Labor Committee

In 1995, a little known Republican Congressman named John Boehner stated that “Most employers would describe OSHA as the Gestapo of the federal government.” Boehner went on to bigger and worse things, before failing into obscurity, but the Associated Press apparently thinks that Boehner was on to something.

Writing about how a tiny, understaffed agency like OSHA can enforce its new “Vax-or-Test” emergency standard, the AP’s Paul Wiseman points out that  “Just 1,850 inspectors will oversee 130 million workers at 8 million job sites. So the agencies must rely on whistleblowers.”

But then went on to say:

So the government will rely upon a corps of informers to identify violations of the order: Employees who will presumably be concerned enough to turn in their own employers if their co-workers go unvaccinated or fail to undergo weekly tests to show they’re virus-free.

Horrors!! Yes, hard to believe, but shifty, traitorous employees will stoop so low as to turn their own employers into the “Gestapo of the federal government.” Can Gitmo and concentration camps be far behind?

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World

From its earliest conception, before anyone knew how underfunded and understaffed OSHA would eventually become, the founding mothers and fathers of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) realized that OSHA would never have enough inspectors to cover the country adequately and therefore gave workers important rights to involve themselves in the safety and health of their workplaces — and to be protected against retaliation for that involvement. The law intended workers to be OSHA’s eyes and ears.

Rather than being labeled as “informers,” workers who file complaints should be praised as heroes.

For example, workers fought for and were given the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection if they suspected that their employer was not in compliance with OSHA standards or is otherwise endangering their health or safety.  Workers (or their representatives) have a right to walk around with inspectors when they come for an inspection. Workers have to right to access records of the chemicals they’re exposed to, as well as their medical records. And workers have a limited right to participate in proceedings when employers contest a citation. Almost every OSHA standard issued in the past 50 years requires workers to be trained about the hazards they’re exposed to and about the employer’s legal responsibility to control those hazards.

Section 11(c) of the OSHAct warns employers that they may not “discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act.”  In some cases, this language has been interpreted to allow workers to refuse hazardous work without retaliation.

In fact, worker involvement is not a betrayal of their employers, but rather the key to OSHA’s success in significantly reducing the number of injuries, illnesses and deaths in this country’s workplaces.

Few of these rights have quite lived up to their promise. Despite what the law says, workers often do not feel safe exercising their rights if they aren’t protected by a union. Unfortunately, union membership and the security that comes with it, has declined substantially since the and when the OSHAct was passed in 1970. The anti-retaliation language has proven to be weak and antiquated.  Almost every whistleblower/anti-retaliation legislation passed by Congress since 1970 has much stronger provisions than Section 11(c).

COVID has not made things any better. Wiseman notes that former OSHA Chief of Staff Debbie Berkowitz wrote a report for the National Employment Law Project that found that “OSHA dismissed — without investigating — more than half the COVID-related complaints of retaliation it received from whistleblowers. Just 2% of complaints were resolved in the five-month period.”

“Technically,” Berkowitz said, “the law says that companies can’t retaliate against a worker for raising a health and safety issue or filing an OSHA complaint or even reporting an injury. But retaliation is rampant.”

Self-Enforcing

Of course, despite its size, OSHA’s enforcement problem may not be quite so dire.  Most employers — like most American citizens — will comply with the law even if a cop isn’t looking over their shoulder all the time (and even if their traitorous employees, children and friends don’t betray them.)

As former OSHA head David Michaels says in the article:

“Most employers — they’re law abiding ….They’re trying to make sure that they meet the requirements of every law and regulation . Now OSHA will follow up. They’ll respond to complaints. They’ll do spot checks. They’ll issue citations and fines, and they’ll make a big deal of those” to discourage other potential violators.

In other words…

In other words, the right of employees to report to OSHA if “their own employer” are threatening their lives is not a betrayal, it’s a good thing.  And it’s not just a good thing, it the essential underpinning of every employee’s legal right to a safe workplace.  And not only is it essential, but that right and workers’ tools need to be strengthened and expanded.

OSHA’s anti-retaliation language needs to be much stronger and workers need a clear right to refuse unsafe work. All workers need the clear right to be represented in inspections and other procedures by anyone of their choosing, even if they don’t belong to unions.  And workers need significantly expanded rights to participate when employers contest citations.

Many of the improvements workers need are included in the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which is introduced in the House and Senate every year, but doesn’t go anywhere because too many Republicans still see OSHA as the Gestapo, rather than the legal guarantor of workers right to come home safely after work.

