AFL-CIO Executive Council statement, August 05, 2008

CHICAGO – For nearly eight years, the Bush administration has failed to protect the health and safety of America’s workers. Within weeks of taking office in 2001, President Bush supported and signed legislation repealing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics standard—a rule that was 10 years in the making and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of serious injuries each year. Driven by an intense anti-regulatory ideology (except when it comes to imposing new onerous and intrusive regulatory burdens on labor organizations and their representatives), the administration has withdrawn dozens of worker protection rules that were under development and has failed to issue new health and safety rules on serious hazards such as silica, diacetyl and crane safety. During its entire tenure, the administration has issued only two major OSHA rules, and only as a result of union lawsuits. Employers have gotten the message. In far too many workplaces, worker health and safety is given short shrift, as we have seen in tragedies such as those at the Sago Mine, BP, Crandall Canyon and Imperial Sugar, as well as the continuing fatalities from collapsing cranes, falls, explosions, occupational disease and other hazards.

Apparently, eight years of harmful neglect are not enough for the political ideologues at the Department of Labor. Now, in a last-minute action, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao’s political operatives are moving quickly and secretly to adopt a rule to tie the hands of future administrations and cripple their ability to adopt new rules to protect the health and well-being of America’s workers. On July 7, 2008—without any prior notice to the public, and in violation of the Bush administration’s own policy of not issuing new proposals after June 1, 2008—the Department of Labor sent a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. The proposal, which was developed by political operatives and not experts within OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), would dictate changes in the way OSHA and MSHA assess the risks posed by workplace hazards, and would erect new procedural hurdles for adopting new regulations in the future to protect workers from these hazards. The public outcry from unions, worker safety and public health advocates, leaders in Congress including Rep. George Miller and Sen. Edward Kennedy, scientists and others has been swift, and it is growing as this secret last-minute action gains more attention.

This administration has done enough damage to worker safety and health. The Bush administration should withdraw this secret rule. If it does not, Congress must act to stop this cynical midnight regulation.