May 22, 2009
increased focus on enforcement expected at OSHA
'OSHA lost its
focus' - New chief ready to advocate for workers
More room for
research at Van Andel Institute
class to renovated schoolhouse
sheriff at OSHA
'The Labor Department is back in the enforcement business'
Editor's note: Following are comments by new Labor Secretary
Hilda Solis, who made what amounts to the first public "mission
statement" for the direction of the Department of Labor
under President Obama. The April 28 statements by Solis - significantly
made on Workers Memorial Day at the National Labor College in
Maryland - represent a complete turnaround from her predecessor
Linda Chao, working under President Bush. Solis pledges tougher
enforcement for lawbreaking employers, while the Bush administration
stressed cooperation and "consultation" with employers.
"It is truly an honor to be here at the National Labor
College. I'm also proud to spend the day with our nation's labor
unions. There is no doubt that knowledgeable, empowered workers
mean safer workplaces. There is also no doubt that unionized
workers are more knowledgeable and more empowered than those
who are not able to organize.
"Today we are here to officially open the grounds of
the National Labor College Workers Memorial. It is appropriate
that we dedicate this memorial at the National Labor College.
Not only will this calm and quiet spot serve as a gathering place
to pause and remember the men and women who have lost their lives
while pursuing their livelihood, but it will serve as a reminder
to future labor leaders about the important work workplace safety.
On Workers Memorial Day, we remember a different kind of fallen
hero - the worker who leaves for work in the morning and doesn't
come home in the evening. The story in the newspaper might be
brief - man killed by fall, or worker crushed by machine. But
there are stories of pain and loss behind the headlines that
go on and on for lifetimes, and their ripple effects are enormous.
What about the family member who received the phone call, the
empty chair now left at the kitchen table, the empty space in
the bedroom or the emptiness a child feels when mom or dad is
no longer around? Or the sleepless nights for the co-worker that
witnessed the accident, or the gut-wrenching feeling of the person
who had to make the phone call to the family?
So, we gather today with these workers' families and friends,
we mourn the loss of their loved ones, and we recommit ourselves
to honor their memory. We pay tribute to them not only with noble
monuments of enduring brick and stone but also with our daily
commitment to do all we can to prevent the kind of tragedies
that took these cherished souls from us. On this point we can
all agree: No one in America should go to work fearful for their
health and safety.
The government has a fundamental responsibility to protect
workers from unsafe work places. Some argue that inspection,
enforcement, and regulation are "inconvenient," but
as we stand here today we're reminded of exactly what is at stake
when we put ideology ahead of common sense regulation. When it
comes to workplace protection, workplace health and workplace
safety, let me be clear: the Labor Department is back in the
I know that some try to frame issues of worker safety as pitting
workers against business. But we all know that the vast majority
of American business owners care deeply about the health and
safety of their workers. To many small businesses, the employees
who work with them day in and day out are like family.
But there are a few that do not make worker safety and protection
a priority. There should be no controversy around the simple
idea that workers ought to be able to come home from work safe
and sound. As we stand here today, we're reminded that not every
worker comes home, and that leaves a family to wonder what life
would be like if mom or dad was still with them.
"American workplaces have become much safer since the
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 established OSHA.
The shocking number of injuries and deaths on the job that we
saw almost 40 years ago are far lower today thanks to OSHA; but
we are nowhere near the satisfactory level of safety and health
that our working men and women deserve.
This nation was shocked when 12 workers were killed in the
Sago Mine in 2006, when 14 workers were killed in the Imperial
Sugar dust explosion in 2008, and when 15 workers died in the
BP refinery explosion in 2005.
But what most people don't realize is that more than 15 workers
are killed in the workplace every single day. Most of these workers
are killed one at a time. These deaths don't generate headlines.
In the United States last year, more than 4 million were injured,
and 5,500 people died on the job. In addition to these deaths,
the National Institute for Occupational Safety Health estimates
that over 50,000 workers die every year from occupational diseases.
