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April 19, 2016

Lawmakers Have the Chance to Protect Working Virginians

Virginia’s legislators often like to appear tough on crime, yet they rejected funding to properly investigate certain types of crimes and violations that occur in the workplace. Legislators rejected funding that the governor recommended to address a backlog of wage violation claims and to conduct necessary health, safety, and youth employment inspections.

Workplace dangers are no relic of the past. In Virginia, there were 116 fatal injuries on the job in 2014. And there were 85,000 nonfatal occupational illnesses and injuries. Not all may have been preventable, but having a robust system of safety and health inspections to avoid the ones that are preventable would help Virginia’s workers do their jobs with confidence that someone is looking out for their best interests. Virginia is failing on that front because we don’t have enough agents to carry out the appropriate number of annual inspections.

In addition, wage laws are consistently under-enforced in this country. Workplace violations are severe and widespread, especially in jobs that pay little, and all too often there’s nobody interested in preventing or investigating these crimes. Here in Virginia, for a period the state completely defunded its Labor and Employment Law office. People with complaints of violations of state labor laws had almost nowhere to turn. The current situation isn’t quite that bad, but the office still doesn’t have enough officers to properly investigate all wage claims and child labor enforcement inspections. That causes long delays and sometimes nothing happens at all.

Despite the legislature’s rejection earlier this year of funding to address this situation, the governor is trying again in his proposed amendments to the conference budget to provide a modest increase in support for the state agency that enforces safety, health, and labor laws in Virginia. Adequate resources are available to make this adjustment. Legislators must choose during the reconvened session tomorrow whether to protect hard-working victims of workplace crimes and safety violations or reject this increase and turn a blind eye.

Economic Opportunity

Levi Goren

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