(Washington, Jan. 3) – – The AFL –CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) today sued the U.S. Department of Labor over its failure to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) – – a standard which has been delayed for nearly eight years. This Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by an estimated 20 million workers to protect them from job hazards.
The lawsuit asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to act is putting workers in danger. By OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule. The labor groups say that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.
The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that OSHA’s existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment. The new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codifies OSHA’s longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it.
In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000. But it missed that deadline and has missed every self-imposed deadline since. The agency has failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and numerous requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. The lawsuit filed today seeks to end this eight-year delay, calling it “egregious.”
“”Nothing is standing in the way of OSHA issuing a final PPE rule to protect worker safety and health except the will to do so. It is long overdue that the agency take action on protective equipment. Now, we are asking the courts to force OSHA to act,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President.
“The Bush Administration’s failure to implement even this most basic safety rule spotlights how it has turned its back on workers in this country,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Too many workers have already been hurt or killed. The Bush Department of Labor should stop looking out for corporate interests at the expense of workers’ safety and health on the job.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asks the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.