The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has dropped specific “walkaround’ privileges for outside unionists – notably safety and health experts – to accompany agency inspectors, when requested by workers, in non-union shops.
The new directive applies to regular inspections, and it reverses a guidance letter – which business groups screamed about – issued four years ago. Steelworkers safety and health specialist Steve Sallman received that letter in February 2013.
Thomas Galassi, OSHA’s enforcement director, and Dorothy Dougherty, deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, told regional administrators on April 25 that the Occupational Safety and Health Act and agency regulations both say reps of both the employer and workers could still accompany any OSHA inspector “for the purpose of aiding” an inspection.
And, Sallman told PAI in a telephone interview, they still can, at the inspector’s request.
The difference between now and four years ago, the Galassi-Dougherty memo makes clear, is that—then—workers “without a collective bargaining agreement” could designate “a person affiliated with a union or a community organization as their walkaround representative.”
Now, they can’t. It’s up to the OSHA inspector, instead.
“There still is an OSHA standard” that says outside experts, including union safety and health officials, can accompany the inspectors, Sallman said. “This just makes it a little more difficult” for them to do so. “It’s tricky, if you’re not an employee” of the company, he added. OSHA regulations say its inspectors can still call in outside experts “for good cause.”
“The regulation is still the regulation and the law is still the law,” Sallman said. The OSHA inspector “still has the ability to ask a third person to go with them” when they tour a plant or job site. The two OSHA officials called the Sallman letter “unnecessary.”
Business groups strongly opposed the Sallman letter and cheered OSHA’s decision. The National Federation of Independent Business, a so-called small business group which is part of the extreme libertarian right, led the charge, even suing OSHA to stop unionists from walkarounds.
NFIB President Juanita Duggan said the Sallman letter “gave unions a pathway to intimidate small business owners. Congress never intended that OSHA should open the door to unionization efforts. The Obama administration was on thin legal ground…We applaud the Trump administration for properly recognizing the rights of small business owners.”
“I would guesstimate the political staff at the White House” prompted OSHA’s action, Sallman told PAI. “It’s just politics – part of an overall plan by the current administration to get back to their corporate sponsors.”