Players in the OSHA arena
Out goes all the influence formerly enjoyed by the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and to a lesser extent think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.
In comes the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Public Health Association, grassroots local and state coalitions of occupational safety and health (COSHs), labor law academics and occupational medicine professionals.
Here are individuals you will be hearing more from in the coming months and years:
Hilda Solis, 51, the secretary of labor, is a native of El Monte, California. She has a master’s in public administration from the University of Southern California and an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly Pomona, and has made her career in government. At 28, she won a seat on the Rio Hondo Community College Board of Trustees against two far more established politicians. In 1992, she won a California Assembly seat. In one of her first acts, she sided with labor against the tobacco industry and the Democratic leadership by voting in 1993 for legislation that banned smoking in all workplaces.
Solis became the first Latina elected to the California State Senate in 1994. She served there for six years. In 1995, her first year in the Senate, authorities raided an El Monte building fenced by razor wire. Inside, 72 Thai workers toiled 18 hours a day in “slave-like conditions,” stitching garments that were to be sold in shopping malls, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
Solis held high-profile hearings, called garment manufacturers to Sacramento to explain themselves and pushed for heavier enforcement of laws against sweatshops.
In 2000, Solis ran for the U.S. House of Representatives against an incumbent from her own party who had run afoul of labor by voting for the North American Free Trade Agreement. She won 62 percent of the vote in the primary. No Republican ran against her in the general election. In her years on Capitol Hill, Solis had a liberal voting record â€” she had a 97 percent approval rating from the AFL-CIO. Her father, Raul, was a Teamsters Union shop steward from Mexico. Her mother came from Nicaragua and worked on an assembly line for more than 20 years at a Mattel toy factory and belonged to the United Rubber Workers.
A Republican state senator from California, who battled with Solis when she headed a budget subcommittee, called her “a committed liberal in the pockets of labor,” according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.
“I know that my seven siblings and I would not be where we are today without the wages and other protections my parents earned with the help of their union,” Solis wrote for the Huffington Post on March 2, 2007, after the House approved the Employee Free Choice Act.
At the time of her nomination to be labor secretary, Solis was the only member of Congress on the board of a pro-union group, American Right at Work, according to Politico.com.
“Her toughness will be underestimated, and her idealism will be discounted,” Tom Hayden, a former state Senate colleague and an ally on Solis’s anti-sweatshop campaign, told the Los Angeles Times.
Hamid Arabzadeh, MS, CIH, CSP, REA, CHMM, principal of HRA Environmental Consultants, Inc., Irvine, Calif. Said by many to be extremely keen on the OSHA chief job. “He’s politically well-connected, has the support of Sen. Tom Harkin (in September, Harkin sponsored a resolution in the Senate recognizing the importance of workplace wellness as a strategy to help maximize employees’ health and well being), and has attended Democratic campaign fundraisers in Los Angeles,” says one source. Other sources say he has made numerous trips to Washington to line up supporters including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and members of the House of Representatives Loretta Sanchez, Laura Richardson, Brian Bilbray, Ed Royce and George Radonovich, all from California. Bilbray, Royce and Radonovich are Republicans.
From 1992 to 1997, Arabzadeh was the corporate manager of industrial hygiene for the UNOCAL Corporation, with worldwide responsibilities, and later the director of the EH&S Branch at Los Angeles Unified School District. Arabzadeh holds two graduate degrees in Occupational Health Sciences and Industrial Hygiene. A native of Iran, Arabzadeh is a staunch and vocal activist for human rights in his native country.
Jordan Barab put to bed his blog “Confined Space” which enjoyed a cult-like following among health and safety professionals and now occupies a senior policy advisor position on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. The move affords him influence beyond what he could achieve in the blogosphere. He could be in line for a deputy or policy director position at OSHA.
Bill Borwegen, MPH, director of occupational health and safety for the Service Employees International Union, has been on the cutting edge of emerging safety and health issues such as patient handling and healthcare risks, sustainability, and health promotion.
Mark Briggs surfaced in late March as a possible OSHA chief candidate. Briggs is campus risk manager at the University of Illinois. He joined the university’s Division of Public Safety in 2000, coming to the job with experience in risk management consulting and the insurance industries. Briggs owned a safety and risk management consultancy full-time for seven years, after having worked in the insurance industry for 11 years. He is a graduate of the health sciences/safety program at Illinois State University and has earned professional designations of Associate in Risk Management and Certified Safety Professional. He is an active member of several national associations, including the University Risk Management and Insurance Association, the Risk and Insurance Management Society, and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
Adam Finkel is a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and was a vocal OSHA regional administrator and director of health standards at the agency, often leveling charges of political incompetence at his bosses in Washington.
