Worker protection agencies need more funding to enforce labor laws and protect workers

by nyljaouadi1
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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the widespread dangers and injustices that workers face every day. For too long, workers have been forced to work in unsafe conditions, suffered from excessive wage theft, and been subjected to discrimination and harassment. While laws aimed at deterring these workplace abuses already exist, enforcement efforts have been woefully insufficient because the agencies tasked with protecting workers are chronically under-resourced. As Congress and the Biden administration work on budget spending and COVID-19 recovery legislation, there is an urgent opportunity to correct these inadequacies in our labor law system and boost funding for enforcement agencies.

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) enforce major worker protection laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the National Labor Relations Act. These statutes guarantee U.S. workers a minimum wage, a safe and healthy workplace, and the right to collective bargaining, respectively, but weak enforcement has led to pervasive and repeated violations of these laws. Despite inflation, a growing workforce, and increasingly complex workplaces, funding for agencies like the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the NLRB has largely remained stagnant over the last decade, as shown in Figure A.

Funding for worker protection agencies, fiscal years 2006–2021 (in thousands)

Fiscal Years Wage and Hour Division Occupational Safety and Health Administration National Labor Relations Board
2006 165,685 472,427 249,745
2007 173,185 486,925 251,507
2008 175,658 486,000 251,762
2009 193,092 513,042 262,595
2010 227,606 558,620 283,400
2011 227,606 558,620 282,800
2012 227,491 564,788 278,306
2013 227,061 535,246 263,748
2014 224,330 552,247 274,224
2015 227,500 552,787 274,224
2016 227,500 552,787 274,224
2017 227,500 552,787 274,224
2018 227,500 552,787 274,224
2019 229,000 557,233 274,224
2020 242,000 581,233 274,224
2021 246,000 591,233 274,224
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