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.
Theres no safety or protection for employees in this bill. Its
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:
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 dont wear them, or
if in a tight space you put your head above the plume you are welding, you could be fined
After all, the employer says, its not my fault, its 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 months 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 hows 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? Youve 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.
OSHAs 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 workers 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 locals
political action committee and with Chris Townsend and the UE Washington Office to build
opposition to this bill. Dont let Congress fine workers, take away their rights and
cut back job safety protection in the workplace!
-> Heath & Safety Index ->
Home • About UE • Organize! • Independent Unions
• Search • Site Guide • What's New • Contact UE
UE News • Political Action • Info for Workers • Resources
• Education • Health & Safety • International • Links