Eric Frumin, director of the safety and health program for UNITE-HERE, a labor union in the garment, textile, laundry, and hospitality industries. Frumin is also occupational safety and health coordinator for Change to Win, a group of seven unions and six million workers that broke away from the AFL-CIO.
Ron Hayes, called a “hellraiser” by Mother Jones magazine, is a grassroots job safety activist and trainer based in Alabama. His son suffocated to death in a grain silo in 1993. Has the ear of Kennedy’s OSHA staff specialist and has gone fishing with Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, one of very few senators on either side of the aisle interested in OSHA issues.
Seth Harris was named by President Obama to be deputy secretary of labor, the number two spot at the Department of Labor. Harris worked for the Obama campaign and served in the Clinton administration. Harris was the Obama Transition Project’s Agency Working Group Leader for the labor, education, and transportation agencies. During the Clinton administration, he served as counselor to the secretary of labor and acting assistant secretary of labor for policy, among other policy-advising positions. Before returning to Washington this year, Harris was a professor and the director of Labor & Employment Law Programs at New York Law School.
Kitty Higgins. Kathryn O’Leary Higgins’s name was brought to our attention by a Washington source in late March as a potential candidate for the top OSHA slot, after Peg Seminario and Dr. John Howard dropped out of the running. Since 2006, she has been a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In 2008, she was described in a Culver City, Calif. online newspaper article about a Los Angeles commuter-freight train crash that killed 25 people as “sassy” and known to sometimes have “difficulty keeping her boiling Irish temper tucked beneath her collar… is very conscious of her status as an outspoken Democrat.”
Higgins has extensive experience in the Department of Labor. She served as deputy secretary of the Department of Labor (July 1997-May 1999), chief of staff to Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (January 1993-February 1995), and began her career in government in 1969 as a manpower specialist with the Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.
“I’ve made a dozen calls about her, and the verdict is unanimous: Few people know Washington as well, and how to maneuver in it,” Reich wrote in his 1997 memior, “Locked in the Cabinet.” “Her annual St. Patrick’s Day party is a Washington fixture. Another Irish pol, she loves the game of politics. She’s also interested in the substance. She’s devoted most of her adult life to the cause of helping working people make something more of their lives.”
Higgins has also served in the White House (February 1995–July 1997) as assistant to President Clinton and secretary to the Cabinet. In that capacity she worked closely with the NTSB, Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, and Coast Guard on a number of matters, including the 1996 ValuJet 597 and TWA 800 accidents, developing and implementing hazardous materials regulations, increasing inspector staffing, FAA reauthorization, and creation of the NTSB Office of Family Assistance.
In the Carter administration, Higgins was with the White House Domestic Policy Council, serving as assistant director for employment policy (May 1978–January 1981). From January 1981 to January 1986 Higgins was senior legislative associate and minority staff director with the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Dr. John Howard, former head of NIOSH and the California OSHA state program. In a speech given November 11, 2008, Dr. Howard said research, education and assistance at OSHA is uncoordinated; OSHA’s insularity leads to a “go it alone” attitude; the accuracy of non-fatal injuries and illness recordkeeping needs to be investigated, and existing OSHA standards are not matched to the existing causes of worker injuries and illnesses. Might get his old job at NIOSH back if the top OSHA position he wants is not in the offing.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has written legislation, co-sponsored by Obama, to make modest changes to OSHA law. At some point in the next four years, legislation increasing criminal sanctions and penalties against OSHA Act violators will be reintroduced with vigor.
David Michaels, possible OSHA chief nominee, is a professor at George Washington University and was assistant secretary of energy for environment, safety, and health under Clinton. In a post he wrote for the blog “The Pump Handle,” Michael said: “(former OSHA boss) Mr. Foulke’s arguments are reminiscent of the climate change deniers who oppose government action on global warming, claiming the science is ‘not settled enough’ for OSHA to do what needs to be done. The agency’s claims about the number of new regulations published are also quite misleading.”
George Miller, 64, is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which covers OSHA and has put many an OSHSA chief’s feet to the fire in hearings. He has represented the 7th District of California in the East Bay of San Francisco since 1975. Introduced in Congress early in 2009 the Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosion and Fires Act (H.R. 5522). The bill, which passed in the House but not the Senate in 2008, would require OSHA to issue emergency rules to regulate combustible dust, like sugar dust, that can build up to hazardous levels and explode.
Franklin E. Mirer, PhD, CIH, Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Urban Public Health Program, Hunter College School of Health Sciences, New York City. Long-time United Auto Workers safety and health director. Mirer has testified numerous time in Congress, arguing passionately that OSHA needs to set mandatory standards for a host of chemicals because chronic illness from long-term exposure at work accounts for 90 percent of known work-related mortality.
