Earlier today, President Trump revealed his first budget blueprint including the massive cuts he would make to offset his $54 billion investment in military spending. Some of the agencies that will be stripped of funding are Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The proposal also cuts FEMA state and local grant funding by $667 million and ceases all payments to the United Nations climate change programs. He even proposes to eliminate agencies including the Chemical Safety Board, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, US Trade and Development Agency, and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, to name a few. Oh, and not to mention housing assistance and Meals on Wheels are on the chopping block, too.
“Virtually every agency will see some sort of cut, with only Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs getting a boost,” according to CNN.
Of course, Veterans Affairs deserves that hike in funds. Our veterans have been suffering for decades, and we most certainly should be taking better care of them. However, our country already spends more on our military than the next seven highest spending countries combined.
Meanwhile, Americans’ health is failing, natural disasters continue to destroy communities, our education system remains far behind those of other developed nations, and manufacturing continues to be under attack by unfair trade practices by countries like China.
These weaknesses and tragedies need to be strengthened and prevented, and that will not happen by robbing their lifelines of money.
If your car’s ignition switch fails and your tires go flat and your oxygen sensor dies, do you fix it by sitting back and doing nothing? No. You invest to make the repairs.
We need to invest in these issues and programs that are floundering in America. But we know that won’t happen anytime soon — at least not in the next four years, according to this budget plan.
So if the government won’t do this, who will?
The only group that continues to fight for these causes even when all the chips are down is the labor movement.
Unions burst onto the scene in the early 20th century here in America and brought with them the minimum wage, health and safety protections, pensions, and the 40-hour workweek. They were also front-line participants in the civil rights movement, and today, they’ve taken on the lead role in the fight against unfair trade.
Unions are also the main soldiers in the battle against workplace hazards. They work side-by-side with government agencies that investigate accidents due to hazardous materials, which eventually lead to regulations and standards companies and industries must abide by in order to prevent more accidents, illnesses, and deaths.
But Trump wants to cut these programs, including the Chemical Safety Board. He also isn’t too fond of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Earlier this year, after a decades-long battle, OSHA finally updated the occupational exposure limit on beryllium. This only happened due to the huge push from major unions including the United Steelworkers, who have been advocating for a new OSHA rule since the early 1970s.
Beryllium is a highly toxic metal, and workers who inhale it could be at risk for CBD and lung cancer. The new rule reduces the exposure limit and requires employers to assess exposure, implement methods for controlling it, and provide protective clothing, equipment, and medical surveillance.
Seems reasonable, right?
This administration, however, believes companies should not have to bear these types of “burdens.” Trump believes businesses are under attack through regulations requiring they keep their workers safe and, you know, alive. He further revealed that belief through today’s budget release revealing massive cuts to these programs.
Without adequate funding for agencies such as OSHA or the Chemical Safety Board, there won’t be enough resources to carry out investigations. This means more people will get sick or injured at work, because companies will not do this out of the goodness of their hearts, and more people will die on the job. And immigrant workers will face the brunt of this even more as companies use their citizenship status as a way to treat them as poorly as possible. But hey, at least those businesses will be saving money, right?!
But guess what? No matter what happens to agency funding, unions will always fight for workers. They will likely be the only resource left for people to turn to during this administration’s attack on safety and health. But with this administration also launching attacks on the labor movement through supporting right-to-work (for less) bills and slashing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act, unions will be forced to do more with less.
Union membership has been on the decline for years. In 1983, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking data, union membership was at 20 percent for the private sector. Now, it sits at a dismal 6 percent.
The havoc this decline has wreaked doesn’t just affect union members—it hurts all workers. Not only do all workers receive less pay when union membership is down, but workers also miss out on having a support system to do things like file lawsuits and conduct investigations into safety hazards.
In the grand scheme of things, when unions do well, everyone does well.
But companies are making it harder than ever for workers to organize. By launching union-busting campaigns and threatening layoffs, businesses are reacting to the power they know unions can provide for their workers. This shows unions are indeed relevant, even though many say they no longer serve a purpose. If they didn’t, why are Republicans so hell-bent on destroying them?
Americans need to push back against these threats and tactics. Americans need unions now more than ever, and unions need American workers now more than ever, with an administration committed to slashing safety and cutting corners. But you can’t cut corners on people’s lives.
No matter who Americans voted for, they did not vote for this.
As Trump and his Republican cronies continue to attack workers from all angles, people will very quickly realize just how relevant and strong unions still are in the fight for justice. And hopefully it is just a matter of time until they join the movement that works to improve the lives of all workers.