Umbrella Proposed for Labor Agencies


A new Cabinet-level labor agency that would coordinate the state's scattered enforcement, job-training and research efforts is likely to be functioning by mid-summer, according to state officials working on the organization plan.

The agency--proposed in various forms since 1980--would pull the Economic Development Department, the Department of Industrial Relations, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board and the Workforce Investment Board under one umbrella, said Steve Smith, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, whose staff helped write the proposal. They now report to separate arms of government, an arrangement long criticized for inefficiency and lack of accountability.

Gov. Gray Davis, who last year vetoed legislation calling for a similar consolidation, surprised many when he proposed the creation of a Labor and Workforce Development Agency this month in his State of the State address. In it, he portrayed the current system as "a $4.6-billion Goliath made up of 34 different programs in 13 different agencies."

Unlike last year's bill, the Davis plan would not pull the Fair Employment and Housing Department, which handles complaints of job discrimination, into the new agency.

Smith said final details are being worked out and that in about two weeks the proposal will be submitted for review by the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight group. It then will be forwarded to the state Legislature. Unless legislators move to stop it, which is considered unlikely, the reorganization will take effect 60 days later.

The new agency is expected to immediately improve cooperation between the the Economic Development Department and the Industrial Relations Department, which work on separate tracks in enforcement, training and research.

"When you find a violator, you often find somebody who violates laws across the board--unemployment insurance, taxes, minimum wage, workers comp," Smith said.

The change also will facilitate the sharing of data such as unemployment statistics and wage and hour violations, helping to target industries for training or development, he said.

Economic Development Director Michael Bernick said the move will eliminate some duplication of efforts. "The governor feels very strongly there is a need to maximize the use of this money, especially in these times. This will allow us to work more closely with the employer community, labor unions and other groups," he said.

Organized labor has favored such a consolidation for two decades. "We think it will bring better enforcement of wage and hour and workers' compensation and unemployment insurance laws, and we think it will bring about better coordination of training programs," said Tom Rankin, president of the California Labor Federation.

The California Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests in the state, has not taken a position on the consolidation, a spokeswoman said.

Several officials familiar with the plan said a far more difficult step will come when the agency attempts to consolidate state and federally funded job training and vocational education programs, now run by a hodgepodge of public and private groups. Davis' proposal calls for the Industrial Relations Department to eventually run all apprenticeship programs while California Community Colleges handles vocational and adult education programs.

FOR THE RECORD Los Angeles Times Sunday January 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction New labor agency--A story in Wednesday's Business section about a proposed new labor agency incorrectly referred to the name of an existing department. It is the Employment Development Department.
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