Workforce Issues at Forefront of Secretary Acosta's 2018 Budget Hearing

By: Joey Williams, Intern, Government Relations and Public Affairs

Alexander Acosta Hearing. 2017. Washington, DC. Chicago Tribune. Web. 28 June 2017.

Tuesday morning, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies regarding the FY 2018 budget. While many of the Senators touched on the upcoming health care bill, workforce issues were the main topic of discussion.

In his opening statement, Acosta repeatedly mentioned the need for more “good jobs and safe jobs”. He said that nearly every district he talks to reports a “skills gap,” too many unfilled jobs to justify the unemployment numbers. While there are over 6 million job openings in the U.S., it is difficult to fill them because people don’t have the necessary abilities. Acosta believes that a key cause is that while the unemployment rate is relatively low, the labor participation rate drops every year. Young people’s hesitation to join the workforce makes them miss out on valuable experience to move up in their careers. Apprenticeships, “a solution that works across many industries,” can help shrink the skills gap. Acosta claimed that graduates of apprenticeship programs are more likely to find high paying jobs than college graduates.

Although the 2018 budget includes significant cuts, Acosta repeatedly emphasized that workforce issues are not being ignored. Work Protection Agencies, for example, will see their budgets increase. Becasuse so many small businesses have complained that government regulators seem eager to penalize them instead of help them, Compliance Assistance will receive more funding as well. Meanwhile, he believes that the key is to use resources “as efficiently and effectively as possible.” By carefully planning where to reduce funding, the administration can save taxpayer dollars and still protect workers’ interests. For example, although federal funding to apprenticeship programs is reduced, states will have more flexibility in choosing where to invest based on individual needs.

During questioning, Secretary Acosta answered questions on key franchising issues such as the overtime rule and joint employer. His overarching message was that the department is examining all federal regulations and making sure they are necessary. Early Tuesday morning, the DOL put out a request for info regarding the public’s opinion on the overtime rule. Once they receive that data, they will assess how to move forward. Regarding joint employer, Acosta reiterated that once Trump’s nominees for the NLRB go through, “that is an issue they will have to take up.”

As the FY 2018 budget moves forward, small businesses and franchises must be considered. Regulations that burden local business owners hurt our economy and our workforce. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta’s testimony on Tuesday morning provided hope that small businesses and workers will be prioritized, but there is far more work to be done.