Friends and colleagues continue to offer lovely memorials to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who passed away on February 11. (here, here) Human Rights Watch noted in their tribute he was an “unwavering advocate for fundamental rights,” and “his remarkable and sustained efforts on behalf of vulnerable and otherwise voiceless people.”
Indeed, for Cong. Lantos, human rights was not only about the politically oppressed in far away places. The vulnerable and voiceless included workers who were injured or otherwise harmed by hazards on the job, or those discriminated against for complaining about safety problems.
As chair of the former Subcommittee on Employment and Housing of the Government Operations Committee, Cong. Lantos made it his business to know what OSHA was doing about petrochemical plant explosions, repetitive motion disorders among postal workers, and under-reporting of injuries, among many other worker health and safety topics. If he didn’t think OSHA was doing enough, he’d fire off a fierce letter or convene an oversight hearing and he expected answers.
I was new on the job at OSHA in 1991, but it didn’t take me long before I knew that a Lantos letter or a Lantos hearing was a serious matter. There was no doubt that the Congressman viewed workplace safety and health as a fundamental human right, and that it was OSHA’s duty to make sure that it was protected.