Thursday, October 20, 2005

OSHA: Failure to Communicate?

For those of use "old timers" who have toiled on workplace safety and health issues through the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, and now George Bush II, there have been two notable differences in this Republican administration -- virtually no new major health and safety standards, and a deliberate public effort to ignore labor unions as much as possible.

So it was no surprise to anyone who follows these issues when AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg Seminario told Inside OSHA (subscription required) that the AFL-CIO
wants assurances that Edwin Foulke, if confirmed as the new head of OSHA, will reopen the agency’s doors to unions, which AFL-CIO says have been shut by OSHA under the Bush administration. The labor group’s trepidation is not Foulke’s history but what it says are Department of Labor chief Elaine Chao’s orders that OSHA not speak or deal with AFL-CIO.
No surprise to anyone, that is, except apparently OSHA's Public Affairs office. In response to Seminario's statement, and OSHA spokesperson told Inside OSHA
"That’s ridiculous. We continue to work with every union that wants to work with us on health and safety issues, and have created more health and safety partnerships with unions than any other Administration. That includes affiliates from both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition. We also recently announced over $5 million to partner with unions to provide critical health and safety training for workers who are engaged in disaster response, clean-up and rebuilding activities in the hurricane-impacted Gulf States region."
Well, not quite. There are far too many examples to name where this administration has gone out of its way to deal labor out of the card game, but just to name two: OSHA's National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, established after the Bush administration repealed the ergonomics standard, was the first advisory committee in OSHA's history that did not mandate an equal number of labor and management representatives. Second, at its first opportunity, OSHA removed Seminario from its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety & Health, a bit like holding a business summit without inviting the Chamber of Commerce. And OSHA has frequently rebuffed the AFL-CIO's requests to confer on a number of subjects.

Regarding the recently awarded training grants, actuallya little over half of the $5 million went to unions (but who's counting?), and who else are they going to give money to? The construction unions are some of the few non-profit organizations in the country that can must an adequate number of skilled workers to address a problem as big as the Gulf hurricanes.

Oh, and this is the same worker training program that the Bush administration is trying to eliminate in next year's budget.

Ridiculous, indeed.