Soon after she became the nation’s labor secretary, Hilda Solis warned corporate America there was “a new sheriff in town.” Less than a year into her tenure, that figurative badge of authority is unmistakable.
Her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.
– via Labor moves quickly on job safety, workers’ rights
I’m assuming this story got little play because the media has become accustomed to pragmatist Democrats. You know, the party that sells out liberal ideals in the name of corporate donations, 60 votes, and few accomplishments. The public option, full withdrawal from the Middle East, these things aren’t as important as knowing Joe Lieberman is happy.
So it’s weird to see Solis act like a fiery liberal, one who sends Big Business sprinting for cover, shrieking.
Solis made a splash in October when OSHA slapped the largest fine in its history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.
As you can imagine, this does not make Big Business happy. The AP reports that some business groups say they prefer a more cooperative approach between government and businesses, or as the Bush administration put it, “compliance assistance.” The transition shock is only natural. Those familiar with the industry giveaways dolled out during the Bush administration surely find this concept of regulation and accountability for the John Galt Club positively alien.
Wait, so BP can’t blow up 15 of its employees in a horrific refinery blast, and just walk away? What kind of Socialist paradise has this country become??
This is one case where President Obama followed through on his promises to boost funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, increase enforcement, and safeguard workers in dangerous industries.
Without attracting attention, Solis hired 250 new investigators to protect workers from being cheated out of wage and overtime pay. She has started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate, and she is also proposing new standards to protect workers from industrial dust explosions, an effort the Bush administration long resisted.
Does more need to be done to regulate business? Of course. Though there was a decline of workplace injuries in 2008, there were still 3.7 million reported cases of nonfatal injuries and sicknesses, and thousands of fatal workplace injuries. And those were only the reported ones. Undocumented workers, who oftentimes work the most dangerous jobs, aren’t motivated to file OSHA complaints because of the risk of deportation.
But it’s important to reflect upon OSHA under the Bush administration in order to understand the significance of Solis’s changes.
In early 2001, an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sought to publish a special bulletin warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day’s exposure at the agency’s permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.
Simple enough, right? These alloys could lead to lung disease. Employees should know about those dangers. The problems started when the epidemiologist, Peter Infante, encountered a lobbying firm hired by the country’s leading beryllium manufacturer. They demanded changes in the bulletin, and Infante initially complied with their more reasonable demands, but the company kept complaining.
“In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay,” Infante wrote in an e-mail to the agency’s director of standards in March 2002. Eventually, top OSHA officials decided, over what Infante described in an e-mail to his boss as opposition from “the entire OSHA staff working on beryllium issues,” to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.
Current and former career officials at OSHA say that such sagas were a recurrent feature during the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.
So when compared to that eight-year-long nightmare, Solis looks downright revolutionary.
I feel like I shouldn’t even repeat these accomplishments lest Solis receive unwanted attention, and immediately bear the negative attention of Republicans.
Run free, Democrat! Keep up the good work.
Link to this article: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?b=article.php?id=1279
– Allison Kilkenny