Since 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson first introduced an occupational health and safety bill to Congress, the U.S. Chamber has opposed government oversight of how companies treat their workers. In the 1990s, the U.S. Chamber worked with congressional Republicans to introduce legislation that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to spend at least half of its budget on “consultation” with businesses, rather than enforcement (which was already low), and it unfortunately helped make history in defeating an ergonomics safety rule. Today it continues to push back against OSHA interpretations and rulemakings.
Hurting workers in pursuit of the bottom line
Companies lobby against worker protections through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, thereby opposing popular safety measures without sullying their brand names. When they are successful, this enables the companies to skimp on expenditures to protect their workers, thereby burdening employees with additional safety risks and future costs of health care.
The U.S. Chamber has consistently opposed efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to make workplaces safer for workers. Many of these battles involve fine details of regulation writing and rule-making, and are often hashed out away from widespread public view. For example, the U.S. Chamber opposes OSHA’s attempts to require the disclosure of workplace injury data – the nature of the injury, and when and where it occurred. The U.S. Chamber has long opposed rules to limit workers’ exposure to silica , one common cause of injuries in the workplace.
One of President George W. Bush’s OSHA heads, Edwin Foulke, was a member of the U.S. Chamber’s Health and Safety Committee, during which time he testified before Congress promoting so-called voluntary compliance programs for companies – a far weaker alternative to OSHA enforcement and one often pushed by the U.S. Chamber.
The U.S. Chamber has expended a lot of resources fighting against standards to improve ergonomic safety, one of the most common hazards in worker health. Perhaps most notoriously, at the end of President Bill Clinton’s second term, the U.S. Chamber pushed for the overturning of a thoroughly studied rule to protect millions of workers from work-caused musculoskeletal disorders, helping lead to the only time Congress has ever overturned an agency rule. Then in 2010, it fought against OSHA simply adding a column to federal surveys for employers to record when a worker’s injury is musculoskeletal in nature. The rule would simply provide the public and employers with a more accurate count of how many musculoskeletal injuries are occurring, but even that was too much for the U.S. Chamber to stomach.