To me, that's more than enough evidence that we need to do better.
We need to rethink our strategy when it comes to worker protection.
Over the last few years, we've seen an ideological response
to worker safety and health that de-emphasized enforcement and
standards. And recent reports on the effectiveness of the previous
administration's approach make clear that it's time for a change
Under my watch, enforcement of our labor laws will be intensified
to provide an effective deterrent to employers who put their
workers' lives at risk. OSHA and MSHA will be about workers -
not voluntary programs and alliances. I take very seriously the
report issued earlier this month by the Labor Department's Inspector
General which found insufficient focus on making workplaces safer.
The failings are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Can
we do better? Si se puede!
So long as I am Secretary of Labor, the Department will go
after anyone who negligently puts workers lives at risk. We are
creating a new program, called the Severe Violators Inspection
Program, which will ensure that workers are protected from negligent
companies that don't take worker safety seriously.
Over the past eight years, only one major health standard
was issued by OSHA - and that was done under court order. OSHA
will get back in the business of issuing standards that protect
workers and strong enforcement of those standards. We stopped
the previous Administration's delaying tactics in moving forward
on a standard to protect workers against popcorn lung. And after
more than a year's delay, we have announced the launching of
the small business review process for diacetyl, a flavoring additive
in popcorn that risks the health of workers.
We will not be controlled by ideology. Our regulatory principals
are clear: Where workers are in danger, where mandatory regulations
make sense, we will act.
I am announcing today that OSHA will begin the rulemaking
on combustible dust. After the 14 tragic deaths in Port Wentworth,
Georgia, last year, a bill passed in the House, moving forward
on a combustible dust standard that is long overdue.
President Obama and I believe in strong enforcement of laws
that protect workers, a strong federal role in protecting workplace
safety and health, as the OSHA Act originally mandated.
After devastating mine disasters over the past few years,
my department will focus on improving the health and safety of
mine workers. One of the areas we are going to focus on is the
disturbing increase in the incidence of occupational disease
- particularly black lung disease. We will work hard to eliminate
the scourge of black lung disease from our mining population.
We also recognize that we must do more to ensure that miners
understand their rights and responsibilities - including those
who do not speak English as a first language. We will hold mine
operators accountable for their responsibilities under the Mine
Act and the MINER Act, and we will continue to make sure they
understand the consequences of abdicating those responsibilities.
In order to make every workplace safe and healthy, the Department
of Labor must continue to work with our partners across the country.
These include employers, trade associations, labor unions, safety
and health professionals, and individual workers. Strong enforcement
of the law against employers means that we must ensure that employers
have access to timely and useful information about how to prevent
accidents before they happen.
I believe that the vast majority of American employers want
to do the right thing.
The economic stimulus funds provided through the American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act will support and improve America's infrastructure,
putting tens of thousands of people to work improving our nation's
roads, bridges, waterways and mass transit systems.
We will put people to work developing green energy, improving
our electrical power grid, and reinforcing our federal infrastructure.
We will send a loud and clear message to all recipients of recovery
funds: If you want these funds, you need to make sure that your
workplaces are safe, and you treat your workers fairly. And that's
a message that will continue long after our economy recovers.
As our nation makes key investments to put people back to
work, OSHA will strengthen enforcement by hiring an additional
36 inspectors to provide guidance training and outreach to employers
and workers, and launch a new effort to collect information about
injuries and illnesses in the construction industry. As part
of its efforts to provide compliance assistance and outreach,
OSHA will increase its efforts to protect our nation's workforce.
As we dedicate the building of this monument to fallen workers,
we rededicate ourselves to defending and enforcing the right
that every working man and woman deserves a safe and healthful
working environment. Thank you for all of your hard work and
dedication on behalf of the working families of our country."
money, increased focus on enforcement expected at OSHA
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI) - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) would get a 10% hike in its budget and staff, and a shift
towards enforcement and away from ineffective GOP-pushed "voluntary
compliance," according to the detailed budget Democratic
President Barack Obama sent to Congress on May 7.
