If there was any doubt in your mind that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is detached from the reality of workers, worker rights and safety, he made it eminently clear in a letter he sent to his constituent Ms. Tammy Miser of Lexington, Kentucky. She’d written the Senator McConnell asking for his support for the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA), a bill that was introduced in August 2009 by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Instead of referring to the bill being considered in his own chamber of Congress, Senator McConnell writes:
“After it was introduced, HR 2067 was referred to the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where it awaits further consideration.”
Ummm…..Minority Leader McConnell, there is no House Subcommittee of that name. HR 2067 was referred to the House Education and Labor Committee which has conducted at least two hearings on the bill. The companion bill is S.1580 and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. It has 22 co-sponsors, and would make some modest revisions to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a law that has not been updated in 40 years.
In a year when we’ve read so many awful news accounts of deaths in American workplaces, one would think that Senator McConnell would be aware of a bill to improve the federal law governing worker health and safety. I would also expect the Minority Leader to acknowledge the key issue raised by Ms. Miser and its relevance to PAWA. Her brother, Shawn Boone, 33, was killed in 2003 from an aluminum dust explosion at an industrial facility in Indiana. The Senator misses that fact completely. He fails to even acknowledge her family’s loss, and adds the insensitive remark:
“…during President Bush’s Administration, workplace injury, illness and fatality rates reached record lows.”
Tammy’s brother died in 2003—during the GW Bush Administration—I’m sure his pat-on-the-back to the previous Administration is no consolation to Tammy’s family.
The Senator misses other points raised by Ms. Miser’s letter. Under current OSHA law, employers are not explicitly barred from tampering with evidence:
Until my brother was taken off life support Hayes Lemmerz was allowed to clean up the facility making it difficult to determine exactly what happened and the full circumstances.
PAWA would help change that. Tammy also explains that her family was never informed about the State-OSHA investigation of her brother’s fatal injuries. That would also change under PAWA.
“I took it upon myself to find out how OSHA and many other offices worked and I was shocked to find that families had no rights during OSHA’s investigation. We had relevant information about Shawn’s workplace, as many families do, that could have assisted in the investigation. …Hayes Lemmerz knew of the dangers of their operation and had serious incidents prior to my brother’s death. Hayes Lemmerz had no relevant working fire extinguishers, no protective equipment, the furnace was calked with silicone and they had fires on a daily basis.”
“This bill would make fundamental changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act that are long overdue. The workers of our country deserve to be able to go to work every day without having to fear for their lives. This bill would strengthen OSHA to enable them to provide adequate protections for all working people.”
With a letter like that from a constituent, you’d think that Senator McConnell, the Minority Leader of the Senate, would have taken the time to read the bill and see how it would address some of Ms. Miser’s concerns about rights for family member victims of workplace fatalities. There are countless families suffering today because too many employers gamble with workers’ lives and face no substantial consequence. Perhaps Ms. Miser should send Senator McConnell another letter–not one that might confuse matters with a bill number—but one that simply asks: Which side are you on? But, I think we already know the answer to that.