Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.
The Chamber of Commerce is nothing if it’s not consistent. Consistently opposed to each and every new protection issued or contemplated by OSHA, consistently challenging every new OSHA initiative in court, consistently (and drastically) overestimating the cost of every proposed OSHA standard, consistently opposed to any action by OSHA that would expand (or even maintain) workers’ rights.
And their consistent motive seems not to be an honest difference about how to protect workers, but one simple principle: destroying labor unions — even if it means that a few workers get hurt or die in the process.
Just a few recent examples:
On OSHA’s Recordkeeping rule
- The Chamber of Commerce revealed in a recent submission to the Trump administration: “Furthermore,” the Chamber wrote, “posting safety records online will provide unions and trial attorneys with information that can be taken out of context and used in organizing campaigns, or form the basis of lawsuits.”
- Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said firms were concerned that information “could be used by unions and others to smear companies. Just because you have an injury in the workplace doesn’t mean you have the bad employer, or that the employer is violating safety and health laws,” he said.
On OSHA’s (recently rescinded) Walkaround Policy
- “The overwhelming consensus is that this will undermine the safety focus of these inspections and turn them into opportunities for unions or other parties with agendas contrary to the employer to enhance campaigns against the employer, gain entry to the employer’s premises to develop more information for the campaign, or even glean proprietary information.”
On Obama’s Fair Wages and Safe Workplaces Executive Order
- “If you pull back the curtain it is clear the order has nothing to do with improving federal contracting and everything to do with giving unions more tools for them to use against employers. One of the key objections the U.S. Chamber has made all along about the president’s Executive Order is that it would hand the administration’s friends in the organized labor movement a powerful new tool for harassing and pressuring employers into rolling over to their demands.”
Unions mean safer workplaces
There’s no need to go into all of he reasons that certain employers and businesses associations like the Chamber of Commerce are virulently anti-union. We can sum them up by one word: “control.” Unions give some control over wages, benefits and working conditions back to workers — and conversely take some of that control way from management.
In the safety and health world, there is nothing more effective than ensuring that workers have a strong voice in health and safety conditions. The writers of the Occupational Safety and Health Act understood this, giving workers (and their representatives) the right to file a complaint, walk around with the inspector, access information, observe monitoring and be protected from retaliation. (In fact, without strong unions, there would never have been an Occupational Safety and Health Act.)
And there is no better way for workers to make their voices heard than through a labor union. Organized workplaces are safer workplaces. Union workers are more likely to be educated about their rights and safety and health conditions and more likely to receive training about how to control hazards. They’re have the power to bargain safety and health conditions into their contracts and are more likely to call for an OSHA inspection when needed, and to make sure that the conditions of any settlement with OSHA are followed through on. And when a union bargains for better safety conditions at a refinery or chemical plant, the entire community benefits.
Good employers understand the need for strong worker participation in their safety and health program.
If unions weren’t so effective and important to workplace safety and health, you wouldn’t have associations like the Chamber of Commerce citing unions in every argument they make to weaken OSHA and worker’s right to a safe workplace. And if it wasn’t for my “union ties” working for AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, I would never have had the privilege of being named by the Chamber as a “Threat to Business” when I was appointed Acting Assistant Secretary in 2009.
I know all of this seems obvious to those who follow workplace safety and health issues carefully. When you’re shaking your head, wondering how the Chamber and other associations can oppose every common sense protection issued by OSHA, remember what’s behind it all.
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