The $51 million OSHA increase, to $568 million, was one of
several notable pro-worker changes proposed in Obama's spending
plan for discretionary programs - those Congress can change -
in the next fiscal year.
Obama also wants the number of federal OSHA inspections to
climb from 38,600 this year to 40,900 in the fiscal year starting
Oct. 1, and the number of state inspections, which the feds help
pay for, to rise from an estimated 50,000 this year to 57,650
next year. Federal OSHA enforcement money alone would rise 14.6%,
to $227 million.
Other large budget hikes went to wage and hour enforcement,
boosting DOL's ability to go after violations of minimum wage
and overtime laws, and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which
aids workers who lose their jobs to subsidized foreign imports.
That would double, to $1.8 billion, as the program expands to
cover more workers.
"The president's budget launches new and innovative ways
to promote economic recovery and the competitiveness of our nation's
workers," Obama's Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, said. "At
the same time, the budget reflects our effort to invest in what
works and cut or reduce programs that do not."
The OSHA increase marks not just more money for job safety
and health but also a shift in emphasis away from the GOP Bush
regime's combination of turning OSHA into a "consultative
agency" for business and of going after only "the worst
of the worst." A Government Accountability Office probe
of the latter emphasis showed it flopped.
Solis said her department would hire 1,000 new workers, two-thirds
of them investigators, thus returning the number of such probers
to where it was in 2001, before Bush took over. Of those, 160
new investigators will be in OSHA, while 200 will be in Wage
and Hour. Its budget would increase by 18%, to $228 million.
"If we expect our workers to come to work, every day,
we have to protect them," Jordan Barab, acting OSHA administrator,
told union nurses earlier in the week. Of his boss, Solis, Barab
added that "She is assuming and hoping most employers want
to do the right thing, but those who don't will be targeted for
strong enforcement action."
Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), the program that gives
extended jobless benefits, retraining money and even subsidies
for health insurance coverage to workers who lose their jobs
due to subsidized foreign imports, would double.
That hike will occur, the budget said, because Congress, in
the stimulus law Obama pushed and lawmakers passed, expanded
TAA to service-sector workers and to workers who lose their jobs
because their firms lost business from now-laid-off workers whose
own companies closed due to imports.
Those are workers like the deli servers whose deli closed
because the nearby steel mill whose workers it served lost their
jobs to imports. The service sector workers and the others will
be eligible for TAA aid starting on May 18.
Other notable budget highlights include:
- OSHA spending on "compliance assistance" would
rise by $2 million, to $73 million. "State consultation
grants," another Bush favorite, would stay at $55 million.
- The Wage and Hour Division is expected to aid 300,000 persons
"through securing agreements with firms to pay back wages
owed to their workers. In government contract compliance actions,
about 35,000 persons will be aided through securing agreements
to pay wages owed to workers," the budget says.
- The DOL office pushed by the Radical Right National Right
to Work Committee and the Bush regime to investigate and harass
unions, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, would be cut
by $4 million, or 10%, to $41 million. A recent additional onerous
provision, pushed through by Bush, that would have forced union
officers and staffers to virtually disclose all their personal
finances, was halted by Solis.
- The National Labor Relations Board would get a slight increase,
up $21 million to $283.4 million in both budget and staffing.
The number of workers would rise by 48, to 1,285 - still far
below levels during the Clinton administration.
- The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which takes over traditional
pension plans when the employers dump them -- usually due to
bankruptcy -- and pays some benefits, plans to serve 692,484
retirees in the year starting Oct. 1, up from 665,850. It expects
another 100 corporate pension plans, for a total of 4,050, to
be dumped on its doorstep.
lost its focus' - New chief ready to advocate for workers
Health and safety activist Jordan Barab assumed duties on
April 13 as acting head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). He will lead the agency until a permanent
director is chosen and then will become OSHA's deputy assistant
secretary on a permanent basis.
