It took OSHA ten years to develop ergonomics requirements for industry — and two days for Congress to kill them. After an uproarious debate, the House (on March 6th) and Senate (on March 7th) voted largely along party lines to scrap the rules, which would have covered 102 million workers at 6.1 million work sites.
It was a classic labor-management brawl. “The voices of injured workers were not heard in the halls of Congress. They were drowned out by the predatory demands of corporate greed," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
“If OSHA is not checked, no job in America will be unaffected,” said the National Coalition on Ergonomics, representing 51 industry trade groups.
Lawmakers dusted off and used for the first time ever a little-known piece of legislation set in 1996 called the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within 60 days of their being issued. OSHA’s ergo rules went into effect four days before President George W. Bush took office. The votes to repeal the ergo rule — by margins of 56-44 in the Senate and 223-206 in the House — marked the first time in OSHA’s 30-year history that a job safety and health standard was rejected by Congress.
Republicans and Democrats bitterly accused each other of political pay-offs. Ergo rules were rushed out in the waning days of the Clinton administration to repay labor for its support in the election, GOP lawmakers railed. Democrats countered that the requirements were being wiped out by Republicans bowing to big business’s wishes.
At press time, President Bush was set to sign the measure. The White House earlier had signaled its opposition to the Clinton rules. “These regulations would cost employers, large and small, billions of dollars annually while providing uncertain benefits,” the administration said in a statement.