Celeste Monforton, MPH, is a researcher at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and former policy analyst at OSHA (1991-1995) and at MSHA (1996-2001) as special assistant to the assistant secretary of labor. She served as senior investigator with J.Davitt McAteer for the Governor of West Virginia’s special inquiry into the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster. A thought leader in workplace safety and health, Monforton has written extensively for the blog, “The Pump Handle.”
Peg Seminario, health and safety director for the AFL-CIO. Has spent more than 30 years working on safety and health issues, and has been involved in dozens of OSHA rulemakings on safety and health standards and regulations. Seminario is not zeroing in on another stab at an ergo standard. Instead she says silica, beryllium, confined space safety in construction, cranes and derricks should be the first standards priorities. Ergonomics can be handled a number of ways, she says: enforcement under the general duty clause, recordkeeping scrutiny, perhaps integrating ergonomics into a broad safety and health program rule.
Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH, clinical professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, and former director of policy for OSHA (1993–1995). Recently had a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Getting Home Safe and Sound: Occupational Safety and Health Administration at 38.”
The paper suggests reframing the language of worker protection to link it with broad resonant themes of health and human rights, ensuring every employer has a comprehensive safety and health management program, and requiring every workplace to be inspected regularly using a third-party army of licensed professionals.
Emily Spieler, leader of the Obama Transition Team for OSHA. Board member, Public Health Advocacy Institute; Dean, Northeastern Law School. A central player in sifting through recommendations for the next OSHA boss.
Cass Sunstein, 54, recently appointed as President Obama’s new “regulatory czar,” making him a key player in deciding which risks to public health and the environment are regulated by the U.S. government, and how they are regulated. He is the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, who was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. An American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics. Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years, and was Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Author of the book “Risk & Reason, Safety, Law and the Environment.” Sunstein’s most recent book is “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (Yale University Press, 2008), which he co-authored with economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago. “Nudge” discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives.
In a 2008 article for Virginia Law Review “Is OSHA Unconstitutional?”, Sunstein argues that provisions on standard setting in the OSH Act of 1970 are unconstitutionally vague. He asserts that OSHA is vulnerable to a Constitutional challenge based on the nondelegation doctrine, arguing that the terms “reasonably necessary or appropriate” and “feasible” are too vague for the agency’s decision-making purposes. He wrote: “Poor old OSHA â€” the agency charged with responsibility for keeping workers safe from toxic chemicals and dangerous equipment on the job site â€” is barely breathing today, having issued just two rules in a decade on toxic chemicals.”
Sunstein writes that if OSHA were to exercise the excessive power Congress gave it, companies could argue that “after close to 40 years of existence, a federal court should conclude that Congress must go back to the drawing board, rewriting the OSHA statute from scratch.”
Dr. Andrea Taylor, professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Former member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. “This black woman has done so many things ‘first’ that we should call her our First Lady of Occupational Safety and Health,” said Ilise L. Feitshans, JD and ScM, author of “Designing an Effective OSHA Compliance Program, in an email to ISHN. “(Taylor) has served in UAW, had pathbreaking doctoral studies on hypertension before the term ‘health disparities’ was coined much less gained currency, and she has a wonderful command of scientific and technical issues.”
David M. Uhlmann, law professor at the University of Michigan, has been mentioned as a possible OSHA chief. Served for seven years as chief of the United States Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section, where he was the top environmental crimes prosecutor in the United States.
Wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times this past May stating: “Congress should make it a felony to commit a criminal violation of the worker-safety laws, and the penalties for lawbreakers should be stiffened. The maximum sentence ought to be measured in years, not months… Congress also should change the worker-safety laws so that ignorance of the law is no longer a defense. Employers have a duty to know their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.” One source tells us Uhlmann is a favorite of Sen. Kennedy’s staff for a labor position in the Obama administration.
Frank White, former deputy at OSHA in charge of standards-setting and enforcement, and current senior vice president for ORC Worldwide’s Washington-based occupational safety and health consultancy.
“We are frankly weary of confrontation that perennially pervades the debates over workplace safety and health policy, that leads to political stalemate and that has alienated much of the safety and health community,” said White in an ORC White Paper issued in November 2008 that gives specific details for a new approach to national occupational safety and health policy. ORC’s White Paper states: “…the 2008 election presents all of us in the safety and health community with a once in a generation opportunity to break the longstanding gridlock on progress in many key areas of safety and health policy.”
Lynn Woolsey, Democratic Congresswoman, 71, from California since 1993. Heads up the Workforce Protections subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee. Told the Las Vegas Sun in an interview November 24, 2008: “OSHA needs a complete overhaul.”