Remember the 'Maine' --
But Don't Tell Anyone!
UE News, December 1996
In this December issue of the UE NEWS Id like to spread some
holiday cheer but its hard because Im feeling so damned angry at OSHA.
Remember last months column, when I wrote about the "Maine
200" programs? These are state programs in which OSHA forms partnerships with
companies having poor health and safety records for example, firms with high rates
of work injuries and illnesses, or high numbers of workers comp claims. These are
also called Cooperative Compliance Programs (CCPs).
As many unionists have said, and as I said, these programs dont make
good sense. They are just another way of letting bad companies with bad safety records off
So, I gave my UE brothers and sisters what I believed was good advice: If
your state has a "Maine 200" program, find out from OSHA whether your company is
part of that program. If it isnt, tell the company in no uncertain terms that the
union is against such programs, and urge the company not to join. If it is in the program,
insist that the union be notified of all program and other health and safety activities.
But since I wrote that UE NEWS column, I discovered the Catch 22
OSHA refuses to make public the lists of employers participating in these state
programs! So if you ask OSHA whether your company is part of your states "Maine
200" program, OSHA wont tell you!
This policy was revealed by OSHA Dir. Joseph Dear at a Sept. 13 meeting of
the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH). As reported in
the BNA Occupational Safety and Health Reporter of Sept. 18, Dear told NACOSH that
he is keeping lists of participating companies secret because OSHA is afraid that the
media might say these companies had a poor job safety record, or that they are "bad
actors." This would discourage company participation in the program, he said.
THE POLICY IS "NUTS!"
Of course this is exactly what workers and others will say about program
participants. If OSHA seeks out the worst companies to recruit into the program, people
will say these are the worst companies. Dear and OSHA should have figured this out a long
time ago, before starting a nationwide program. They should have listened to labors
objections about these programs but they didnt. So now that the programs are
under way, OSHA has to hide participation in them from the light of day! No wonder that
Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO health and safety director, has called this policy
Remember that in his Jan. 15, 1996 memo announcing the nationwide Maine
200 initiative, Dear said workers would be able to participate "in all phases"
of the programs. Then at the NACOSH meeting on Sept. 13, Dear said that while participant
lists wouldnt be made public, the process was not meant to be secret from workers or
unions. These statements just dont make sense.
Lets face it this secrecy is anti-worker, anti-union and
anti-public. I also believe that this policy is illegal, that it violates the federal
Freedom of Information Act. With workers and unions expressing their opposition to this
policy, and with a lawsuit against it on the horizon, I am confident that the policy will
be rolled back.
But more important than the policy itself is the attitude toward OSHA,
working people and corporations which it reveals. Ever since President Clintons
first press conferences in 1993 on Reinventing Government, before Joe Dear was even
nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Labor, it has been clear what the Presidents
OSHA policy is: Cozy up to business, cut down on inspections and try to reshape OSHA in a
After the November 1994 Congressional elections, these OSHA policies
became worse. Last year there were fewer OSHA inspections than at anytime in OSHAs
history, and average fines went down correspondingly. OSHA now emphasizes
"cooperative" programs in which OSHA takes the place of private consultants,
surveys plants for free, recommends remedies and then doesnt fine companies for the
violations observed. Now OSHA is specifically reaching out to "bad apple"
companies across the country and offering them OSHAs hand in cooperation. Workers
are simply left out of this process, OSHAs denials notwithstanding.
Working people, who in the main helped elect this President, have a right
to expect more health and safety protection from this Administration. They know that the
Administration has opposed OSHA and NIOSH destruction laws which anti-labor members of
Congress pushed for during the 104th, Gingrich session. And they know that similar, if
milder, measures against OSHA will be proposed again in the 105th Congress.
But health and safety protection, like health care, is a human right which
all working Americans deserve. We expect the Clinton Administration to stand together with
us on this, or else step aside.
One last thought for the end of 1996: Forget about OSHA for a while and
have a Happy Holiday Season!