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In Opposition of the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803)

Dear Representative:

The AFL-CIO urges you to oppose the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills" (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803), scheduled for floor consideration later this week.  The SKILLS Act will have major implications for the quality of services being delivered to Workforce Investment Act (WIA) eligible participants, as well as the overall accountability of the system to disadvantaged persons, dislocated workers, young people, and other populations whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the Great Recession and continued mass unemployment.

It must be the primary task of our nation's  workforce development system to respond to the economic challenges faced by different groups of unemployed, low-wage and disadvantaged workers, and to do so in a manner that preserves the integrity of the system and provides a voice for workers in the WIA system of workforce investment boards and American Job Centers. The SKILLS Act would move the workforce development system in the opposite direction. 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, make programs more vulnerable to funding cuts and pit one group of workers against another in competition for limited resources. It would inevitably lead to fewer services for dislocated workers and the degradation of services to Native Americans, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, ex-offenders, refugees, older Americans, disadvantaged youth in Job Corps centers, and other vulnerable groups.

•      Eliminate Wagner-Peyser Employment Services and ignore the fact that the Wagner­ Peyser system is charged with other duties that are only tangentially related to WIA, such as the certification of the use of foreign labor by employers, and the strong financial and structural relationship between the Employment Service and the State unemployment insurance systems. Financed primarily by the Federal UI trust fund, the Employment Service enforces the UI work test, a key feature of determining ongoing eligibility for UI benefits and, in times of high unemployment, states often reassign Employment Service workers to help with the legally complex function of processing UI claims.

•       Eliminate the mandate for labor representation on state and local boards, simply ignoring the need for a workforce development system that features balanced representation among all stakeholders who are currently involved in programs that strengthen our nation's workforce.

The future prosperity and well-being of our society depends upon creating good, family-sustaining jobs and maintaining a world-class workforce that is composed of healthy, highly skilled, and well-educated workers. To meet the challenges of a changing labor market in a globalized economy, our nation needs a cohesive national strategy that links substantial investment in job creation to an improved educational and training system. The SKILLS Act fails miserably in this task.

We instead urge you to support the more sensible Democratic alternative offered by Representatives Tierney, Hinojosa, and Miller. This substitute amendment would strengthen the existing system in a number of ways while maintaining the current programs and funding streams. It would modernize the federal workforce system by increasing its accountability, promoting innovation, and supporting strategic partnerships between employers and other stakeholders in regional economies.  The Democratic substitute would also help to ensure that more participants in the federal workforce system obtain access to the sort of training that will lead them into good jobs at family-sustaining wages.

For the above reasons, we ask that you oppose the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills" (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803) and in the alternative support the substitute amendment offered by Representatives Tierney, Hinojosa, and Miller.


William Samuel, Director
Government Affairs Department

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