House, Senate votes condemn ergonomics rule; Bush will sign death warrant
WASHINGTON, March 9 -- Big Business' multi-million dollar investment in the 2000 congressional campaign paid dividends March 6 and 7 when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed what the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups labeled their number one priority -- killing ergonomics protections for workers.
The 56-44 Senate vote March 6 included six Democrats who sided with business, the Bush administration and all 50 Senate Republicans. The next day, 16 Democrats sided with all but 13 Republicans in a 223-206 vote that kills the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's workplace safety rule that could prevent 1.6 million repetitive stress injuries a year. President Bush has promised to sign the ergonomics standard's death warrant. (See links below to find out how your senators and representatives voted.)
Senators and representatives "hostile to the interests of working families rushed a naked political pay-off to big business contributors who have opposed every effort to enact a standard protecting workers," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
"This is special interest legislation," said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) after the vote. "This is political payoff. Make no mistake about it."
The ergonomics standard simply requires employers to address workplace problems that cause injuries, and only after an injury has occurred. Some 1.6 million repetitive stress injuries are reported a year and most workplace safety experts believe hundreds of thousands more injuries go unreported because workers fear reprisal. Out of the reported injuries, 600,000 are serious enough to cause workers to miss time on the job.
Both the Senate and House mounted the attack on worker safety under the never-before-used Congressional Review Act. The CRA is known as the "nuclear bomb" of regulation because it is a fast-track measure with no hearings or committee votes, requires just a simple majority, prohibits a Senate filibuster and, if approved by both the House and Senate and signed by the president, it will ban OSHA from issuing any similar workplace ergonomics standard until Congress passes a new law allowing OSHA to issue a similar rule.
The move to kill the ergonomics standard is backed by groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Big Business organizations. When Vice President Dick Cheney met with 1,700 NAM members in Washington, D.C., last week they were greeted by some 200 union members, injured workers and safety activists. In a sidewalk demonstration outside the meeting, the protestors marched and chanted "Hands off the ergo standard -- don't Bushwhack workers."
© 2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers