Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Blue America: Day 1

Well, that couldn't have gone much better now, could it? First time since '98 I've waken on election eve morning without feeling like going back to sleep for the next two years.

And, of course, although the pundits and prognosticators missed it totally, we know that the Democratic victory was all due to the workplace safety and health vote.

But seriously, with Democrats controlling both the Senate and the House of Representatives, we have some major opportunities, if not to actually pass legislation into law (there's still that guy in the White House for another couple of years), but we can:

Introduce and get votes on legislation in both houses of Congress

When Republicans controlled the House, it was impossible for Democrats even to get a vote on their legislation. Now, even if bills won't get signed by the President, legislators will have to go on record -- for or against workplace safety. And come next election, we have the opportunity to ask the Congresman from Dowsanto why he voted for killing workers.

So what kind of workplace safety bills do we want to see on the agenda? I'll start with a few. How about legislation that:

  • Raises OSHA penalties, enables prosecutors to charge employers who kill after willfully violating the law with felonies that might actually end up with prison time.

  • Provides full OSHA coverage for public employees.

  • Requires OSHA to issue overdue standards like the standard that would require employers to pay for workers' personal protective equipment, a standard to protect workers against avian flu, a beryllium and silica standard, a popcorn lung emergency standard, a revision of the Process Safety Management standard to add reactive chemicals, etc., etc., etc.

  • Appropriations: Increase OSHA's budget for enforcement and worker training grants.

Hold Oversight Hearings

It's the responsibility of Congress to oversee the operation of our government. Are taxpayer dollars being well used? Are laws being enforced? Are agencies doing what Congress intended them to do when they were created. What kind of Congressional oversight hearings would we like to see? OK, I'll start again. How about hearings that look into:

  • OSHA's surrender of its standard-making authority. The agency has only issued one major standard in the past six years, and that was under court order. A standard requiring employers to pay of personal protective equipment has been lying around OSHA since the Clinton Administration.

  • The effectiveness of OSHA's Alliances, Voluntary Protection Programs and other voluntary programs that are eating up a growing percentage of OSHA pathetically small budget. In 2004, the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that there is no evidence that these programs are effective. What has OSHA done in response? Expanded the programs.

  • Where OSHA's training grant money is going. Unions have almost been shut out of receiving any new grants.

  • The fact that the vast majority of OSHA's chemical standards are over 35 years old.

  • What OSHA is doing about popcorn lung?

  • The BP Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 180 last year. What does it mean for the safety of refineries and chemical plants?

These are very short lists, and I'm tired. So I'm turning it over to you. It's our Congress now. What should we do with it. (use the comments below)

Oh, and one more thing. Richard Stickler (recently put into office as head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration on a one-year recess appointment) -- I wouldn't sign any long term leases.