Apr 04, 2014 - 9:00am

Inspector Labor

Vice President, Labor Policy

Crossposted from the Workforce Freedom Initiative blog

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) raised some eyebrows recently after a media report revealed that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been allowing union representatives to tag along on its inspections of non-union workplaces. The revelation highlights a new twist in unions’ ongoing efforts to harass employers through the vehicle of government, a tactic they have employed increasingly to reverse labor’s 50+ year decline in membership.

As this blog has reported previously, labor unions engaged in contentious organizing campaigns will often apply legal and regulatory pressure on businesses, which often includes filing frivolous complaints with government agencies like OSHA in the hopes that some negative publicity against the employer might develop. And it seems OSHA has been happy to play along. Now, rather than merely investigate complaints itself, OSHA has apparently decided to up the ante by actually letting union officials and activists from “community organizations,” such as so-called worker centers, join investigators when they visit non-union workplaces.  

The policy actually came about a year ago in response to a request from Steve Sallman, a health and safety specialist with the United Steelworkers, who asked “whether workers at a workplace without a collective bargaining agreement may authorize a person who is affiliated with a union or a community organization to act as their representative under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).” Not surprisingly, OSHA said the bureaucratic equivalent of “sure!”

However, according to the law firm Ogletree Deakins, the new policy is “directly contrary to OSHA’s own regulation at 29 C.F.R. §1903.8(c), which states that ‘the representative(s) authorized by employees shall be an employee(s) of the employer.’ (Emphasis added.)” The same regulation allows an OSHA inspector to include a non-employee representative “such as an industrial hygienist or a safety engineer” when it “is reasonably necessary to the conduct of an effective and thorough physical inspection of the workplace.” 

In its letter to Sallman, OSHA stated that “it is [our] view that representatives are ‘reasonably necessary’ when they will make a positive contribution to a thorough and effective inspection,” which seems to take the concept of “reasonably necessary” beyond its logical meaning. In any event, it is difficult to divine how even that expansive interpretation might include a union official or worker center activist, but one could be forgiven for suspecting that OSHA was not exactly interested in making its policy jibe with the regulation’s rather straightforward strictures.

Last week’s reports revealed that OSHA had allowed a representative of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to go along on at least three inspections of Professional Janitorial Service (PJS), the largest non-union janitorial company in Houston. Coincidentally, or not, PJS is the object of a nasty organizing campaign by the SEIU, which just in December launched a series of Grinch-themed holiday protests at workplaces cleaned by PJS. In its recent inspections, OSHA could not find actual safety violations that had been alleged, but it nevertheless proposed $14,000 in penalties for things like a lack of proper paperwork and on-site informational posters.

For employers, OSHA’s policy and its application to an employer like PJS serves as evidence that it is more designed to intimidate businesses that are being targeted by labor unions. It also underscores the lengths to which organized labor and its sympathetic allies in this Administration will go to tilt the playing field in favor of unions desperate for a new lease on life. 

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean P. Redmond
Vice President, Labor Policy

Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.