Employment Standards Administration (ESA)

The Labor Department in The Carter Administration: A Summary Report — January 14, 1981 By Ray Marshall

Employment Standards Administration (ESA)

Through reform, reorganization, improved program management and enforcement, ESA sought to assure all Americans their rights to dignity and equality in the workplace.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Farm Labor Contractor Act and various government contractor acts, 311,033 investigations uncovered $536 million in back wages owed to 2.6 million workers. Employers agreed to pay $325 million to 2 million employees.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the Carter Administration was the annual increase in the minimum wage, which reached $3.35 an hour beginning January 1, 1981. Farm workers were covered under the minimum wage for the first time.

As part of Wage and Hour's enforcement program, a special effort called Employers of Undocumented Workers program (EUW) was started in 1978 to deal with the problems of illegal immigration. Some 29,553 investigations found $54.7 million in back wages owed to 345,000 workers.

Income restored to workers for violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the FLSA increased from $55.6 million in fiscal 1976 to $69.6 million in fiscal 1980.

Investigations under the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act (FLCRA) increased from 2,398 in fiscal 1976 to 4,485 in fiscal 1980.

In 1977, the Wage and Hour Division began assessing civil money penalties for violations affecting migrant farm workers under FLCRA. A total of $500,000 was assessed in 1977. In fiscal 1980, the total rose to $1.1 million.

A five month special enforcement effort on the East Coast ending in October 1980 found more than $1 million in penalties and back wages due workers.

Among administrative accomplishments, national and regional Farm Labor Coordinated Enforcement committees were established to hold annual meetings in the regions to explain programs and exchange views with the agricultural community.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act Amendments of 1978 extended protection against age discrimination by raising the upper age limit on coverage in the private sector and non federal employment from 65 to 70. An upper age limit was eliminated from federal employment. These amendments prohibited mandatory retirement for most older workers. They also changed procedural provisions to strengthen enforcement.

In 1979, the equal pay and age discrimination program was transferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Actions taken under Davis-Bacon, the Service Contract Act, Walsh-Healey and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act included the following:

Streamlined wage determination procedures.

Increased enforcement activities in all government contract areas, which resulted in $13 million found due to 43,000 workers in fiscal 1980. This was up from $8.1 million due to 34,000 workers in fiscal 1977.

A revised construction and service contract manual.

Initiation of training programs, internal managerial reforms and feasibility studies on converting to ADP processes.

As part of President Carter's reorganization of federal EEO enforcement responsibilities, all contract compliance functions were brought together into the Department of Labor. The consolidation of Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs became effective October 1, 1978. During the last four years, a total of $35 million in financial settlements was obtained through conciliation agreements with 3,294 employers. Of this amount, $20 million was back pay due to 13,869 employees.

OFCCP began targeting white collar industries such as banking, insurance and electronics where EEO problems continue to exist, and also gave high priority to enforcement in the coal mining industry — a major blue collar industry which continues to employ few women and minorities.

Through improved management and legislative actions during the past four years, the Office of Workers' Compensation brought to life a moribund Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). To reduce the backlog of claims, the staff was significantly expanded and performance standards were introduced, requiring quicker processing.

Under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, the inventory of cases waiting for action dropped from 20,143 at the beginning of fiscal 1977 to 11,154 in fiscal 1980, even though the number of injuries reported increased from 195,198 in fiscal year 1976 to 238,273 in fiscal 1980. There was an increased emphasis on rehabilitation.

In addition, a strict quality control system was instituted, the procedure manual was revised, an outreach program was set up to help district offices serve claimants, and training programs were established for claims examiners and assistant deputy commissioners.

Two major pieces of legislation were enacted regarding the black lung benefits program: the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977, and the Black Lung Benefits Revenue Act of 1977.

The Reform Act made several changes in evidentiary and eligibility requirements, and removed restrictive provisions from the 1972 black lung law. The 1977 amendments also provided that all claims denied or pending be reviewed.

Before the 1977 amendments, the Department of Labor received 125,229 claims. Only 6,083 were approved. Since the new law went into effect, nearly 272,000 claims have been made. Nearly 167,000 have been approved.

The Black Lung Benefits Revenue Act shifted the cost of the program from taxpayers to the coal industry, creating a government administered trust fund financed by a tax on coal sold or used by producers.