Today is OSHA’s 49th birthday. Today is also Day 44 of the quarantine (for me anyway) and a day where states are increasingly moving toward reopening their economies without any meaningful protections for workers. Part of the Republican war on workers has been to make OSHA a completely meaningless agency. In 2013, when the fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded and killed 15 workers, it would have taken OSHA 129 years to inspect every workplace in America at current employment rates. It’s now only gotten worse under Donald Trump:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had only 862 inspectors at the start of the year, the smallest number since 1975, according to a report by the pro-labor, nonprofit National Employment Law Project. The total was down from 952 in 2016 and a historic high of 1,469 in 1980.
“They cannot return people to work until they protect workers on the job, and they can’t protect workers on the job with voluntary guidelines,” the report’s author Deborah Berkowitz, who served as OSHA chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said in an interview.
The White House is urging businesses to open their doors in hopes of triggering a swift revival of the American economy, which has been largely shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kevin Hassett, an economic adviser to Trump, said in an interview on CNBC Monday that essential businesses had begun to operate without major flare-ups and it was likely safe for non-essential businesses to reopen as well.
On April 10, OSHA announced that it would ease enforcement of existing record-keeping rules so that most employers won’t have to document whether employees with Covid-19 got the virus on the job. On April 13, the agency announced that it would generally try to deal with coronavirus-related complaints informally, by asking employers to investigate themselves, rather than sending in OSHA inspectors.
The Berkowitz report, being released Tuesday and based on data obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, also faults Trump’s OSHA for failing to fill nearly half of its top leadership positions. The role of assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health is among those currently vacant; the agency has been run by Loren Sweatt, a principal deputy assistant secretary of Labor.
“They were heading into this pandemic seriously, almost fatally weakened,” Berkowitz said.
The Republican Party will never pass up a chance to kill workers so their friends can buy a 14th house. COVID-19 combined with an eviscerated OSHA gives them a great chance to see this agenda through.