Unions are set for an "extremely difficult" battle in Congress to save the CETA job-training program from becoming a casualty of President Reagan's budget slashing.
The administration has asked Congress to cut CETA -- the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act -- this year and to eliminate it entirely in 1982 by withdrawing $3.1 billion proposed for it in the final Carter administration budget.
The program was adopted seven years ago as part of President Nixon's "New Federalism" plan for drastic changes in the way federal aid would be allotted to local governments. The White House now is in the position of attacking a Republican program that was taken over as a liberal cause.
The administration sees CETA as "a $53 billion investment that hasn't worked, " says Assistant Secretary of Labor Albert Angrisani. Designed as a program to train those chronically unemployed and to help place them in jobs, CETA now is a massive program that provides little training, according to Mr. Angrisani.
Many local governments are abusing the program, he says, by using CETA funds to pay regular employees. Some 310,000 jobs will be involved if President Reagan moves to shut down CETA. According to Angrisani, it will be a shift from "direct government hiring and government-directed training toward greater involvement by the private sector."
As a start, thousands of CETA-paid public service employees have been laid off because federal subsidies for their jobs have been chopped. Others will be laid off as cutbacks continue, at a rate of about 47,500 a month.
Unless Congress turns down a proposal for ending CETA, heavy layoffs will take place next year. The White House expects at least 200,000 participants to apply for unemployment benefits by the end of the program.
To the AFL-CIO, the plan to drop the 300,000 or more workers under CETA programs "poses a severe threat to the quality and level of state and local public services and adds new pressures to the nation's already hard-pressed welfare and unemployment compensation systems."
Robert McGlotten, associate director of the labor federation's legislative activities, is warning Congress that "one-third of those in CETA public service jobs had previously been receiving other forms of public assistance" and "practically all of them will have to go back on welfare" if they lose CETA jobs.
In New York City, for example, 11,500 hold CETA jobs and may lose them by June 30 unless the city steps in with its own low funds.
The AFL-CIO's lobbying problems have been aggravated by the unfavorable publicity CETA has had through most of its years. The federation and its unions agree that the program badly needs tightening up to end abuses but they argue that it should not be shut down --another 300,000 people into the job market when 7.8 million are unemployed."
Although labor's leaders are extremely cautious about prospects for salvaging all or part of the CETA program, they say that union campaigning on a grass-roots level around the country has begun to have effects in Washington. According to Mr. McGlotten, "members of Congress say their mail is turning around. They are beginning to hear from back home how devastating CETA cuts will be to the communities. Up to now they've been afraid to a ttack the Reagan proposal. Perhaps they no longer will be."