Training law ‘good news,’ but more needed

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 29, 2015) — In a rare display of bipartisan cooperation, the U.S. Congress has approved and last week President Obama signed new legislation governing federal workforce development, including provisions that the AFL-CIO reports will increase the voice of workers in the system.

The House passed (415–6) the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) July 9. The act was based upon earlier Senate legislation (S. 1356), sponsored by our own Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), which was a product of intensive negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders. The president signed it into law on July 22 and declared, “this is not a win for Democrats or Republicans; it is a win for American workers.”

WIOA reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which has established a network of some 2,500 American Job Centers across the country and offers job training services to adults, youth, dislocated workers and other groups.

From the perspective of workers and their unions, the AFL-CIO says WIOA offers notable improvements in the system’s governance bodies and innovations that potentially offer greater guidance to workers in achieving their career goals. As reported at AFL-CIO Now:

The decentralized (and chronically underfunded) federal workforce system is operated by a network of state and local Workforce Development Boards. Under current law and regulations, each state and local board is required to have two labor representatives nominated by labor councils and appointed by chief elected officials. The new legislation increases labor representation to 20% of the members of state and local board members, with that category including a representative from a joint apprenticeship program. This change will increase the capacity of labor to monitor the expenditure of funds and help to ensure program quality.

Bill Messenger and Caitlyn Jekel, WIA Liaisons for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, applauded the WIOA’s signing, but said more must be done:

We are encouraged to see this dysfunctional Congress demonstrate their support of laid-off workers. We only hope this act of bipartisanship will continue when Trade Adjustment Assistance reauthorization is brought before them as well. With both programs operating in conjunction, Washington state has been able to offer the services necessary for workers to gain reemployment in family-wage jobs. Passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, while good news, is only half of the story. We look forward to continued collaboration as Congress completes the task of ensuring a fully funded system.

Unless Congress acts, funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program will end Dec. 31, 2014. The TAA program offers enhanced unemployment benefits and job training opportunities to help families survive job losses due to offshore outsourcing or foreign competition. If TAA expires, tens of thousands of families could be left in the lurch, unable to pay their bills and for the training that could lead to a new job. Learn more a

For more information, the National Skills Coalition has prepared a detailed comparison of WIOA with current law. In “Congress rewrites jobs training law,” Maggie Severns of explains some of the history and political motivations behind Republican and Democratic support for the compromise legislation.

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