WASHINGTON (FNS) -- A reform of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration backed by the grocery industry has been called "cruel and regressive" by the AFL-CIO.
The measure, introduced by Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., has been touted as a way to streamline excessive OSHA regulations and transform the agency into one that advises employers instead of penalizing them. It is supported by members of the National Grocers Association, Falls Church, Va., and the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association, Reston, Va., who lobbied here on behalf of the newly-introduced bill last month.
The bill is intended to encourage employers to market internal safety and health audits without penalty from OSHA, and allow them to avoid fines if they can prove that alternative safety standards being used were equal or more effective than those required by OSHA. It also would give employers time to rectify safety violations before being fined.
But despite industry backing of the reform, Thomas Donahue, AFL-CIO secretary and treasurer, warned it is "a proposal to tear apart virtually all the worker safety and health protections that have been put in place over the past 25 years."
Speaking during a recent congressional hearing, Donahue said the measure "presumes employers will act responsibly on their own, without government oversight or intervention, in the best interests of workers, despite a long history demonstrating this not to be the case for many employers."
Donahue criticized the bill on several fronts: he said that OSHA could enforce the law only where a worker had been killed or seriously injured; OSHA would be turned into a consultant to employers rather than a protector of workers; employers could set up committees dealing with safety and health matters and other issues currently subject to collective bargaining, which would undermine the right of unions; and it would prohibit workers from requesting an OSHA inspection without first going to their employer.
The bill, according to Donahue, also would exempt many employers from safety and health inspections and establishes no oversight of the exemptions; and it would make it impossible to set standards for new or inadequately regulated hazards. The bill also would destroy the system for collecting complete data and statistics on workplace injuries and illnesses.
"This legislation is not in the interest of the workers or the nation," Donahue said. "If enacted it will add to the already high toll of injuries and diseases being borne by America's workers."