Two sources with numerous contacts in Washington OSHA circles told ISHN this week that the AFL-CIO’s long-time Director of Safety and Health, Margaret “Peg” Seminario, has the inside track on the OSHA chief job if she wants it.
Both sources, who did not want to be quoted because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the top agency post is Seminario’s for the asking. One source said she will indeed take it; the other said if she declines, she will have a strong vote in who does get the appointment. According to this second source, former NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard is being pushed hard for the position by a number of agency career personnel.
A third source told ISHN that he wasn’t aware Seminario was close to being appointed, but expressed no surprise at the notion. Many OSHA-watchers believe organized labor has major leverage in who is appointed to the top agency leadership position.
Asked by ISHN in December about her name being floated for the job, Seminario laughed, said she was “flattered,” but “very happy where I am. There’s a lot I can do from my current job.” Would she rule out taking the job if offered? “It hasn’t been offered,” she told ISHN, “and that time is away aways.” She did add, “The next OSHA chief must come out of the safety and health community. The challenges are enormous. The confidence of workers in OSHA must be restored, and the next OSHA chief must take action on significant issues, such as silica exposures and issuing a safety and health program rule.”
Speaking anonymously because he did not want to jeopardize relationships with the AFL-CIO official or the former NIOSH director, one source acknowledged that Howard’s name has frequently been mentioned for the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, but questioned if Howard has the requisite political support of key senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Secretary of Labor-designate Hilda Solis has many ties to organized labor. Both of her parents were union members. Union backing in Los Angeles helped get her elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 after she served as chairwoman of the California Senate Labor Committee. In Congress, she has a 97 percent approval rating from the AFL-CIO.
Washington sources tell ISHN they expect the nomination of the new OSHA boss to come more quickly than in the past. “This administration has been extremely well-organized” in selecting personnel, said one source. The top OSHA official often isn’t nominated until the summer following a presidential election. Sources say they could see an appointment coming in two or three months this time around.