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UE NEWS HEALTH AND SAFETY


Remember the 'Maine' --
But Don't Tell Anyone!

UE News, December 1996

In this December issue of the UE NEWS I’d like to spread some holiday cheer — but it’s hard because I’m feeling so damned angry at OSHA.

Remember last month’s 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 don’t make good sense. They are just another way of letting bad companies with bad safety records off the hook.

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 isn’t, 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 state’s "Maine 200" program, OSHA won’t 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 labor’s objections about these programs — but they didn’t. 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 "nuts."

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 wouldn’t be made public, the process was not meant to be secret from workers or unions. These statements just don’t make sense.

Let’s 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 Clinton’s 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 President’s OSHA policy is: Cozy up to business, cut down on inspections and try to reshape OSHA in a corporate image.

After the November 1994 Congressional elections, these OSHA policies became worse. Last year there were fewer OSHA inspections than at anytime in OSHA’s 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 doesn’t fine companies for the violations observed. Now OSHA is specifically reaching out to "bad apple" companies across the country and offering them OSHA’s hand in cooperation. Workers are simply left out of this process, OSHA’s 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!


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