The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s war on workers was dealt a significant blow when fast food king Andy Puzder’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor collapsed. As we detailed three weeks ago, Puzder and the Chamber were simpatico on many issues of concern to labor. However, it didn’t take the Chamber long to pick itself back up and open the next front in its war on workers. We’re only midway through the week but the Chamber has already both supported Republicans in Congress who are using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to push to undo a commonsense worker protection regulation and released a report outlining pro-worker Obama-era policies at the National Labor Relations Board that it wants reversed.
First, a little background: The CRA allows Congress, by simple majority vote in both chambers, with very little debate and no possibility of a filibuster, to undo recently issued rules so long as the president does not veto the legislation (see Samantha Bee for our favorite explainer yet). Already, the Stream Protection Rule, Social Security Administration Rule, and the Oil and Gas Industry Anti-Corruption Rule have been repealed via the CRA, leaving communities susceptible to water pollution by coal miners, enabling oil tycoons to avoid transparency, and allowing those with severe mental illness to purchase guns . Congress is threatening to hold CRA votes on dozens of other important rules, which may result in Americans losing critical health, safety, and environmental protections.
The Chamber’s main labor attack this week is focused on rolling back an important worker protection rule known as the Volks rule, which clarifies an employer’s ongoing obligation to maintain records occupational injuries or illnesses for five years. The Chamber-backed CRA challenge, H.J. Res. 83, was introduced by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) and is expected to be voted on in the House this week. It comes as no surprise that the Chamber donated to Byrne in both 2014 and 2016, and is avidly working to lobby for his resolution and drum up employer support.
Just yesterday, the Chamber sent a “Key Vote Alert” to House members, making note that it “will consider including votes related to it in [its] 2017 How They Voted scorecard.” (With the amount of money the Chamber spends supporting Republican candidates, we’re sure this got members’ attention).
The five year record keeping requirement formalized by the Volks rule is not new. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had been holding employers accountable to this standard for 40 years prior to 2012, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned this decades-long precedent in AKM LLC (Volks) v. Secretary of Labor. This hindered OSHA’s ability to cite employers for recordkeeping violations and in response, OSHA issued the Volks rule on December 19, 2016 to reaffirm its procedures in advance of any other federal courts reviewing OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations.
The Chamber asserts that the Volks rule “will improperly subject millions of American businesses to citations for paperwork violations, while doing nothing to improve worker health and safety.” What it isn’t mentioned, of course, is that by inspecting accurate data from employer records over a period of several years, OSHA is able to effectively enforce its recordkeeping policies, ensuring employers keep accurate records of employee injuries. With accurate data, OSHA can more effectively identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk. Likewise, employers can proactively use the records to keep their own worksites safe.
If employers do not keep accurate injury logs, even greater numbers of American workers are likely to suffer preventable fatalities and injuries on the job. The Chamber fails to recognize that this issue is quite literally a life or death matter. Already, about 4,800 people die on the job every year from injuries, (but an estimated 50,000 people die each year from occupational illnesses they contracted from work, like silicosis and chronic beryllium disease), and about 3 million people are injured at work annually. The requirement that employers keep years’ worth of records has allowed OSHA to better enforce the law and ensure companies maintain accurate records of employee injuries. With accuracy, OSHA can understand where these deaths and injuries are occurring, under what circumstances, and how they can be prevented.
Undoing the Volks rule will set us back more than four decades, undoing much of the tremendous progress that has been made in improving workplace safety. By supporting this CRA, the Chamber and its GOP allies are once again pushing the interests of big business instead of pushing efforts to improve workplace safety. It’s yet another example of the Chamber and the GOP placing profits before people.