Unions and OSHA
Can OSHA take part in union
activities? For decades, it seemed the
answer was a def nite no. But that
might be changing.
In February 2013, OSHA’s Fairfax
sent a letter of interpretation to Steve
Sallman, a health and safety specialist
with the United Steelworkers Union,
asserting that union representatives
can accompany OSHA inspectors at
Many OSHA regulations have
helped the door and window industry. They’ve created safer
workplaces and increasing production of important materials.
In 1974, the agency established a permissible exposure limit of
1 part per million for workers exposed to vinyl chloride, a f ammable,
carcinogenic gas that’s used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl. OSHA’s
standard slashed worker exposure to the gas and made the PVC production
process more eff cient. Thanks in part to that, sales of vinyl windows took off,
and they now represent about 70 percent of the U.S. market, according to the
American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA).
In 1989, OSHA issued the lockout/tagout standard. That helps protect
employees from the unexpected start-up of machinery and equipment
during maintenance. According to OSHA, the standard prevents an estimated
120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year in manufacturing facilities, includ-
ing those for doors and windows.
According to Ben Huggett of the
Littler law f rm in Philadelphia, “this
ruling contradicts the plain lan-
guage of OSHA’s governing regulation
as well as longstanding agency
OSHA has also established many construction-related safety standards that
make window installation much less dangerous in areas such as fall prevention
and personal protection equipment (PPE).
guidance and past interpretations.
OSHA’s action in allowing unions and
other organizations to participate
in its inspections, even where they Health Act to enforce measures at
In November 2014, Central
do not formally represent a majori- other locations operated by a compa- Transport LLC was facing $330,800
ty of employees, threatens to disrupt ny that’s violated OSHA regulations. in OSHA f nes for four violations at
OSHA’s primary mission by embroil- It’s called enterprise-wide abatement, its shipping terminal in Billerica,
ing the agency in representation orga- and it’s not uncommon in negotiated Mass. Central Transport contest-
nization and community disputes,” settlements that OSHA reaches with ed the decision with the indepen-
Huggett wrote in an April 2013 post on violators. However, the case involv- dent Occupational Safety and Health
his f rm’s website.
Another Littler attorney, Maurice LLC might be different, because it that year.
Baskin, testif ed before the House involves a business that OSHA is in In its complaint to the Commission,
Subcommittee on Workforce “contentious litigation” with, accord- the Labor Department claimed that
Protections in February 2014 that ing to Business Insurance. Central Transport failed to com-
ing freight hauler Central Transport Review Commission in December of
Fairfax’s letter violates the National
Labor Relations Act and the one.
Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Burkhalter says keep an eye on this ply with OSHA standards for fork-
lift safety at locations other than
“Several OSHA attorneys I work the inspected worksite. It sought to
“By allowing outside union agents with feel this is a one-time event that enforce compliance at the compa-
and community organizers access OSHA has chosen to publicize,” he told ny’s 170 facilities across the country.
to non-union employers’ private DWM at the time. “However, it bears Central Transport then f led a motion
property, OSHA is injecting itself in watching to see if it happens again. asking the Commission to strike
to labor-management disputes and OSHA likes to publish severe violators. the department’s claim for enter-
casting doubt on its status as a neutral I think this may fall more toward that prise-wide abatement, arguing that
enforcer of the law,” Baskin said.
At the same hearing, attorney
end than a legal precedent.” the Occupational Safety and Health
It could also be another example Act doesn’t allow it.
Randy Rabinowitz presented the of the agency trying to stretch its staff
pro-labor argument, saying that and funding as far as it can.
Judge Baumerich denied Central
Transport’s motion, ruling that the
OSHA has always honored employees’ “The … ruling is part of what Occupational Safety and Health Act’s
right to choose their own representa- appears to be OSHA’s attempt to provision for “other appropriate
tives during safety inspections.
expand its enforcement reach even relief” allows the department’s claim
though its resources are limited,” for abatement at all locations where
Enterprise-Wide Abatement” Travis Vance, an attorney with Fisher similar violations exist to proceed
In December, Judge Carol Phillips in Charlotte, N.C., wrote in to trial.
A. Baumerich ruled that the April at JD Supra Business Advisors.
Occupational Safety and Health “Given a tighter budget, the agency Trey Barrineau is the editor of DWM
Review Commission may have author- wants to remain effective while com- Magazine. USGlass assistant editor Nick St.
ity under the Occupational Safety and pleting fewer inspections.”
Denis contributed to this story.