The 114th Congress has been in session only a few weeks, but already the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have launched a renewed assault on worker and public protections. At the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests, Republicans have made “regulatory reform” a high priority. They are pushing legislation that would radically change our regulatory system and up-end more than 40 years of labor, health, safety, environmental and consumer protection laws. They are also targeting individual rules, trying to block new measures to protect worker safety, strengthen workers’ rights, and enhance public protections and financial safeguards.
Earlier, Republicans and business groups promoted these reforms as a jobs initiative, claiming regulations were killing jobs and were responsible for high unemployment. But now that the economy is recovering, their new claim is that regulations are responsible for wage stagnation and growing income inequality. The truth is, their real goal is to undermine the government’s role in protecting the public and stopping corporate abuses, starting with preventing the Obama administration from issuing needed protections.
The House of Representatives has moved quickly, fast tracking the passage of three broad-based regulatory reform bills without holding any hearings. The most far-reaching of the bills – the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA - H.R. 185) – would make cost, not protection of workers or the public the primary consideration, overriding existing laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act and transportation safety laws. This bill would add dozens of new analytical and procedural requirements to the rulemaking process, which would add years to the process. The development of major workplace safety and health rules, which already takes six to ten years, would be delayed even further and cost workers their lives. This bill, like the others, would tilt the regulatory process in favor of corporate interests. It would give business groups special early access to agencies not provided to workers or the public, and greater opportunities to challenge rules, further increasing corporate influence over our government.
In the Senate, workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act are a prime target. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee already has held two hearings attacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for its recent regulation to update and improve its representation election procedures and for reviewing whether to update its legal test for finding employers to be joint employers. Senate Republicans have moved to overturn the NLRB election rule, introducing a resolution of disapproval to vacate the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which would wipe out the new rules and prohibit the NLRB from issuing the same or substantially similar rules in the future.
We can expect these attacks on worker and public protections to grow, with many more anti-regulatory proposals in both the House and the Senate. Republicans are also certain to try to use the appropriations process to block individual rules opposed by their corporate allies, willing to hold the government hostage to get their way. Measures designed to help and protect working people and the public interest are likely targets. In addition to NLRB rules, OSHA’s silica standard and enhanced measures to protect workers from retaliation for reporting injuries are high on Republicans’ list, along with Labor Department rules on financial advice for retirement investments and expanding overtime coverage, and regulations to implement Dodd-Frank financial reforms.
The Obama administration has threatened to veto the broad regulatory reform bills that would cripple the regulatory process. But the attacks on individual regulations through the budget and appropriations process or other political intervention will be harder to stop. We must redouble our efforts to make sure these important worker and public protections are finalized and maintained.
The Republican-corporate attack on regulations, if successful, would turn back the clock, making workplaces more dangerous and the environment more polluted, and leaving the public unprotected from fraud and abuse. It would increase corporate influence over our government even further. We cannot let that happen.
We must mobilize and join together with our allies to turn back this assault. We must start by educating union members and the public about these dangerous proposals and by exposing the Republican agenda that favors corporate interests over the public’s good. We must come together with those who share our values and demand that our government protect workers and the public, and build a better, safer and healthier future for all.