Workers cheer budget increase vote for OSHA

WASHINGTON (PAI) – To cheers from a top pro-workers group advocating tougher federal job safety and health law enforcement, a key House committee approved a substantial increase in funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with other Labor Department enforcement agencies.

By a 32-28 party-line vote on June 30, the House Appropriations Committee, which helps dole out federal dollars, passed the $242 billion funding bill for the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services Departments and related agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board, in fiscal 2023, which starts Oct. 1.

That includes $712 million for OSHA, $100 million more than this year and $11 million more than President Joe Biden sought, $313 million for Labor’s Wage and Hour Division – which pursues wage theft by bosses, among other violations – and $319 million for the NLRB, $45 million more than the amount the board’s been stuck with for almost a decade.

The Wage and Hour boost is almost 20 percent, and the total is $5 million more than Biden sought. Overall, DOL would get $15 billion in the next fiscal year.

Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the House’s money bill “makes transformative investments that help working families with high costs of living, create American jobs, support workers, and strengthen our health care infrastructure. This bill touches people at every stage of their lives, and the massive funding increase will create a society that provides people with the help they so desperately need.”

The Labor-backed National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) strongly supported the House measure’s $100 million increase in OSHA funding.

“We simply cannot afford to cut corners on enforcement, outreach and education programs, in addition to other measures that keep workers safe – especially not when workers are facing even greater threats to our health and well-being,” the group wrote to DeLauro.

“When Covid-19 tore through our workplaces in 2020, OSHA’s response was totally inadequate,” said NACOSH co-chair Jessica Martinez and two colleagues in a letter. “Weak guidance, not enough inspections, no answers to repeated complaints from workers. We can’t let that happen again.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the largest workplace death toll of any single disease or event in U.S. history.

At the end of 2021, Martinez’ group told DeLauro, the federal OSHA had just 750 safety inspectors to cover approximately half of the states, “the lowest number in the agency’s 51-year history,” they said. The other half have their own state OSHAs, which must follow federal standards.

“It makes no sense to disarm the agency charged with protecting workers at a time when there are growing threats to our safety and health,” notably the ongoing and evolving pandemic, they added.

“Heat exposure will become more dangerous in years to come as climate change leads to more severe weather events. And workers are still dying every year from hazards we know how to prevent, like trench collapses and falls from a height,” the three added.

The committee’s Democrats not only want more money for OSHA to hire more inspectors and conduct more probes, they want higher fines, too. Current maximum fines are inadequate to deter unsafe employers, their panel report said.

OSHA should “adopt policies that encourage the use of maximum penalties or a penalty multiplier for serious violations in large businesses,” notably meatpackers, the committee said.

The panel voted – again – to bring small farms under OSHA’s jurisdiction. “Agriculture is among the most dangerous industries in the United States,” the group said. “But OSHA can’t even probe deaths and serious injuries on farms, much less complaints about unsafe work – such as excessive heat exposure. It can’t even perform the Republicans’ favorite OSHA aid, so-called ‘compliance assistance.’ ”

The ban on OSHA inspecting farms traces back to similar bans in New Deal-era farm legislation, the panel’s report explains. Those bans “were included as compromises to secure the votes of Southern lawmakers who opposed expanding labor rights for black farmworkers and sharecroppers. This…continues to have a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities and should not be included. All farmworkers deserve to be protected by the OSHA law, regardless of the size of their employer.”

Whether the money bill’s hikes will survive all the way through the congressional meatgrinder is uncertain. The measure faces its annual floor fight, on both sides of Capitol Hill.


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