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Comparing the responsibilities and authority of the Department of Labor against rules and regulations

Updated on April 22, 2015


The mission of the Department of Labor and the entities within it are:

“To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”

The work of this government entity is important to every citizen who works or wishes to work. The responsibilities given it through legislation are critical to protect workers and employers from actions which could be deemed unfair labor actions. The laws generated also impose limitations on what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can legally do in taking action with regards to state legislation. No government entity has jurisdiction or authority to impact legislation or even amendments to state constitutions yet the NLRB has recently taken action by requesting legal briefs in states that have passed right to work legislation.

The National Labor Relations Act in protecting employees address unfair labor actions and specifically place the authority to the states in deciding whether to decide if the right to work philosophy is appropriate for their respective state. Many have passed such legislation. In fact 25 states have enacted this philosophy and some have even amended their constitution in making this decision.

The Taft-Hartley Act allows states to pass right to work laws that outlawed closed union shops. Closed union shops were union security clauses which required employers to hire only labor union members. This act is still in force and the recent action of the National Labor Relations Board in the Department of Labor made a decision to call for briefs in briefs in right-to-work states. Calling for briefs is one thing but this government entity with all of its organizations cannot cancel federal law with its rules and regulations.

Under the NLRA, it is illegal for a union or for the union that represents you in bargaining with your employer to: Threaten you that you will lose your job unless you support the union.

In states without a right-to-work law, employees may be required to join a labor union if it represents workers at their place of employment. Those who refuse to join the union may still be required to pay for the costs of representation, since they profit from the union’s efforts in negotiating wages and benefits on behalf of all employees. Such “fair share” payments are often equivalent to the cost of union dues

I discovered one interesting point about this action is that all the states except for one that have right-to-work laws are run by Republican governors. Whether this is a political move or not the appearance of this action projects the conclusion that it is. The main purpose of any government entity is to enforce the laws associated with those they are entrusted.

The Department of Labor has established specific goals which address their responsibilities and in examining them we see the importance of this government entity. There are five basic goals the first of which is to prepare workers for better jobs. There are three basic sub elements of this goal the first of which is provided below:

“Strategic Objective 1.1 Advance employment opportunities for US workers in 21st century demand sectors and occupations using proven training models through increased employer engagement and partnerships”

This sub element points to critical involvement of this entity and specifically the NLRB of establishing training models through partnerships with employers to better prepare workers for the jobs of tomorrow. The job market of today and into the future will be different than in the past. New technology is continuing to be developed which requires different skills. This is not meant to imply that trade skills are going away because they are not. We will always need plumbers and electricians to name a couple.

A second sub element talks about providing marketable skills and knowledge in an effort to increase income of workers and to help them overcome barriers to the middle class. The specific language is noted below:

“Strategic Objective 1.2 Provide marketable skills and knowledge to increase workers’ incomes and help them overcome barriers to the middle class through partnerships among business, education, labor, community organizations and the workforce system”

As you can see there is another aspect of the overall goal in this executive department pointing to partnerships in business, education, labor and community organizations. This focus is good but only if the right approaches are taken. This involves creating an environment of cooperation rather than dictating what should be done. Government today is more of a dictating requirement rather than cooperation. This culture will need to change if cooperation as identified in this sub element will be successful. The last sub element of this goal involves acceptable work conditions, livelihoods and the world’s vulnerable populations in addition to advancing workers’ rights. Workers’ are an important mission of this department and specifically the NLRB.

We must not forget that we as employees of any business or organization that we have certain rights not only in relation to our constitutional rights but rights as employees. In addition employers also have certain rights. The key is to have a good balance between the rights of both parties in a work environment. There are many laws and regulations generated to protecting the interest of all parties in a work environment. In achieving this balance there needs to be some evaluation between what the laws require and the rules and regulations created by this government entity.

There are three additional goals of this department all of them associated with protecting the rights of workers. These involve not only the workers themselves but the environment in which they work. Secure safe and healthy workplace environment is a responsibility employers must provide. In additions workers have the right to have secure wages and be paid overtime if such requirements are necessary along with narrowing wage and income inequality. Individuals whether they are a man or woman should make no difference if they are doing the same job, they deserve the same pay.

Another goal of this entity refers to ensuring retirement security for all workers for organizations which have a retirement income benefit for their employees. Improving health benefits is something which does not necessarily fall within this government entity but any effort to improve health benefits is a positive objective. Such objective cannot be achieved through rules and regulations under this department. Improving health benefits falls under the responsibility of Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The last goal talks about data which all government entities collect for their respective responsibilities. The accuracy and integrity of this information is critical if it is to be used in making decisions not only by this department but Congress. The goal is to provide impartial information on labor market activity, working conditions, price changes and supporting the formulation of economic and social policy affecting all Americans. Today the data which comes from all government entities has been questionable with regards to the conclusions made. In some cases the information reported appears to be politically motivated to show positive trends rather than negative. This may not necessarily be the case in every case but Americans deserve to have reliable and complete information. Negative results of data should require any government entity to make suggestions to Congress if appropriate but this is not always the cause. Rules and regulations can have a negative impact on the economy. Departments have specific responsibilities but their actions should not be one of overbearing regulation. This too often has been the case not only with government entities but government in general. This can be the result of political policy not necessarily the laws in place.


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