‘Minibus’ spending bill contains win for fire fighters, OSHA beryllium rule

Washington (PAI) — A “minibus” spending bill funding federal agencies for the year starting Oct. 1 contains a win for the fire fighters. And it orders GOP President Donald Trump’s Labor Department to preserve, not roll back, a key Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule against exposing construction and shipyard workers to the toxic element beryllium.

Those provisions were among specifics the Democratic U.S. House majority inserted in the bill, either in its original text or as amendments.
While they were at it, lawmakers bounced other Trump/GOP schemes. One cut spending on every domestic program by 14 percent. The other demanded more funds for Trump’s Mexico Border Wall.

The bill, with spending for the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense and other agencies, is what’s called “a minibus,” where six individual spending bills were combined.

The fire fighters won when the bill allotted $750 million – $50 million more than this fiscal year – for federal grants to train additional fire fighters and to help cities and states buy and upgrade equipment, both key causes of the union.

Many cities and towns do not meet national standards of four fire fighters per truck and many of the trucks are old.

Trump wanted $689 million for the two programs.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) inserted the other victory, on beryllium. The Trump administration’s OSHA wants to drop specific protections for construction and shipyard workers against beryllium.

To cheers from the Steelworkers, who toiled for 17 years – including in courts – to force OSHA to protect workers against the known cancer-causing substance, lawmakers came down like a ton of bricks on that protection rollback.

“Such an effort would represent the first time OSHA proposed to weaken a standard protecting workers against a known human carcinogen,” the report on the Labor Department section of the money bill said. “It would leave construction and shipyard workers vulnerable to life-threatening beryllium-related diseases.”

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard lauded Scott and the House for their decision, but warned the Senate – where the GOP majority has repeatedly kowtowed to Trump’s wishes, including on workers’ issues – must go along.

“In 2017, OSHA released a new standard for beryllium, a highly toxic metal found in some abrasive blasting compounds and in certain high-tech materials, setting a lower exposure limit and including ancillary provisions for workplace monitoring, medical surveillance, and other protective measures,” USW said after the all-night House session on the bill.

The Trump administration “let the standard remain for most workers but attempted to cancel the ancillary provisions for workers in shipyards and construction.

“This process can only be done through new rulemaking,” USW added, noting that Scott’s amendment “forbids OSHA to complete that rulemaking,” a first step in restoring the provisions.

“OSHA’s action never made sense,” Gerard said in a statement. “How can the agency justify protecting one group of workers, and stripping those protections from another?” He thanked Scott and the House for its decision, and urged the Senate to agree.


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