GOP-Passed “Midnight Rules” Bill Could Eliminate Worker, Consumer Protections

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Standards to protect nursing home residents. Paid sick leave for employees of federal contractors. Democratic President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order. Even standards that ailing responders to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks must meet to get federal aid.

All these rules, and more, could bite the dust if the Republican-run Senate follows through on – and incoming Republican President Donald Trump signs – GOP-passed legislation that cleared the GOP-run House on Jan. 4.

The measure, HR21,passed on a 238184 party-line vote, with only four Democrats voting for it. It’s named the “Midnight Rules” bill, but it’s really a lot more than that.

Republicans, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., say they’re aiming at rules the Democratic Obama administration implemented in the final few months between Nov. 8 and Jan. 20. But Issa wrote HR21 to cover rules stretching all the way back to last May.

A report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service says HR21 covers 220 rules. They include rules implementing Obama’s executive order, the paid sick leave measure, the nursing home protections and new rules for the renewed James Zadroga program, which provides medical care and other aid to sickened first responders to the 9-11 al-Qaeda attacks.

If HR21 reaches Trump’s desk, and he signs it, lawmakers still would have to approve legislation rolling back those rules. The GOP is chomping at the bit to do so. The Chamber of Commerce, the right-wing Freedom Works group and others all lobbied lawmakers for HR21.

One key rule that could fall came in September from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It improved service standards for nursing homes and banned them from forcing the elderly into arbitration to settle disputes over service and payment.

Another, the Obama executive order, told federal agencies to take companies’ job safety and health, labor law and wage payment -- or nonpayment -- records into account when awarding federal contracts. The Labor Department issued rules covering that on August 23.

Paid leave for workers at federal contractors, such as workers at McDonald’s restaurants on malls at military bases, also could fall victim to any subsequent GOP rules rollback bill. DOL unveiled the rule protecting those workers on Sept. 30.

And in the House debate, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., pointed out a job safety rule to eliminate worker exposure to beryllium, a cancer-causing substance, would also be in danger.

So would, he said, new Education Department standards for accountability of teachers in grades K-12 – a key issue for the nation’s teachers unions.  When Obama’s Education Department issued those new rules, congressional Republicans howled they conflicted with the intent of the new federal education aid law, which turns more power back to states.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work