The U.S. Department of Labor plans to hire 670 investigators next year to beef up enforcement of laws that protect workers from everything from unsafe working conditions to unfair wage practices.

“We’ll begin to restore worker protection programs after years of decline,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would receive a 10 percent funding increase under the department’s 2010 budget proposal. Some of that money would be used to hire 160 new compliance officers, many of whom would be bilingual. OSHA also would boost its regulatory staff “to meet the complex safety and health threats in today’s workplace,” according to its budget proposal.

Around 200 investigators would be added to the department’s Wage and Hour Division. Staffing also would be ramped up for the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which makes sure federal contractors do not discriminate against minorities.

The proposed budget would reduce funding for the Office of Labor Management Standards, which oversees financial reporting and administrative practices of labor unions.

“It seems the secretary wants to ensure a lack of transparency and oversight of union finances, and that is a direction we vigorously oppose,” said Jerry Gorski, chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors.

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