A group of U.S. senators are hoping that the 16th attempt will be the charm for legislation that would include more workers in federally mandated protections, increase OSHA civil penalties and toughen criminal penalties for unsafe employers.
The Protecting America’s Workers Act, which was re-introduced earlier this month by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), would:
- Cover more workers, including federal, state, and local public employees, and some private sector employees (like flight attendants, state correctional officers, and workers in government agencies) who are not currently covered by OSHA regulations.
- Increase civil penalties for those who break the law by updating OSHA civil penalties— which, according to Baldwin, “have remained too low to deter bad actors and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by willful violation.”
- Increase criminal penalties for those who break the law by authorizing felony charges against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury and extending such penalties to corporate officers and directors. Criminal penalties – even those stemming from a worker’s death - are limited to misdemeanors under current law.
- Protect workers who blow the whistle on unsafe conditions in the workplace by incorporating successful administrative procedures adopted in other laws, like the Surface Transportation Act.
- Require the Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate all cases of death or serious incidents of injury.
- Give workers and their families the right to meet with DOL investigators.
- Amend the General Duty Clause to include all workers on the worksite.
Additionally, employers would be required to correct serious, willful and repeat violations while they are contesting citations for OSHA violations - a provision which “aims to protect workers from potential hazards as soon as they are reported, rather than having to wait for OSHA and the cited workplace to settle a case and leave workers exposed to dangerous work environments for a longer period of time,” said Baldwin.
Legislators have introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act fifteen times since 2004, without being able to move it past the committee stage. It is co-sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA).