Workers Force Labor Department to Abandon Rule Endangering Teen Workers and Patients

Remainder of Fall Regulatory Agenda Continues Attacks on Workers

Washington, DC—With the release of the U.S. Labor Department’s Fall Regulatory Agenda this morning, workers and nursing home residents alike earned a major victory today as the Department has abandoned a controversial rule that would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to perform the most hazardous jobs in nursing homes—and one of the most hazardous jobs in the nation—without adult supervision and assistance. This action represents a bright spot in an otherwise bleak regulatory agenda for workers.

In 2018, the Labor Department proposed a rule to roll back the current policy prohibiting young workers (age 16 and 17) from operating powered patient lifting devices unless they are properly trained and are using such devices in tandem with a worker who is 18 or older.

“The Labor Department finally heard our demand to withdraw this proposal,” said Debbie Berkowitz, program director for worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project. “Even with their efforts to hide information about this dangerous and unpopular rule, they couldn’t overcome the workers and patient advocates who came together to stop it.”

Despite the fact that the nursing home industry has the highest injury rates of any industry in the United States, the Labor Department provided little evidence or risk analysis to justify the new rule—and what it did provide turned out to be based on an inaccurate reading of what advocates discovered was a seven-year-old, 22-respondent Survey Monkey poll of vocational programs in Massachusetts.

The rule was notably met with intense opposition from not only workers and their representatives but also nursing home residents and their advocates. Nationwide polling results suggested that 78 percent of respondents opposed rolling back this protection, with strong opposition across demographic groups, regions, and political affiliations.

Allowing 16- and 17-year-old nursing assistants to operate mechanical lifts without adult assistance would have led to more instances of painful and potentially debilitating injuries to young nursing home workers, who lack sufficient experience and training to handle the challenging task of lifting and moving residents with complex physical and mental disabilities. The proposal also revealed reckless disregard for nursing home residents who have disabilities or who are older, who would be at increased risk of falls and other traumas.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the Fall Regulatory Agenda is more of the same for workers, with the Trump Administration continuing its relentless march toward undermining workers’ rights to receive the wages they are owed, to be safe on the job, and to be able to afford a secure retirement.

“For a president who promised in his inaugural speech that every decision he made would be to benefit our nation’s workers, the Labor Department’s Fall Regulatory Agenda is just another in a long string of broken promises to working people,” said Judy Conti, NELP’s government affairs director.


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