Reprinted from The American Prospect by Prem Thakker on May 31, 2021.
“It should tell you something about who US public policy honors and respects,” writes Prem Thakker in The American Prospect, “that the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA), a bill that would simply expand the workplaces covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), oblige employers to handle violations while a case is being litigated (instead of just leaving workers in harm’s way), and improve whistleblower protections for workers, has been continually introduced in Congress for 20 years, without passage. