Report on the First 100 Days
April 29, 2009
To support the President's mission to create new job opportunities for American families, and to ensure that workers have fair, safe and healthy workplaces, Secretary Solis has taken a series of actions to create good jobs for American workers.
Although she was not sworn in until the last week in February, the Secretary has led a two-pronged strategy to create new jobs, and protect American workers. First, the Department has moved aggressively to implement the pieces of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that will protect workers who have lost their jobs, to provide new training opportunities for workers looking to upgrade their job skills, and to create new job opportunities in emerging sectors such as clean energy and health IT. Second, the Secretary moved quickly to reverse a number of regulatory actions initiated by the previous administration that had the effect of lowering wages, creating unnecessary bureaucratic obligations to unions filing documents with the Department, and otherwise disadvantaging workers.
In summary, the Department of Labor has accomplished the following in the first 100 days of the Obama Administration:
- The Department of Labor has made available $45 billion of the $46 billion the Department is responsible for under the ARRA.
- The Department of Labor has extended the timeframe for which individuals are eligible for unemployment insurance, increased the size of unemployment insurance checks by $25, and has encouraged a number of states to modernize their unemployment insurance systems.
- As a part of the ARRA, the Department of Labor has injected $3.5 billion in worker training funds into state worker training programs.
- The Department of Labor has given thousands of workers and their families useful information on their right under ARRA to receive extended COBRA coverage and a reduction in premiums, ensuring that workers who lose their jobs have greater access to affordable health insurance.
- Working with the White House, the Department of Labor has established the Office of Recovery of Auto Communities and Workers, headed by Dr. Ed Montgomery to focus on the economic recovery of communities and workers.
- The Department of Labor has released over $35 million in National Emergency Grants to states facing mass layoff events, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
- The Department of Labor has released over $4 million in Trade Adjustment Assistance to workers in New Hampshire and Ohio.
- The Department of Labor has initiated rulemaking initiatives to stop, or temporarily suspend to allow further review of, last minute Bush Administration regulations, and has initiated rulemaking on regulations concerning foreign labor certification for agricultural workers, union reporting requirements, and workplace safety issues.
- The Secretary of Labor has participated with her global peers in a meeting with G-8 Labor Ministers, and she joined the President to participate in the Summit of the Americas.
DOL manages almost $46 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Of this total, roughly $45 billion is currently available to recipients.
Those funds fit into roughly seven categories:
- Funds associated with extending UI benefits and preserving the ability of the states to distribute these funds.
- Funds to increase the size of the weekly benefit received by recipients by $25.
- Funds to provide incentives to the states to expand the number of people who are eligible to collect UI ("UI Modernization").
- Job training and employment funds that go out by formula for programs to assist adults, dislocated workers, youth and others.
- Competitive grants targeted towards green jobs, health care, and other high-growth sectors.
- Competitive activities through the YouthBuild program to provide education and construction trade training to at-risk youth.
- Construction acquisition and repair at new and existing Job Corps facilities across the country.
- Enforcement and administration funds for the Labor Department's worker protection agencies to ensure that workers employed on ARRA projects work in safe, healthful, fair, and diverse workplace and get the pay and benefits to which they are entitled.
All of the more than $40 billion in ARRA funds to support and expand Unemployment Insurance have been made available to the states. As a result of this increased funding, the Department has ensured that all states, no matter how tight their own budgets may be, will continue to be able to get UI funds to beneficiaries in a timely manner, avoiding unnecessary delays in the disbursement of these funds that would be harmful to unemployed Americans and their families. All UI beneficiaries have also received an additional $25 in their checks each week and have had their benefits extended an additional 20 weeks. Unemployed workers in states with high unemployment will continue to receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the ARRA.
Additional benefits for workers displaced by trade policies will be available after May 18th. These provisions of the ARRA will expand Trade Adjustment Assistance to displaced workers in the service industry and provide for other reforms that will help workers get the training and job placement assistance they need to get back on their feet.
Eligible states have begun to apply for UI Modernization incentive funds and Secretary Solis has already certified the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, and South Dakota, as eligible for a portion of the incentive funds, and notified these Governors that their states will receive funds. Minnesota and New York have recently submitted applications which will qualify them for additional funds soon. For most of these states, the Secretary has conducted telephone calls with the Governor when the funds are made available. States continue to take the legislative steps necessary to become eligible for these funds ensuring that no worker is unfairly denied this vital support during the current economic crisis and beyond.
All of the Department's $3.5 billion in training and employment formula funding for job training and placement assistance have been disbursed to the states, and the relevant guidance has been issued. This summer we will receive plans from the states that will outline how they plan to use these funds.
This leaves approximately $1 billion of the Department's $46 billion in ARRA funds left to be distributed, and the Department is working to get this money out the door quickly and effectively.
Starting in June, states will also have the opportunity to apply for $750 million in competitive grants for training for green jobs and other high-growth industries, like health care. The Department also has $50 million to allocate to the YouthBuild program which will help at-risk youth gain education and occupational credentials while building or rehabilitating affordable housing, which will include sustainable building practices. In drafting its Solicitations for Grant Applications, Department staff is taking critical steps to ensure that the funds are used as effectively as possible to train the most number of workers in green jobs, while also expanding the workforce investment system to include workers who have not received the services they need and service providers and other stakeholders that traditionally have not been a part of that system. These grants will also play an important role in joining other federal agencies' "green" training and job creation programs with the workforce investment system to forge a government-wide approach to the development and expansion of these critical new industries. In addition, Job Corps centers and YouthBuild programs will include green curriculum and many Job Corps facilities will employ green technology.
Secretary Solis' primary focus moving forward is ensuring that the funds allocated for green jobs are disbursed in the most effective and accountable way possible. The Department's work will be focused on engaging with communities, writing guidance, evaluating grant applications and leveraging funds so that the Department can get these funds out efficiently and to the communities that need them most.
The Labor Department's worker protection agencies are hard at work assuring that the workers employed on ARRA-funded projects get the full protection of applicable employment laws. The Employee Benefits Security Administration has taken a series of actions to help the unemployed access expanded COBRA benefits authorized under the ARRA. This includes web-based meetings attended by over 5,000 virtual participants, thousands of telephone consultations, and the release of model notices to help plans comply with the new rules. The Office of Labor-Management Standards has reached out aggressively to its union and transit authority constituents to dramatically expedite its process for assuring that hundreds of additional mass transit grants contain the workers' protections required by section13c of the Transit Act. The Wage & Hour Administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to update wage determinations under the Davis-Bacon Act, work with other federal agencies to provide a full understanding of the ARRA's Davis-Bacon coverage provisions, and to enforce these provisions on ARRA-funded construction sites. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has similarly ramped up its enforcement efforts in the construction industry and on other projects funded by the Recovery Act, and provided extensive compliance assistance and public information to its regulated community.
Both the ARRA and the President's budget call for a significant realignment of the Department's priorities, including shifting additional resources to agencies charged with enforcing workplace safety and health laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Department has taken significant steps towards making its work more accessible to the public. DOL now has a web site focused specifically on implementation of ARRA (www.dol.gov/recovery), as well as several sites focused on the recovery efforts of individual agencies [Employee Benefits Security Administration (http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/cobra.html), Office of the Inspector General (http://www.oig.dol.gov/recovery/), and Employment and Training Administration (http://www.doleta.gov/recovery)]. The Employment and Training Administration, Employee Benefits Security Administration, and Job Corps have used webcasts and webinars to explain components of the ARRA, reaching thousands of stakeholders.
In her weeks in office, Secretary Solis has pursued an aggressive regulatory agenda to undo, or temporarily suspend to allow further review of, some of the regulatory efforts of the previous administration that had a detrimental impact on workers.
- To combat the rush of rules out the door at the end of the previous Administration, Secretary Solis initiated steps to allow for the immediate review of all pending regulatory efforts, opinion letters, and other interpretive guidance and compliance assistance materials in process at the Department providing the Administration the time to ensure that they were all in the interest of working Americans.
- During the last years of the Bush Administration, the Department issued a series of regulations that made the union financial reporting requirements not only overly burdensome but ineffectual. Since taking office, the Department has taken significant steps to undo the most burdensome of these regulations and put in place an enforcement regime that will make union and management transparency a reality:
- The Department postponed the effective dates of rules that gave the Department the power to revoke the ability of smaller unions to file the more simplified LM-3 form, instead of the LM-2 form filed by larger unions. The Department delayed the effective date of this rule to October 19th, and submitted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to revoke the role, providing more time for analysis of the policy implications of this ruling and its effect on unions.
- The Department announced that it will publish in its Spring Regulatory Agenda notice of an intended rulemaking to revise the Form LM-30 Union Officer and Employee Report implemented in 2007. The rulemaking is intended to review questions of policy and law surrounding these reporting requirements, and will focus on the changes resulting from a 2007 regulatory revision of the Form and instructions.
- The Department took regulatory action on the previous Administration's regulations on the H-2A program.
- The Department published a notice in the Federal Register proposing temporarily to suspend final regulations titled "Modernizing the Labor Certification Process and Enforcement for Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Aliens in the United States" (published December 18, 2008) and temporarily reinstate the rules that were in place on January 16, 2009, the day before the revised rules became effective.
- The Department rescinded language in the H-2B regulations promulgated by the Bush Administration that stated that employers could deduct the cost of inbound transportation from the wages of their H-2B workers even if this resulted in a violation of the FLSA's minimum wage requirements.
- The Department published in the Federal Register a notice to withdraw an interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act contained in the preamble to a final rule published on December 19, 2008, governing the labor certification process and enforcement of worker protections under the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program. The preamble stated that the FLSA and its implementing regulations do not require employers to reimburse H-2B workers for relocation expenses even when such costs result in the workers being paid less than the minimum wage because they were not for the benefit of the employer. Because of the reach of FLSA coverage, any interpretation of FLSA regulations has wide-ranging effects; the interpretation of section 203(m) of the FLSA and its regulations in the preamble of the H-2B Final Rule may have ramifications well beyond the workers and employers subject to the H-2B rule and therefore requires further examination. The Department is especially sensitive to potential adverse impacts an interpretation might have on our nation's most vulnerable workers, including low-wage U.S. workers and foreign guest workers.
- The Department issued a final rule rescinding the regulations that implemented the now-revoked Executive Order 13201 (revoked by the President in Executive Order 13496). The regulations required government contractors and subcontractors to post notices informing their employees of certain rights under federal law and required contracting federal agencies and these employers to include certain provisions of EO 13201 in their contracts, subcontracts, and purchase orders.
- The Pension Protection Act of 2006 established a new statutory exemption from ERISA's prohibited transaction provisions for the provision of investment advice by a fiduciary adviser to participants and beneficiaries in participant-directed individual account plans (401(k) plans) and individual retirement accounts. Final investment advice rules were published on January 21, 2009. However, DOL has delayed the effective date of these rules until May 22, 2009 to permit further review.
Protecting and Promoting the Welfare of Workers
In addition to undoing past actions by the Bush Administration, Secretary Solis has taken several important steps to further protect and promote the welfare of workers.
- The Department made significant strides forward in the development of rule addressing diacetyl by initiating a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel for occupational exposure to food flavorings containing the chemical. Diacetyl is a food flavoring most notably used in the production of microwavable popcorn and has been associated with the development of sometimes fatal respiratory illnesses in workers exposed to it, producing a condition popularly referred to as "Popcorn Workers Lung."
- The Department is currently working on regulations to implement President Obama's Executive Order 13495 relating to service contracts. The Executive Order requires contractors to offer the right of first refusal to employees employed under the predecessor contract whose employment will be terminated as a result of the new service contract.
Budget Priorities in FY2010 Budget
The President's 2010 Budget for the Department of Labor provides $13.3 billion. This first budget from Secretary Solis restores the Labor Department worker protection agencies' staffing so they can vigorously enforce the laws they oversee and includes critical new investments for career pathways, transitional jobs, and programs that provide training for disadvantaged youth, ex-offenders, and returning servicemembers. These budget increases, in combination with funds available through the ARRA, will allow the Department to hire additional enforcement personnel, including hundreds of new FTE for the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Middle Class Task Force: Secretary Solis is an active member of the Vice President's Middle Class Task Force and on February 27th participated in the Task Force event on green jobs in Philadelphia. The day after the event, the Secretary visited a green jobs training center in Philadelphia. The Department plans to designate a staffer to work full-time to support the Task Force's efforts.
- Coordination with Department of Energy on Green Jobs: The Department's Employment and Training Administration and senior staff are working closely with Department of Energy leadership to ensure that DOE's investment of funds to create green jobs links up with the Department's green jobs training programs. On March 26th, Secretaries Solis and Chu held an event at the Community College of Allegheny College, which provides union-run training for green jobs, to announce the investment of new funds in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area to create and train workers in green jobs.
- Auto Task Force and Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers: Secretary Solis is an active participant in the President's Task Force on Autos, and the Department has taken an active role in evaluating and certifying the competitiveness of labor costs for American auto companies. In addition, the Department houses the Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, Dr. Edward Montgomery, and his team. Announced on April 30th, Dr. Montgomery has already met with key stakeholders in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana and assembled a team who are working with auto communities and workers to cut through any red-tape to get these communities the recovery and other resources they need to support and transform their communities for the economy of the future.
- On March 29th and 30th the Secretary participated in the G8 Labor Ministerial hosted in Rome by Italy's Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The meeting focused on the labor market and social protection challenges that must be addressed in the face of the current global economic crisis. Participants included the G8 countries, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, South Africa, and leaders from international organizations. The Secretary's participation in this meeting demonstrated the Administration's focus on ensuring that labor rights are protected internationally.
- On April 15 18th, the Secretary participated in the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago with the President.
- Since her swearing in on February 24th, the Secretary has conducted public events in Florida, Pennsylvania, and California.
- Over $35 million in National Emergency Grants has gone out to 14 states (MO, NY, CT, ID, LA, OR, AR, KY, TX, WA, ME, OH, MN, FL).
- Almost $4 million has been distributed to New Hampshire and Ohio through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.
- The Secretary has approved National Emergency Grants for Minnesota as a result of the rise of the Red River and the related floods.
- Since January 21, 2009, Job Corps has awarded a total of 12 contracts valued at $322,763,314. This includes: one National Office contract valued at $1,999,802, three Outreach/Admission and Career Transition Services contracts totaling $11,686,815, and eight center operations contracts totaling $309,076,697.
- From January 20, 2009 to April 15, 2009, OSHA has conducted 8,804 inspection, issued 21,166 citations for violations and has levied nearly $27 million in penalties.
- From January 20, 2009 to March 31, 2009, MSHA has issued 37,664 citations for violations and has levied nearly $25 million in penalties.