Opponents Seek Repeal of OSHA Ergonomics Standard
After ten long years of struggle, workers in this country finally won protections to prevent crippling repetitive strain injuries, the nation's biggest job safety problem. OSHA's new ergonomics standard was issued in November 2000 and went into effect on January 16, 2001. But with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, this new worker protection measure is in danger, as opponents aim to repeal this important standard.
The ergonomics standard is the most significant job safety measure ever issued to protect workers. It will prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries each year by requiring employers to implement ergonomics programs and fix jobs where musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) occur. The rule is a huge step forward and will bring about major improvements in workplace safety.
The National Academy of Sciences has issued a report showing that OSHA's ergonomics standard is based on strong science and that the interventions required by the standard will reduce workplace MSDs.
Nonetheless, the same Big Business groups and anti-worker members of Congress that waged a relentless campaign to try to stop the ergonomics standard from being issued are now gearing up to repeal the rule. House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo) have vowed to introduce legislation in the 107th Congress to overturn the standard. Attacks on the standard likely will come early in the year on several fronts:
Legislation to repeal the ergonomics standard through a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under this law, Congress can act to overturn issued rules. A resolution to disapprove a rule can't be amended or filibustered. This law is the nuclear bomb of deregulation. If a rule is overturned and repealed, the agency is prohibited from issuing another similar rule unless Congress gives special permission. This would make it almost impossible for OSHA ever to set a strong standard to protect workers from ergonomic hazards.
An amendment to OSHA's budget to prohibit the application or enforcement of the ergonomics standard. This is the tactic used in the past by Republicans. With President George W. Bush in the White House, there would be no veto to stop such a prohibition.
Action by the Bush Administration to stay or suspend the rule. This would put a hold on the standard pending a reopening of the rule-making process or the outcome of the legal challenges to the standard. During this time the Bush administration could issue a new proposal to repeal or weaken the existing standard.
The Battle is Joined
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) issued a press release on February 13 announcing that he plans to work closely with a group of his colleagues in the coming weeks to strike a "last minute" Clinton Administration rule on ergonomics which became effective on January 16. Enzi claimed that the ergonomics standard would "hurt workers and consumers alike by paralyzing businesses across the country and causing dramatic price hikes for goods and services." Enzi chairs the Senate subcommittee that has oversight over OSHA.
Opponents of the standard, led by the Chamber of Commerce, want Enzi and their other friends in Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind the standard. The CRA is the nuclear bomb of deregulation. Under this law, Congress can act to overturn issued rules. Under the CRA's streamlined procedures, a resolution to disapprove a rule can't be amended or filibustered and there is no provision for input from affected workers. If a rule is overturned and repealed, the agency is prohibited from issuing another similar rule unless Congress gives special permission. This would make it almost impossible for OSHA ever to set a strong standard to protect workers from ergonomic hazards.
The extreme rhetoric and false allegations in the Enzi press release were preceded by similarly vicious columns and advertisements opposing the standard, including a January 24 Washington Times column by Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue and an advertisement in the New York Times by the right-wing Washington Legal Foundation (WLF). The WLF boasts Bush Cabinet members John Ashcroft, Gail Norton, Tommy Thompson and Spence Abraham among its board members.
Congressional efforts to repeal the ergonomics standard are a cruel and extremist act. If successful, OSHA would be barred from issuing safeguards to protect workers from the nation's biggest job safety problem. Hundreds of thousands of workers would be needlessly injured and crippled each year.
The fight on this issue is likely to come early in the session, since under the CRA, Congress must act within 60 legislative days to overturn a rule for the streamlined procedures to apply.
Action Needed to Defend the Ergonomics Standard
The fight to defend the ergonomics standard will be a major battle. We need to build broad public and congressional support for this important worker protection. Please join the fight to stop opponents' efforts to take away this hard-won protection.
Share this fact sheet and information about the importance of protecting workers and this new safeguard with your members and the public through your publications and electronic communications. Urge them to join this effort.
Call or write your members of Congress and the Bush Administration. Tell them that workers need and deserve these protections to prevent crippling workplace injuries. Ask them to protect workers by supporting the OSHA ergonomics standard and to oppose any attempts to take away this important worker protection.
I am writing to ask you to oppose any efforts to overturn new protections from crippling workplace injuries.
On Nov. 14, 2000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its final standard to protect workers from repetitive strain injuries and back injuries.
This new safety and health protection took 10 years to develop. It will prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries each year and spare workers unnecessary pain, suffering and disability.
For years Big Business groups and some members of Congress have waged a campaign to block the ergonomics standard.
Now that it's the law, they want to repeal this important safeguard. Millions of workers suffered serious injuries because this standard was delayed.
It's time to stop the pain and keep more workers from being hurt. Please oppose any efforts to take away this important worker protection.
Used with permission from the AFL-CIO. All rights reserved.