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UE NEWS HEALTH AND SAFETY


Yet Another Major
Attack On OSHA

UE News, November, 1997

Congressional Republicans and a few Democrats are joining forces for a major new attack on OSHA and workers’ rights under OSHA. They are sponsoring a new bill, called the Safety Advancement for Employees Act (S 1237/HR 2579) — SAFE, get it — whose primary sponsors are Senators Enzi (R., N.Y.) and Gregg (R., N.H.) and Rep. Talent (R., Mo.). The SAFE bill was recently passed on a 10-8 party-line vote in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

There’s no safety or protection for employees in this bill. It’s just another "OSHA Deform" which anti-labor Republicans are trying to ram through Congress. The Clinton Administration has already expressed opposition to the bill. Here are just a few of the bad things this legislation would do:

WORKER FINES

  • For the first time, OSHA would be allowed to fine individual workers up to $500 for health and safety violations. For example, if an employer provides you with a cheap set of one-size-fits-all earplugs for a noisy job and you don’t wear them, or if in a tight space you put your head above the plume you are welding, you could be fined by OSHA.

After all, the employer says, it’s not my fault, it’s yours, and maybe the inspector believes him. And will the inspector talk to you before issuing a fine that could amount to as much as a month’s pay? Who knows?

  • Employers would now be excused from fines for many OSHA violations, even serious ones. They could just be issued a warning, without any fine. (Under present laws, employers cannot be warned but must be cited and fined for all violations, except for one category of so-called "de minimis" violations.)

  • Also, employers would be exempt from all civil penalties for two years if they hire an outside, third-party health and safety specialist to inspect the plant and write up a "health and safety audit." (Currently only state and federal OSHA inspectors can give a plant a clean bill of health.) And how’s this for a screaming conflict of interest: The company hires the third-party specialist. What is the chance that this person will bite the hand that feeds them by making a thorough plant walk-through and issuing a tough audit report? You’ve got to be kidding! The inspection process will become a race to the bottom — whoever can do the quickest, most flimsy audits will get the biggest share of employers’ health and safety money.

SLASHING WORKERS’ RIGHTS

  • The third-party audit reports would be confidential. Workers would have no right to see them. Even OSHA inspectors cannot review them during an inspection. (At present workers and their representatives have a right to see and copy all company health and safety studies and reports.)

  • Employers would be allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on workers. This bill specifically overrides ("pre-empts") all state and local protections of individuals when such testing is done.

  • Companies would now be allowed to organize so-called employee participation programs for health and safety. These would be — or would quickly become — company unions which employers would use to control workers and prevent the organization of real, worker-controlled unions. (Currently these are banned under the National Labor Relations Act.)

DELAYS AND OMISSIONS

  • All proposed OSHA standards would now have to be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. (Currently standards are reviewed by both the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration.) This move is expected to add one or two years to the already slow OSHA standard-setting process.

  • OSHA coverage would still not be extended to state and local government employees. Unfairly, they would still not be covered by federal OSHA, despite promises of coverage in the past, even by anti-labor Republicans.

  • OSHA’s enforcement budget would be effectively slashed by requiring OSHA to spend 15 percent of its budget on education and employer consultation.

  • OSHA would be required to respond to all small business requests for consultation assistance within four weeks.

  • At the same time, OSHA would be allowed to respond to worker complaints of violations by simply by calling the employer and receiving assurances that there is no problem. (Currently, if there appears to be a basis for the worker’s complaint, OSHA is required to conduct an inspection.)

WHAT TO DO

Write and visit your Senators and Representatives. Tell them to oppose (S 1237/HR 2579), the Safety Advancement for Employees Act. Work with your local’s political action committee and with Chris Townsend and the UE Washington Office to build opposition to this bill. Don’t let Congress fine workers, take away their rights and cut back job safety protection in the workplace!


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