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Enforcement matters

By Dylan Matthews

Given as it doesn't look like the Employee Free Choice Act will be able to pass the Senate anytime soon, steps like these from the Labor Department are more than welcome:

The Labor Department is encouraging low-wage and immigrant workers to turn in employers who are shortchanging their pay, as part of an expanding effort to enforce wage and hour rules.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis launched a campaign last week called "We Can Help," asking workers in industries from construction to food services to notify the agency of suspected wage and hour violations. ...

Ms. Solis, a Hispanic-American, has signaled from early in her tenure that stepping up enforcement of wage and hour rules would be a high priority. The Labor Department's wage and hour division recently hired more than 250 additional investigators -- an increase of one third -- and is rolling out a publicity campaign that includes bilingual public-service announcements in Spanish and English.

This has been the great untold success of the Obama administration. Many of the problems with upholding labor protections, environmental standards, workplace safety rules, etc., over the past few decades haven't been with too weak laws; they've had to do with enforcing laws already on the books. Starting with the Reagan administration, cutbacks to regulatory agency budgets, and their pollination with industry officials, became commonplace.

As John Judis showed in a great New Republic feature a couple months ago, those trends are being reversed, with major budget hikes and appointments of serious experts who are reversing not just industry-friendly decisions, but the entire culture of their departments. For example, Judis notes that Obama's OMB is pressing for cost-benefit analysis to apply equally to proposals for deregulation as for new regulations, and that his budget has allowed for significant hiring, including 150 new investigators at the Occupation Health and Safety Administration.

These changes depend heavily on Congress's willingness to sustain funding increases, and on the administration in power continuing to be one that values having technocratic experts, rather than industry officials, running the show. But already they've produced initiatives like Solis's new campaign, which although not revolutionary, are vast improvements over the state of labor law enforcement in the Bush years.

-- Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.

By Washington Post editor  |  April 6, 2010; 10:42 AM ET
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I am glad the Department of Labor is waking up after all these years. Note the obvious race baiting by the WSJ

"Ms. Solis, a Hispanic-American"

Do they actually say John Boehner, an Orange American every time they use his name. What is the relevance of her race here, if only to whistle to WSJ readers that low wage employees, who tend to be racialized have one of their own in government and this somehow makes the enterprise shady.

I would like to see the day when non-white people don't get identified by race in newspapers, join the 21st century, dammit.

Posted by: theOliveRidley | April 6, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Welcome to the snitch state. There was a long and powerful tradition of the like in the Soviet Union.

That would be the *former* Soviet Union.

Posted by: msoja | April 6, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

For a good example, compare Obama's mine safety guy (Joe Main) to Bush's (Dick Stickler). Should be able to find them in wiki.

One spent his life working on mine safety issues, the other ran (realitively) unsafe mines with accident rates triple the average.

Guess which is which!

Posted by: rat-raceparent | April 6, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Should add: this is why (one of the many reasons) liberals are wrong when they get frustrated on a particular issue (trade?) and say 'Well, there's no difference.'

There is a difference, despite the fact that corporate power also penetrats the liberal party sometimes. But, it fully owns the other one.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | April 6, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Let's hope this is where the real governance happens ...

Posted by: janinsanfran | April 6, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm dubious. DOL had about 100 enforcement actions nationwide last year. The penalties need to be increased as a deterrent, and there needs to be whistleblower laws like there are for financial fraud.

Posted by: bmull | April 6, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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