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Republicans Push Corporate Takeover of Public Job Training System

In yet another move to put power in the hands of the 1 percent, House Republicans have introduced legislation to hand over the nation’s publicly-administered job training and workforce development system to the corporate sector.

Their bill, the “Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012” (H.R. 4297), would impose a new requirement that two-thirds of the state and local boards, which govern the job training system, be selected from private-sector businesses and corporations. The legislation would overturn legal mandates that the boards include at least two worker representatives nominated by unions and labor federations. The bill also eliminates the requirement that labor organizations have the opportunity to comment on the state and local plans that outline the services.

The details of this drive for a corporate takeover of the system will be spotlighted today when the House Education and the Workforce Committee holds a hearing on the Republican bill.

The move comes as Congress takes up reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), the federal law that authorizes funding for a national network of some 2,800 One-Stop Career Centers in local areas. These centers served 9.8 million dislocated workers, disadvantaged persons and unemployed workers between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2011. The Republicans’ bill would consolidate 27 job training programs and allow governors to cut programs that serve dislocated workers, seniors, farmworkers, Native Americans, young persons in the Jobs Corps and unemployed workers who receive career counseling through the Employment Services. It also would reduce the amount of job training services delivered to low-income individuals.

In a letter sent to members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, labor organizations declared their opposition to H.R. 4297 because it would:

consolidate categorical programs and combine funding streams into a single Workforce Investment Fund that would give states wide discretion to pick and choose eligible groups of participants according to the ideological predispositions of their governors. Such consolidation of WIA programs would eliminate the targeting of resources to workers and communities where the needs are greatest. In turn, a single fund of this type would make programs more vulnerable to funding cuts and pit one group of workers against another in competition for limited resources....Such consolidation of funding streams will undermine the accountability of the entire WIA system, enabling states to manipulate their resources in a manner that will result in the neglect of populations with the greatest needs.

The letter was signed by 11 union organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the building trades, other AFL-CIO affiliates, the National Education Association and SEIU.

Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee have introduced an alternative bill that would maintain the customized programs for different categories of participants and retain balanced representation of labor, business, community organizations and education on state and local boards. “Our bill will expand opportunities for workers, support businesses, promote innovation, improve accountability and assist with our country’s economic recovery,” wrote Rep. John Tierney, one of the sponsors of H.R. 4227, in a Boston Globe opinion column. He continued:

The Workforce Investment Act of 2012 is driven by three core principles: streamlining and coordinating programs, strengthening accountability and promoting innovation. The bill will help cut the red tape, establish competitive grant programs to support innovative new strategies, expand the role of community colleges, involve more businesses and partnership, and increase the use of on-the-job training, transitional jobs and paid work experience so that individuals can enter or re-enter the labor market more quickly.

The National Skills Coalition has produced a summary and chart with details of the $6.6 billion in programs that would be consolidated by the Republican bill.

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