MIke Johnson

So, the nation finally has a new Speaker of the House.  An ultra-conservative, rabidly anti-abortion, Christian Nationalist, Trumpy, Big Lie promoting Speaker. But a Speaker nevertheless. Sort of a nicer version of Jim Jordan. In a suit-coat.

So can we all now rest easy that the fate of our great nation is in good hands? Or at least the fate of our great House of Representatives?

Umm, probably not.

But as ideologically conservative as Speaker Mike Johnson is, the main job of the Speaker is not to promote his or her ideological views, but to ensure that the House (and federal Government) function — or at least his Party. Ultimately, the Speaker’s job is building coalitions within their own party to go in the direction of the party’s ideology (not an easy task, as we have seen), and despicable as it is to some Republicans, work with Democrats who control the Presidency and Senate, to get important things done — like funding the federal government.

It’s a skill that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi excelled at. And a skill at which Republican Speakers, back to Newt Gingrich have miserably failed.

Nevertheless, with all that going on, with all the crises facing this country and the world, it’s important to address the most important issue to Confined Space readers, an issue inexplicably missing from cable news coverage.

Nevertheless, with all that going on, with all the crises facing this country and the world, it’s important to address the most important issue that the nation’s millions of Confined Space readers are asking. An issue inexplicably missing from wall-to-wall cable news coverage last night.

And that question, of course, is: What does the elevation of Mike Johnson to Speaker of the House mean for workplace safety?

As a Republican, the answer is probable nothing good. But exactly how “not good” is it?

First, by way of background, Johnson’s father, a firefighter, suffered a career-ending injury after suffering severe burns in an explosion. One might think that would make a person somewhat sympathetic to efforts to make the workplace safe.

But not so much.

Republicans — even those who have lost family members to workplace tragic and preventable accidents — remain staunchly opposed to anything related to a government role in protecting workers’ health and safety. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, for example, whose father suffocated to death in a grain bin, was inalterably opposed to any OSHA initiatives when she was in Congress — and a staunch defender of language prohibiting OSHA from investigating unsafe conditions or deaths on small farms.)

Despite his father’s injury, occupational safety and health has never been a focus of Johnson’s career, although there are some telling signs of his feelings.  In 2020 he posted a congratulatory Tweet to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry after Landry announced that “Federal Court has granted my request to Stay #OSHA’s Vaccine Mandate Rule – halting Joe Biden’s attack on private companies!

And somehow in the flurry of dozens of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ bills he sponsored or co-sponsored, Johnson somehow still found time to be one of 31 original co-sponsors of the “REVERSE OSHA Mandates Act” that would have prohibited OSHA from requiring workers to get any drug, vaccine or biological product.

Johnson is also chairman of the powerful, and extremely conservative Republican Study Committee, the self-anointed “intellectual arsenal of conservatism” which published “The Conservative Playbook for a Republican Congress” a while back. While the playbook doesn’t spend much time on OSHA, it does take a moment to condemn OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, falsely claiming that it duplicates other OSHA activities and funds labor unions.

Along with the usual Republican rhetoric about costly regulations and evil unions, the report complains that

today’s labor market is smothered by excessive and burdensome government red tape. Senseless regulations, counterproductive tax policies, and labor laws that subjugate workers all hinder human capital and individual achievement.

White House Going to the Dogs

But never fear. When it comes to worker safety, House Republicans are on the job — Speaker or no Speaker.

Education and Labor Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx, who has never seen an OSHA standard, program, policy or initiative that wasn’t allegedly copied from the Communist Manifesto, has found a new cause: ensuring a safe working environment in the White House by protecting Secret Service agents from getting bitten by Biden’s dog Commander, who has been accused of 12 biting instances since 2021.

With not much else to do in a leaderless House, Foxx decided that her time (and her staff’s time) would best be spent penning a letter to Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su accusing the White House of failing “to set an example for ensuring workplace safety and health for its employees.”

Now I fully support the concept that Secret Service agents should not be bitten by a dog — even the First Dog. (or hit by flying ketchup bottles.) Dog bites are no laughing matter and definitely a serious workplace safety issue. But this very concerned letter is from a oh-so-concerned Congresswoman who wouldn’t even support legislation that would have directed OSHA to issue a workplace violence standard. Or any OSHA standard.  Ever.

I guess violence perpetrated against by dogs is bad. Violence perpetrated against workers by people, on the other hand….

I guess violence perpetrated against by dogs is bad. Violence perpetrated against workers by people, on the other hand….

Thankfully, the White House has apparently dealt with the problem by focusing on the top item on the industrial hygiene hierarchy of controls. Instead of personal protective equipment (like bite-proof gloves), or administrative controls (like running like hell when you see Commander), the White House has chosen to eliminate the hazard. Commander, it seems, has been banished from the White House.

Problem solved.

And now we are sure to see Chairwoman Foxx’s strong support for more OSHA funding. Right?

In Conclusion

But back to the original premise of this post: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.  He doesn’t seem to have any special animus toward OSHA (aside from COVID vaccinations. Because…freedom.)  But he will undoubted promote Republicans’ efforts to undermine regulatory protections and weaken and defund agencies whose mission it is to protect American workers, consumers and the environment.

After all, he’s on a mission, ordained by God.

And, of course, no anti-OSHA bills passed in the House have much likelihood of passing the Senate or being signed by the President. Nevertheless, OSHA — like every other Government agency — needs a budget. A budget large enough to fulfill its mission — preferably without going through a shut-down that will inevitably kill American workers.

So ultimately, the question is: Can he run the House to the extent the government will continue to function.

I guess we’ll all have to pray on that. And organize.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Confined Space

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading