Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and his Republican members of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Labor Department don’t think coal miner deserve better protection from black lung disease. In their FY 2012 appopriations bill they would prohibit the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from using any funds to develop, promulgate, enforce or otherwise implement a new rule to protect miners from exposure respirable coal dust. (See page 36 in the bill.) This is a rule that has been in the works since at least 1996 when a federal advisory committee made comprehensive recommendations toward the goal of eliminating black lung disease in U.S. coal miners. It’s a sad day in the U.S.A. when lobbyists from Big Coal and Members of Congress decide behind closed doors that coal miners don’t deserve protection. I guarantee that there were no black lung victims or their spouses in the room when this nasty deal was struck. How quick these Members of Congress are at dismissing the appalling evidence from the 29 victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster—-71% of the men, including deceased men under age 40—-had coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.
But coal miners aren’t the only working people these Members of Congress and special interest lobbyists throw under the bus. They don’t care much about workers doing roofing jobs on residential construction sites.
Language in this bill would prohibit OSHA from using any funds to fully enforce its fall protection standards for these workers, a rule that has been on the book since 1995. Hundreds of US workers are killed on-the-job every year because of falls from elevated work areas. Construction workers employed at residential construction sites are especially at risk of fall-related deaths. It is the #1 cause of death for these workers and also a cause of serious and disabling injuries. The National Roofing Contractors Association wants its member-employers to be able to continue to skimp on safety.
These Republican lawmakers also don’t feel any responsibilty to ensure fair working conditions for guest workers who are in the U.S. temporarily at companies’ requests to tend crops, pick crabs, serve as ranch hands, or do other jobs. Language in this bill would prohibit the Labor Department from using any funds to enforce certain labor protections for H-2A and H-2B workers. As I’ve written previously, (here, here) too many of these workers experience wage theft, harassment, unsafe working conditions, and live in substandard housing. Who are these lawmakers trying to fool by suggesting that our nation’s economic troubles can be solved on the backs of the guest workers? Foreign workers in the U.S on H-2A and H-2B visas are some of the most powerless groups in our society.
I count more than a dozen of these anti-public health, anti-science, anti-middle class, anti-worker riders in just the Labor Department’s portion of the bill. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking minority member of the appropriations subcommittee said the bill contains at least 40 of these partisan, highly controversial provisions.