WASHINGTON -- Food industry leaders last week applauded Congress for voting to scrap the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics regulations.
The victory followed months of lobbying by national and local industry groups.
The Senate voted 56-44, while the House voted 222-198 to overturn the OSHA rules.
Although the Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, six Democratic senators joined all 50 Republicans in supporting the GOP-backed resolution, a major issue in President Bush's campaign.
Bush stated prior to the votes that he would sign the measure into law, effectively killing the regulations issued by the Clinton administration.
Also before the Congressional action, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said she will pursue her own comprehensive set of rules on ergonomics.
In a letter to the chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Chao wrote she will include in her approach new rulemaking that she hopes will satisfy the major concerns levied against the OSHA rules.
"This approach will provide employers with achievable measures that protect employees before injuries occur," Chao wrote.
In the days leading up to the vote, food industry groups were active in getting their message to the Senate.
The Food Marketing Institute here distributed frozen turkeys to legislators to illustrate what a "turkey" the OSHA rules were. The FMI pointed out that one of the new rules said grocery bags could weigh no more than 15 pounds, which would cause problems when a customer purchased a 20-pound turkey.
John Motley, senior vice president, government affairs at FMI, said the association "pulled out every plug" in lobbying the Senate to vote promptly on the issue, and that FMI and the state associations were actively engaged in helping to overturn the ruling.
"We didn't want to give organized labor any time to waver some of the votes," Motley said.
Motley also told SN he is confident that it will take years before any new ergonomics rulings are introduced to Congress. "It's like resetting a clock, since the new rules cannot look anything like this turkey," Motley said.
Kevin Burke, vice president, governmental affairs, Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., said, "This regulation was unreasonable in its approach and unfounded as to its cause.
"Certainly, our members want -- and do -- provide a safe workplace. They work with safety efforts and their insurance companies to make sure that happens.
"What is not needed, and what is counterproductive, is for the government to insert itself in a process about which it has very little sound information."
Burke also commended the industry groups for working together to influence the House and Senate.
During the FDI annual business conference in Orlando, Fla., early last week, Rep. Ann Northrup (R-Ky.) explain her objections to the ergonomics rules. She noted the regulations would require employers to pay workers with ergonomics-related injuries as much as 90% of their pay for six months while they remained off work.
Northrup urged the industry leaders to aid their trade associations in swaying Congress to vote against the rulings.
"Please don't think we can do this in Washington. Our only chance is if you make the calls to your congressmen and senators," she said.
Thomas K. Zaucha, president and chief executive officer of the National Grocers Association, Reston, Va., said, "This is a major victory for the supermarket industry and its employees."
Tom Wenning, NGA senior vice president and general counsel, added that Congress moved swiftly on this legislation due to the amount of feedback representatives got from their constituents, including many NGA members.
"We are proud of our members and the grassroots effort that made it clear to Congress what these regulations could have done to the grocery industry," said Wenning.
Manly Molpus, president and CEO, Grocery Manufacturers of America here, called the vote a "victory for businesses and workers alike," and said if enforced, the OSHA rules would have resulted in thousands of lost jobs.
Doug Dority, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, a chief proponent of the OSHA regulations, issued a statement before the vote urging the Senate and America's business leaders to see the importance of the OSHA rules.
"I challenge any senator or member of Congress who is thinking of voting against America's workers and against the ergonomic standard to take a food processor's knife and make just a few thousand cuts and see for themselves why the ergonomic standard is essential to protect working families from injury, pain and loss," Dority said.