In its editorial “As Trump retreats, Mass. steps up” (Sept. 14), the Globe recognizes a number of laudable worker protection initiatives Attorney General Maura Healey has implemented. But the editorial also suggests that the federal government has effectively disappeared from the worker protection enforcement landscape. This simply isn’t so.
The US Labor Department’s critical mission includes the civil and criminal enforcement of federal worker protection statutes that require, among other things, payment of the minimum wage and overtime, a safe and healthy workplace, and vigilance in guarding workers’ hard-earned pensions. Without question, priorities and strategies for how to ensure that these laws are complied with vary, sometimes widely, from one administration to another, whether Republican or Democratic.
In that regard, it’s worth recalling that Ronald Reagan asserted in his 1981 inauguration speech that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And yet, when his labor secretary saw that relaxed enforcement of worker safety and health rules had resulted in unscrupulous employers under-reporting injuries and illnesses that might have triggered an inspection, he implemented a policy that increased penalties for such intentional violations far above what they had been before.
Our current secretary, R. Alexander Acosta, has stated his commitment to fully enforce worker protection laws, and my office is proceeding to fulfill its mission consistent with that affirmation. Workers have a right to expect that the laws passed by Congress to protect them will be fairly and effectively enforced by the department charged with that responsibility, regardless of the party in power. And law-abiding businesses equally have a right to demand that they not be placed at a competitive disadvantage when less scrupulous employers undercut them, by paying less than the wages the law requires, or by skimping on safety.