Thursday, March 16, 2006

Senate Confirms Foulke: An Open Letter To the New Assistant Secretary for OSHA

The Senate confirmed Edwin G. Foulke as Assistant Secretary of Labor For Occupational Safety and Health Monday. Foulke, formerly chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, comes from a law firm well known in union-busting circles, where he has spent most of his career representing management in workplace safety and health cases. Nevertheless,
he told the Senate committee reviewing his nomination in January that he could protect workers as OSHA's new leader.

"As head of OSHA," he said, "I understand that I will be ultimately responsible for helping to ensure as much as possible that every employee in the United States works in a safe and healthy workplace."
We'll see.


Dear Assistant Secretary Foulke:

Congratulations on your appointment to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It's an enormous responsibility, as I'm sure you are aware: you literally hold the lives and health of thousands of American workers in your hands. Don't screw it up.

I'm sure you're not happy that I've previously characterized you as a union-busting Republican political operative whose fundraising and party leadership skills have finally paid off. And you may not be happy about my prediction that your administration will be (yawn) a continuation of the same tired, ineffective, moribund, anti-worker programs that have succeed in making OSHA almost totally irrelevant to workplace safety in this country.

On the other hand, I'm sure, in the wee hours of night, as you lie awake in bed, wondering what the next three years hold, you're also asking yourself what contribution you can possibly make to humanity by heading up an agency that has been castrated by the President at whose pleasure you serve.

Well Ed, here's your chance to put your money where your silver-toungued mouth is. For a short period of time, you have an opportunity to take a number of giant steps to protect workers, defend your manhood, and, most important of all, do what both John Henshaw and Jonathan Snare have spent countless hours fantacizing about: you can make a complete fool out of me.

Here's how.

You can show the Mayberry Machiavellis at the White House, and those wet-behind-the-ears, know-it-all, young Republicans who are actually running this country that that you’ve got balls, cajones, that you’re no Brownie, that all that B.S. you were spewing at your confirmation hearing about how OSHA’s biggest challenge is to cater to small business was just a bunch of confirmation claptrap intended to warm the cockles of Senator Enzi’s heart.

OK, here's your 100 day agenda:

  • Issue the "Payment for Personal Protective Equipment" standard. The standard has been languishing at OSHA since the end of the Clinton Administration. Explain that if anyone is going to take seriously OSHA's efforts to reach out to Hispanic workers, the first step must be to ensure that employers pay for their boots, gloves and other equipment.

  • Issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a standard to protect health care workers against a flu pandemic. Show you’re serous about ensuring that this country is ready for a flu pandemic by safeguarding the health of our caregivers

  • Propose legislation calling for increased criminal penalties and higher fines. Yes, maybe most employers may take safety seriously, but there are still far too many in this country who continue to knowingly and willfully cut corners and kill workers. Their only punishment is a relatively insiginificant fine, considering that they killed someones' father, mother, son or daughter. Only the certainty of high fines and jail terms will stop them from considering violations, injuries, illnesses and fatalities to be an acceptable risk. (Spend a few hours reading Confined Space, and then tell me you don't agree...)
  • Launch a serious and sustained effort to update the OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limit for chemicals. Hundreds of chemicals are regulated by OSHA based on science from the 1950's and 1960's, making the agency a laughing stock, and exposing workers to thousands of hazardous chemicals.
  • Fill the empty labor-liaison positions in the field. Due to deaths and retirements, fewer than half of the OSHA Regional offices have labor liaisons. None of the empty positions have been filled. If you really want to know what goes on in American workplaces, you need people that workers will trust.
  • Announce that you are launching a review of the recently issued Hexavalent Chromium standard. New information has surfaced that the chromium industry hid important studies showing lung cancer at very low exposure levels, and there are numerous other flaws in the standard. Basically, the thing's a piece of shit, but you have a chance to blame it on someone else -- if you act fast.

  • Announce that you are launching a serious review of OSHA's voluntary Programs, based on the 2004 Government Accountability Office report that showed there was no evidence that the programs were effective. Oh, and while you're at it, get rid of that idiotic alliance program. Admit that it's just a rather unsuccessful public relations ploy to hide the fact that OSHA has gone out of the standard setting business.
Do these things and not only will you have made a name for yourself in workplace safety, but I'll eat crow, because right now, I don't think you really get what's going on in this country's workplaces. And even if you do, I don't think you have the balls to do anything about it.

So, come on, Ed, prove me wrong. What do you have to lose but your irrelevance? You’ll never have more political capital than you have now. They can’t fire an Assistant Secretary the month after he’s confirmed. What are they going to do, send you on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney? Dude, You’ve got ‘em by the balls. Now, squeeze.

Good luck. You'll need it.


Jordan Barab
Blogger, Confined Space.

P.S. I'm sure many of my readers have other suggestions. Check the comments below.