Bottom line: Rather than being labeled as “informers,” workers who file complaints should be praised as heroes.

7 thoughts on “Are Concerned Workers “Informers?””
  1. OSHA was created to protect workers from hazards in the workplace; this is a great thing.
    However, with this ETS, we have now classified workers as the hazard. That’s the problem Jordan.
    You’re vilifying a group of people who are hesitant to get an experimental “vaccine” that has only been administered over the past 18 months.
    Nobody, not even you, understand the potential long-term effects of this “vaccine” and the fact that you seem to take pleasure in vilifying us for our hesitancy is truly disgraceful!

    1. First, the risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus is not just from fellow employees — a worker can also get sick from exposure to customers, patients, clients, contractors, and the general public. The risk is a function of exposure to any other human in the workplace, not just to a co-worker. This is the same type of risk — exposure to infected humans — that led to the passage of OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard 30 years ago. Second, over 2 million workers a year report having been a victim of violence at work, some of which is caused by co-workers. It’s nothing new to take precautions against the risk of harm from co-workers. Third, nobody is being vilified — employers with workers who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated are allowed to implement a testing and face-covering policy in lieu of requiring the vaccine. Your vaccination status is your own confidential medical information — your decision to remain unvaccinated might be due to an underlying health condition as much as anything else. Last, the vaccine is not experimental — it has been fully authorized by the FDA. I’m sorry you feel vilified but the the only way to get sick from coronavirus is from exposure to an infected person, and the most effective way to protect yourself from this risk is to get vaccinated, as we all did with measles, mumps, rubella, etc. It’s a shame that so many Americans have been persuaded to question the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, on so little evidence that it can cause harm.

  2. 1. Unvaccinated workers ARE hazards.
    2. Not trying to “vilify” anyone. Just trying to make everyone safe.
    3. It’s not an “experimental” vaccine.
    4. People who aren’t vaccinated threaten the health of others. It’s just a fact. That’s why we’ve had vaccine mandates for the entire history of this nation. And they’ve saved millions of lives.
    5. The OSHA rule is not a vaccine mandate. It’s a vaccine-or-test rule. Employers are perfectly free to give their employees a choice. Personally, I don’t think that’s the best public health option, but that’s what the rule says.

    1. Jordan,
      Again, your word salads are truly epic!
      You say, “I’m not trying to vilify anyone. Just trying to make everyone safe.” directly after you say, “Unvaccinated worker ARE hazards.”
      I’m sure I’m not the only person who would classify that as vilification.
      Also, how is this “vaccine” not an experiment? What proof is available that these “vaccines” are safe for everyone? Can you direct us to the studies on these “vaccines” that show they are safe for everyone?

  3. The testing option is a joke. The ETS places the burden on the employee to pay for the testing around $100 each test, thus $5200 a year per person or $10,400 per family per year. Biden said he is not going raise taxes, but he is going to make us spend all of our money on food, everyday consumables, gasoline and home heating plus the $10400 testing cost. The current government is crippling the average American. Its interesting that Pelosi, Gov Gavin and the Mayor of San Francisco attended Ivy Getty’s wedding without masks in a large group. Getty money comes from old oil money, the hypocrisy is huge in this one. Our leaders mandate what we should isolate and wear masks but do but fails to follow its own rules. The Democrat motto, Do what I say not as I do and lets push green initiatives but cottle to big oil. Why is everyone omitting the new anti-viral drugs from Merck and Pfizer for infected people? Is it really an emergency when we have 3 vaccines and two anti virals and allow full football stadiums and democratic weddings with no significant infection rate increases from the Biden shutdown phases. OSHA should not be used as a pawn to try to enforce a democratic agenda, deal with construction worker suicides, falls from residential roofing not from a disease that is difficult to trace, if it is transferred at work. What about all the homeless, unemployed, illegal immigrants and people who have already had Covid, no rules for them. If OSHA is being used why not DHS, DHHS, VA and any other government agency, get a vaccine or you do not get into the country, health services or life assistance, services or benefits? When the illegals are loaded on a plane vaccinate them before they are introduced into our neighborhoods.
    Great job, keep up the democratic path of destroying our country.

  4. Tests are not nearly that expensive and will get cheaper. But I agree with you. Workers should not be required to pay for the tests. Management should pay or else mandate vaccinations for all employees.

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