economic downturns.

The White House budget proposal released Monday would increase Labor Department funding by $1.3 billion to $13.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It envisions increased funding for the division that enforces minimum wage and overtime laws and for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which conducts worksite inspections.

The overhaul of unemployment insurance would put in place changes designed for economic downturns when there is a spike in the number of unemployed. Democrats and Republicans have sparred over temporary programs that were put in place in response to the financial crisis, clashing last year over whether to continue extending programs extending benefits to the longer-term unemployed.

“These proposals will help working families feel more secure with paychecks that go further,” the Obama administration said.

The Labor proposals are certain to create more debate between Republicans and Democrats as well as employers and unions over labor policy. Labor groups and liberals generally believe more enforcement of labor laws will aid workers and help strengthen the middle class, while conservatives and employers say enforcement can be overzealous.

Obama’s budget drew criticism Monday from House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R., Minn.), who said Mr. Obama’s priorities continue to be “more spending, more taxes and more government.”

“Middle-class families are being squeezed, and the president wants to double-down on the same failed policies of the last six years,” Mr. Kline said.

The Obama budget drew a mixed review from organized labor. Richard, president of the AFL-CIO union federation, said the budget follows through on multiple labor proposals Mr. Obama made in his State of the Union address, such as with higher taxes on capital gains and a repeal of “harmful” sequestration cuts. But Mr. Trumka said the budget doesn’t “match the rhetoric” he has heard about fixing a “rigged corporate tax system.”

The budget “falls short of a very simple standard: our tax system should not encourage corporations to shift jobs or profits overseas,” Mr. Trumka said.

Under the Obama proposals, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would get increased funding for safety and security at chemical plants, for responses to major accidents and to help it inspect more mines. Funding for the Employment and Training 

The administration proposal also seeks more heft for several employment laws by strengthening civil penalties. The budget seeks legislation to slap employers with a $5,000 penalty each time they intentionally keep fraudulent wage and hour records or none at all, to “cheat their workers out of hard-earned wages,” the proposal said.

To beef up retirement benefits that the administration says leave 37% of part-time workers without access to a retirement plan, the budget would ensure employees who’ve worked for a company at least 500 hours a year for at least three years can participate in the employer’s existing plan.




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