Building Back Better At Last

Blog Post
Alex E. Proimos / Flickr
Oct. 29, 2021

Progress! We started Thursday morning with a 10-page Build Back Better (BBB) framework from the White House and ended the day with a 1684-page draft bill from the Congressional Democrats. And while it has been slow (and periodically maddening), the BBB bill is shaping up to be an historic investment in workers, children and young adults, climate change mitigation, and healthcare. While we are still not at the finish, it feels safe to say that the final version of BBB will include bold new investments in national and community service, workforce development, and worker protections. Below are few highlights:

  • Workforce Investments to Support Climate Resilience: Advocates for a Civilian Climate Corps successfully made their case. The bill directs over $15 billion to the Corporation for National and Community Service, including $7 billion to fund national service programs in support of climate resilience and mitigation. And that’s not all. The bill also directs $4 billion to the Department of Labor (DOL) for workforce development programs related to climate resilience and mitigation. YouthBuild and Job Corps could each receive an additional $450 million to create earn-learn programs for climate-friendly jobs for their participants. The Reentry Employment Opportunities program stands to get $1 billion to help returning citizens access high quality employment opportunities related to climate resilience. An additional $2.3 billion will go to expand Registered Apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and paid work-based learning programs in climate-friendly occupations. That’s a lot of new jobs and a generation of workers dedicated to tackling the impact of climate change in their communities.
  • Sectoral and Industry Partnerships: The draft bill includes a $5 billion discretionary grant program to support the development of sectoral and industry partnerships. For more than a decade, sectoral partnerships have proven to be one of the most effective workforce development strategies. The partnerships are anchored by a workforce intermediary – often a workforce board – that brings together a group of employers in a particular sector and region around a common set of talent development needs. The intermediary helps employers understand their skill needs – and the needs of the workers they want to hire and retain. The best partnerships address the need for living wages, internal career ladders, and other strategies to ensure “in-demand” jobs are also good jobs. But setting them up is both costly and time-consuming and replicating them is difficult. This grant program will provide some much-needed resources to do just that.
  • WIOA Programs and Registered Apprenticeship: Each arm of the public workforce system – Dislocated Workers, Adults, Youth, and Wagner-Peyser – are increased by 50 percent or more. The bill also doubles down on apprenticeship, directing $1 billion to DOL, with half ear-marked for grants to states and intermediaries and the other half focused on ensuring broader access to apprenticeship for individuals with barriers to employment. This is in addition to the funding for apprenticeships for climate jobs.
  • Worker Protections: The BBB bill also calls for some very important investments in the enforcement side of the Department of Labor, which will be critical for ensuring that workers have the protections to which they are entitled. The Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Wage and Hour Division, and the National Relations Board (NLRB) will each receive significant additional funding, which will allow them to hire more inspectors and investigate more cases. Even more important, the BBB bill substantially increases the penalties on employers that violate labor laws and, in the case of the National Labor Relations Act, introduces civil penalties for employers who violate the rights of worker to organize for purposes of collective action. This last change is a core element of the Protecting Our Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and would be a major victory for worker advocates. It would also help the workforce development do its job because it’s impossible to do good workforce development in a labor market in which workers rights are routinely violated and workers lack the ability to organize.

There is lots more in the bill, including important investments in direct care workers and strategies to improve their wages. More on that later. There also are some big gaps in the bill, chief among them the need for a federal paid leave program. And we’re still crossing our fingers for a significant investment in community college, particularly to support students in career education programs. Most importantly, it’s still a draft and there will be additions (and subtractions). That said, there is so much to celebrate in this bill. Now let’s get it across the finish line!

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