Thursday, April 10, 2003

Labor Demands PPE Payment Standard From OSHA

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), joined by eight additional labor organizations, filed a petition today with the Secretary of Labor to demand a rule within 60 days that mandates employer payment for personal protective equipment. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also joined in the request. This standard has been stalled at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three years.

Since its inception, it had been OSHA practice to require employers to pay for all Personal Protective Equipment such as gloves, boots, hearing protection and other protective equipment required by OSHA standards, although this requirement was not specifically written into OSHA's 1994 PPE revised standard.. The OSHA Review Board ruled in 1997 that OSHA could not require employer payment unless it was written into a standard. So, in 1999 OSHA proposed the "Payment for PPE Standard," took comments and held hearings.

As the petition states, "The rulemaking record overwhelmingly supported OSHA's determination that a rule was needed to clarify this issue and protect workers from the risks posed by their employer's failure to pay for protective equipment." In addition to testimony from unions, "NIOSH, the International Safety Equipment Association, the American Society of Safety Engineers, the State of Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, and many other groups all strongly supported the issuance of the rule. In addition, the rule was generally supported by a number of employer groups including Shell Offshore Inc., Southwestern Bell Telephone, Heavy Constructors Association of The Greater Kansas City Area, National Tank Truck Carriers, Inc. , the Mechanical-Electrical-Sheet Metal Alliance , and the American Trucking Association.

The standard was almost ready for publication when the Bush Administration came into office. It has lain dormant since and is now classified "Next Action Undetermined."

The petition points out that Latinos are particularly affected:
The situation at a non-union meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska, is a case in point. This plant has primarily a Hispanic workforce. The workers are required to wear rubber boots to reduce the risk of falling on slippery floors, but the employer deducts the cost of the boots from their paychecks. If the safety equipment workers wear to prevent knife cuts is lost or stolen, workers must pay for replacements. For some types of PPE, this company, like many others, furnishes only the first set of PPE, and after that, when the item is worn out, the worker must pay for its replacement. Workers faced with such policies frequently do not replace safety equipment when it wears out, because they cannot afford it or elect not to buy it. As a result, workers end up working with holes in their gloves, such that their hands are not protected from knife cuts, or wearing hearing protection that has lost its protective value due to wear.
Pointing to the Department's rhetoric about committing resources to Hispanic worker outreach and training, the letter states: "Rather than just promising more funding for outreach and education, the Department of Labor and OSHA Immigrant workers need more than outreach and education. They need protection."
Just as the OSH Act requires employers to pay for engineering controls, such as ventilation and mufflers to control noisy equipment, the Act requires that the employer pay for personal safety equipment such as safety goggles and protective gloves. There has never been any ambiguity about who pays for engineering and administrative controls, and nor should there be any question about payment for PPE. It would be totally contrary to the language and spirit of the OSH Act to permit employers to pass along the economic burden of safety controls to workers.
Other labor organizations signing the petition were: the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, UNA/American Nurses Association, Building Trades Department, AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, and the United Steel Workers of America.