Barab ran the AFSCME union's health and safety program for
16 years. From 2003 to 2007, he was publisher of Confined Space,
a workplace safety blog through which he routinely clashed with
OSHA and the Bush Administration on policy issues.
"This appointment is a clear sign that Hilda Solis and
the Obama Administration are going to reverse years of deteriorating
attention to workplace safety and health at OSHA," said
Laborers International Union General President Terence M. O'Sullivan.
"OSHA lost its focus during the Bush years, but Barab's
commitment to protecting workers is well established."
Barab wrote in 2007: "...there are still far too many
health and safety professionals that don't understand that to
a very great extent, who lives and who dies in the workplace
is determined by politics - both power relationships in the workplace,
and traditional politics that determines who controls our government.
What that means is that organizing unions and electing politicians
who will fight against unlimited corporate control over our regulatory
agencies, our workplaces and the environment are of vital importance
to protecting the health and safety of American workers."
(The AFL-CIO and the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of
North America contributed).
room for research at Van Andel Institute
By Marty Mulcahy
GRAND RAPIDS - More room and support for the life sciences
is on the way in this city's burgeoning medical corridor, in
the ongoing eight-story, Phase II expansion of the Van Andel
Building upon the construction of the original research facility
in 2000, the $170 million, 240,000 square-foot expansion will
triple laboratory space for expanded basic and translational
disease research and allow for the creation of a new Parkinson's
Disease research lab.
Completion of the building in December will create a total
of 402,000 square-feet of space, and create the capacity for
500 new jobs. The addition is directly to the west of the existing
facility fronting North Division Ave. and bordering Crescent
"It's going well for us," said Mike Brandner of UA
Local 174 and project superintendent for mechanical contractor
Andy J. Egan. "This is a research facility, and there's
a lot of different kinds of piping, systems, and medical gas.
We have an outstanding crew here, they're doing some really good
The Phase II design plan mimics the existing building, offering
abundant natural light, an open and flexible laboratory layout,
as well as a demonstration lab for visitors to view research
The building will be new home for Van Andel Institute Graduate
School, and space will also be utilized by students of the new
regional medical school, Michigan State University's College
of Human Medicine. The expansion will also allow the institute
to broaden its research focus to include other neurological disorders
and chronic illnesses
Water from a 25,000 gallon rainwater retention basin located
in the bowels of the addition will be used to irrigate the building's
The building will also have triple-pane insulated glass, photovoltaic
panels to provide power, a heat recovery system designed to reclaim
heat from equipment and reduce loads on HVAC equipment, as well
as low-flow water fixtures.
The expansion at the Van Andel Institute joins the other ongoing
or recently completed cluster of construction projects on Grand
Rapids' "Medical Mile." Included are the Lemmon-Holton
Cancer Center, the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, Grand Rapids
Community College's Science Center, Grand Valley State University's
Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, the Michigan State University
College of Human Medicine and the ongoing work at the new Helen
DeVos Children's Hospital, which we will feature in an upcoming
The expanded Van Andel Institute, said Chief Administrative
Officer Steve Heacock, "represents the next stage of development
for a strong, robust active life sciences environment in Grand
Rapids and West Michigan. The last 10 years have been phenomenal.
The next 10 years will make it pale by comparison."
THE $170 MILLION addition to the Van Andel
Institute in Grand Rapids. The building's profile,
"yields a unique image for the institute, one that evokes
the Grand Rapids River in its hillside cascade of skylight roofs,"
according to the institute.
CUTTING A 2-INCH chilled water line at the
Van Andel Institute is Chad Abram of UA Local 174, working for
Andy J. Egan.
THE BACKING FOR the exterior skin of the Van
Andel Institute is installed by Jim Reed of Sheet Metal Workers
Local 7, working for Universal Wall.
restore class to renovated schoolhouse
By Marty Mulcahy
BELLEVILLE - There's new life for an old one-room schoolhouse
on the grounds of Willow Run Airport, where in the future, aviation
education and history will be on the classroom's curriculum.
Built in 1938 for use in the Henry Ford Academy educational
system, the Willow Run Schoolhouse had a number of uses over
the years, acting as a training building for the Army Air Corps
and later as a private residence.
The 3,000 square-foot schoolhouse was empty, dilapidated and
home to a few critters about 10 years ago, when its most recent
owner gifted it to the Yankee Air Museum. The structure was moved
about 3½ miles from the west side to the east side of
Willow Run Airport. And for the last 18 months or so, Phoenix
Construction and the building trades - some volunteer, some paid
- have been renovating the schoolhouse.
"It's just a beautiful little building," said Yankee
Air Museum Curator Gail Drews. "They've done a great job,
and we're really anxious to start using it."
Started in 1981 by a group of avid aviation history buffs,
the Yankee Air Museum has acquired and returned to flying status
five World War II aircraft. The pride of its fleet are a B-17G
"Flying Fortress" called the "Yankee Lady,"
which was restored and returned to flying status in 1995. The
museum also has a B-25D Mitchell, a medium-duty bomber similar
to the type used by Jimmy Doolittle's raid over Tokyo. It is
one of only two B-25Ds still flying today.
Located in a Willow Run hangar, the Yankee Air Museum has
a number of other old aircraft and historical items. The museum
survived a horrific fire in 2004 in its previous home in an old
wooden hangar at Willow Run, where quick action by volunteers
saved their aircraft, but the museum lost more than $1 million
in fixtures and equipment as well as irreplaceable artifacts,
photos and books.
Renovating the schoolhouse is a new facet for the museum,
and it is only awaiting the final hookup of utilities before
its next chapter begins. Drews said it would be used for day-long
educational programs, for groups like Boy Scouts, on aviation-related
Joe Hoffman, a Plumbers Local 98 retiree, said he has worked
at the schoolhouse on and off since last fall. With him that
day were fellow 98ers Ron Cope, Fred Cirilli, Joe Huffman and
"I've mostly been running copper through the crawlspace,"
Hoffman said. "I'm retired, I need to something to do once
in a while. This seemed like a good cause and I wanted to help
out. It's a really nice building."
THE RENOVATED Yankee Air Museum schoolhouse.
Work zone crashes drop 9 percent in Michigan
Statewide highway work zone crashes in the 2008 construction
season dropped 9 percent from the year before, according to data
released May 14 by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
There were 4,977 crashes, 1,378 injuries, and 13 fatalities
in 2008, down from 5,499 crashes, 1,420 injuries, and 20 fatalities
"While these numbers indicate a decrease, we must continue
to be vigilant and help motorists understand that the life they
save could be their own," said State Transportation Director
Kirk T. Steudle. "All of the fatalities in work zones last
year involved motorists and passengers. We hope the new legislation
(PA 296 and 297 of 2008) invoking stiffer penalties for injuring
or killing anyone in a work zone further enhances safety."
Signed into law last fall by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the two
new laws provide stiffer penalties for injuring or killing another
person in a Michigan road construction work zone. The law will
impose fines of up to $7,500 in fines and 15 years in jail, for
motorists who injure or kill anyone, not just construction workers,
in a road construction work zone. Previously, under Andy's Law,
similar penalties were applicable if a motorist injured or killed
a road worker.
"This legislation not only continues to protect our workers,
but it protects the public as well," Steudle said, adding
that motorists, not workers, comprise the "vast majority"
of work zone injuries and fatalities.
In an effort to promote work zone safety in 2009, MDOT has
developed a 30-second public service announcement expected to
air on radio stations statewide from Memorial Day to Labor Day
through a partnership with the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.
Additionally, MDOT will provide special funding to the Michigan
State Police (MSP) for overtime patrols in work zones. Heavy
enforcement concentration will involve the I-96 corridor in Livingston
County between US-23 and Kent Lake Road.
"Drivers play an important role in preventing crashes
in work zones," said MSP Director Col. Peter C. Munoz. "Be
alert and use appropriate caution when approaching work zones:
look, locate workers, and lower your speed if workers are present."