A ‘burst of activity’ on protecting workers?

October 30, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

tom-perez-obama

The website Daily Kos has an interesting piece out that’s headlined, Obama administration breaks through years of delay on new worker protections.  It starts out:

In the three months since Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was confirmed—but not only because of him—the Obama administration has moved forward on a series of new rules to protect workers’ safety and wages and promote hiring of veterans and disabled workers.

Here’s what they describe as a “bust of activity” to protect American workers:

The rules that have been instituted include guidelines for government contractors that seven percent of new hires should be disabled people and eight percent should be veterans and the inclusion of home care workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, entitling them to minimum wage and overtime protections starting in January 2015; a proposal to update silica dust regulations is in a public comment period.

Seriously? I was immediately reminded of the piece published in April 2010 about how then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was a “new sheriff” in town to protect workers across our country. Ultimately, though, the first Obama term was certainly a disappointment to worker safety advocates, as we’ve discussed before here, here, and here.

Even a cursory look at the White House Office of Management and Budget website reveals the list of worker safety reforms that remain stalled by this administration:  Protections for electrical transmission line workers, improved injury and illness reporting requirements, and a long list of coal-mine safety rules including reducing dust exposures that cause black lung disease, proximity detection equipment mandates to end pinning and crushing deaths, and toughened civil penalty regulations.

And then there are the rules that agencies themselves haven’t sent to the White House yet … Just look at OSHA’s regulatory agenda:  Regulations to control combustible dust,  limits on exposure to beryllium and a mandate for new injury and illness prevention programs, just to name a couple. Just read Dr. Celeste Monforton’s previous posts on the Pump Handle blog (here and here, for example) to understand how backed up crucial workplace protection rules are in the Obama administration.

Doesn’t seem a bit early to be declaring that there’s been a “breakthrough” on worker safety under President Obama’s latest new sheriff?

2 Responses to “A ‘burst of activity’ on protecting workers?”

  1. Ken, I had the same reaction to the Daily Kos piece. I’m going to hold off giving a grade to the Obama Administration’s Labor Department until the end of the President’s term in office.

    There was great hope and expectations for substantial improvements in workers’ rights and health and safety during the Obama Administration. A few rules is hardly worth great accolades, and let’s remember that OSHA’s action on respirable crystalline silica is just a proposed rule. The Labor Dept has at least a year of work to do in order to finalize this silica proposal, and then convince the White House to issue it.

    What’s especially disappointing to date is recognizing that the rulemaking process is totally in the Administration’s control. (They don’t need Congress’ approval to propose or finalize any new worker protective regulation.) That’s why it’s perplexing and disappointing that too few, much needed final regulations to protect workers rights and safety have not been issued by the Obama Administration’s Labor Department. They have 3 more years to earn a passing grade.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    The false notion that there’s some big flurry of activity at DOL is catching steam, being mentioned in this national AP story:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/07/3736753/ap-source-osha-plan-to-make-safety.html

    “The proposed rule is part of a flurry of activity at the Labor Department since Thomas Perez was confirmed to head the agency earlier this year.”

    The story cites on example:

    “In August, OSHA announced plans to dramatically limit workplace exposure to silica dust.”

    Ken.

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