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Congress continues OSHA hearings.

Hearings on legislation which would provide mandatory coverage of state and municipal employees under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) continue in the House and Senate.

Companion bills are being considered in both chambers: in the Senate: S 1622 by the Labor and Human Resources Committee and in the House: HR 3160 in the Education and Labor Committee. Extending coverage to all state and local employees is but one provision of the extensive bills, other provisions would raise employer penalty provisions and expand worker rights to refuse work they deem hazardous.


The current federal OSHA statue does not cover municipal employees, however, if a state exercises its option to enact a state OSHA program approved by the federal government, it must cover state and local employees. The 23 State currently having approved programs and thus covering municipal employees are Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

Thus for 27 states without plans the proposed legislation will provide for mandatory coverage and in the 23 states with plans the proposed legislation will raise fines and other regulations.

Senate Hearing

At hearings held March 17th before the Senate Labor Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and attended by full committee chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) a focus was on the extension of OSHA coverage.

A witness appearing before the committee was Amy Delguzzo whose father, Linus Kriener, a municipal employee in the City of Madeira, Ohio, had died March 9, 1992 as a result of injuries sustained in a trenching cave-in.

According to Ms. Delguzzo, "It was bad enough for us to learn that my father was gone. But it was so much worse to find out that his accident and his death could have and should have been prevented. If that hole had been dug by a private contractor working for the City of Madeira, all of the standards would have been used or somebody would have to answer for it. But because my dad worked for the city--and not a contractor--he did not have those protections. My dad was a printer before he went to work for the city. He did not know anything about digging trenches and he was never given any safety training in the 13 years he had that job. He was not trainied because the city was not required to provide any training under the law."

Senator Kennedy said that, "the legislation will be marked up this spring and reported out of committee."

In response to Kennedy's questions a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union said that there are 1,600 public employee fatalities annually and 250,000 public employees injured annually. Metzenbaum said that the Kriener accident was, "shameful enough but that he was flabbergasted" that Kreiner's co-worker at the job-site, Duane Clemons, was denied leave by the city to enable his attendance at the hearing. Metzenbaum urged the union officials to make a protest to the Madiera City officials.

House Hearing

At a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee, chaired by Rep. William Ford (D-Mich.) on March 5, 1992 the issue of covering state and local employees was also center stage. Union representatives of firefighters, nurses and general public employees had been invited to testify and all supported mandatory coverage of municipal employees.

Alfred K. Whitehead, president of the International Association of Firefighters cited the city of El Dorado, Ark. for refusal to replace damaged protective clothing and complained that if approval of an existing state plan is withdrawn, then public employee coverage in that state is lost. Chairman Ford called this the real "Catch 22" of the law.

Rep. Paul Henry (R-Mich.), the senior Republican in attendance at the hearing said that he supported the inclusion of public employees in the legislation but raised a question of why congressional employees were not covered. The latter comment drew a spirited response from Chairman Ford, saying it was a matter of constitutional law and separation of powers that, "should be learned in the third grade" and chastising Henry for raising the issue. At the end of the exchange Henry stated that it was not an issue of coverage but of finding a congressional enforcement mechanism.

A number of the Committee members cited their experience as local government officials in supporting extension of coverage to public employees including: Thomas Sawyer (D-Ohio), Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), and Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.). Rep. John Reed (D-R.I.) said that his brother who is a firefighter feels it is inconsistent to respond to an industrial site where members of the in-house company fire brigade are covered by OSHA and he is not.

The issue of safety standards at incinerators and waste to energy plants was raised at length by Reps. Sawyer and Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.).

In about the only bright spot for public employers a question about whether there would be support for allowing the fine levied on public employers might be applied to financing safety improvements at the offending jurisdiction rather than going to the federal treasury seemed to elicit a favorable response from the committee and witnesses.

In concluding the hearing Chairman Ford referred to his daughter working in a public hospital in Michigan and his desire to see her as protected against AIDS and othr hazards regardless of whether she worked for a public private facility.

Additional hearings on other aspects of the legislation are anticipated, perhaps as many as three, with a desire to have a committee vote on the bill prior to the first of May. As February 26th, 22 of the 41 members, a majority of the committee, were co-sponsors of the legislation. In total the bill has 112 co-sponsors, all Democrats, except for Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).
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Title Annotation:Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Author:Peterson, Doug
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 6, 1992
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