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State labor department nonsense, not needed

As I See It

The Mississippi Legislature is back in session, and that means that the push for creating a state labor department is making news — again.

We hear the hue and cry that our state needs a labor department to prevent us from losing federal workforce training dollars. Though the legislation does not seem to have the requisite support for serious consideration in this year’s session, we need to kill this beast and never hear about it again.

This issue is really more complex than it appears. Is Mississippi losing federal workforce training dollars? Yes. Is it because we don’t have a labor department in our state government? No.

Mississippi is losing federal workforce training dollars because we negotiated a faulty contract with the federal Department of Labor when the Workforce Investment Act was passed several years ago. The compliance guidelines that we ourselves proposed to the Department of Labor are untenable. For example, they require that any worker receiving training at federal expense be awarded a pay increase of $3,200 per year within six months of completing training. That amounts to $1.57 per hour, and for many workers, would be a 30% pay raise.

Highly unlikely.

Additionally, the federal rules seem to require training tailored to the individual rather than training groups of people. If 30 welders are needed at a particular company, under state rules, a training class can be organized and the group trained and put to work. However, under federal rules, each person must be subjected to extensive evaluation and a custom tailored training program devised. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and no welding is getting done. The administrative burden and overall ineptness of the federal program is awesome.

The good news is that we get to renegotiate our federal contract provisions periodically. Fortunately, the opportunity for renegotiation has arrived. The Mississippi Development Authority is diligently working to change the most onerous provisions of the compliance rules so that we can better access the federal workforce dollars here in Mississippi. That is the solution to the problem of losing federal workforce training funds.

Having said all of that, what has it got to do with a labor department? Not a thing.

What’s behind this push for creating a state labor department? The real reason? Politics. It’s just that simple, and what’s troubling is that too many elected officials, legislators, union organizers and Democratic Party leaders aren’t willing to admit that’s what this issue is: politics.

Once again, Mississippi is losing federal workforce training money because we don’t have a state labor department.

Let’s see what some other folks who should have a handle on the issue have to say about it:

• “Because of the strength of the Mississippi congressional delegation, we are frequently getting complaints from others around the country that an unfair amount of federal dollars for workforce training and development is being made available to the state,” said Lee Youngblood, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss).

• “I am not aware of any statutory or regulatory requirement that states have a department of labor in order to receive funds. I have also consulted with DOL’s Office of the Solicitor on this issue, and they inform me that to the best of their knowledge, funding to states has nothing to do with whatever name a state agency has. In general, states have to meet a variety of requirements to receive funds, but the actual name of the agency is not a factor,” said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss).

• And then, directly from the U.S. Department of Labor: “I am unaware of any federally appropriated workforce program/service dollars that are allocated to the states in relation to the organization of the state government, i.e., the number, size or configuration of state agencies involved in the program administration/service delivery,” said Emily S. DeRocco, assistant secretary of employment and training administration for the U.S. Department of Labor. Martin Bishop, special assistant to DeRocco, said nothing about how the state government organization affects the amount of money that is funneled to the states for any of the workforce funds and that the structure of services within a state has nothing to do with allocated funds.

There you have it.

Unless the Democratic politicians in Mississippi are aware of something that has escaped our two senators and the U.S. Department of Labor, this whole issue of a labor department is pure politics.

Let’s put politics aside for awhile and concentrate on getting Mississippi’s workforce trained instead of placating a vocal special interest group.

Thought for the Moment — Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one.

— NFL great Walter Payton (1954-1999)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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