OSHA OR INS?

As if the zeal of Big Business and its congressional representatives to shred the protections which save workers’ lives and to exploit the vulnerability of undocumented immigrants weren’t outrageous enough, earlier this month the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency found a particularly cynical way to meld the two: dressing up as safety instructors to lure 48 undocumented immigrants to what was ostensibly a mandatory OSHA meeting and then arresting them. This shameful approach strikes twice at workers’ rights by increasing undocumented workers’ insecurity and suspectibility to management coercion and decreasing trust in the agency charged with protecting those workers’ lives from management cost-cutting and carelessness. As UFCW President Joe Hansen said today:

The word being brought back to worksites, after a scam like this, is that OSHA can’t be trusted. That kind of perception diminishes OSHA’s ability to do the critical work of protecting America’s labor force…This unscrupulous action has shattered the trust between OSHA and the workers who depend on the agency the most. More and more often, it is immigrants who work in the most dangerous industries such as construction or meatpacking. How can OSHA reach these at-risk workers with safety information now?

As the UFCW points out, over two-thirds of the victims of injury and death on the job are Latino.

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GOP: OSHA IS BIG BROTHER

That’s a direct quote repeated several times by Mike Pence (R-IN) and other GOP congressmen in today’s House debate: “OSHA is Big Brother.” Of course they were generally circumspect about including within a paragraph of these denunciations emotional insistences that their intent was only to strengthen OSHA, and expressions of dismay and offense that Democrats would suggest otherwise.

The GOP message, then, is this: OSHA is Big Brother. We must strengthen OSHA. Any guess which part reflects how they really feel about it?

No attempt to argue that the reforms they were pushing would somehow make OSHA less like Big Brother either (after all, this is just a “narrow,” “small, inocuous” set of bills, right?). Just insistences that they were committed to preserving OSHA, and that to understand it we should think of it as a totalitarian overlord which supresses individual freedom (at least it’s not the “Gestapo,” like the EPA).

I’m not going to go so far as to say that the GOP’s messaging here is Orwellian. Thought it’s a better candidate for the label more than, say, government action to prevent manslaughter on the job.

A KICK IN THE TEETH

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ): “There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who have their arms, who have their eyesight, who have their lives, because OSHA has teeth.”

Right now in the House, the Republicans are pushing four bills to further weaken OSHA by making it easier for employers to put off responding to complaints, making it easier for the President to stack the commission, and limiting OSHA’s ability to aggressively interpret its laws. All this, of course, in the name of protecting small business. “Mom and Pop” companies, we’re asked to believe are wrongly aggrieved by the requirement that they notify OSHA within fifteen days should they wish to contest responsibility for conditions which cause serious injury or death for their employees. And we’re asked to believe, further, that the current law is unfair to all those small business owners who are injured simultaneously with their workers. Employers, of course, already have the opportunity to seek extensions in extraordinary circumstances; what Republicans want is to shift the responsibility to OSHA to prove why the deadline, which saves lives by facilitating rapid redress of unsafe conditions, should ever apply.

Rep. Major Owens (D-NY): “There is a class problem developing in America…What we’ve found in this war in Iraq, is that people on the top aren’t providing the kind of protection needed for people on the frontlines from working families.”

Truth is, there’s been a class problem developing in America, sadly, for a long time. It’s one we should be hearing about more often on the floor of the Congress and outside of it. And we’d be well served by more media attention to dangerous legislation like the bills under debate right now. But for all their claims to be looking out for regular Americans, you’ll notice that the Republicans aren’t hoping to see their handiwork on this issue in the news:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Let me remind my colleagues what this small, inocuous bill does…”

If a line like that doesn’t set off alarms, you haven’t been paying attention.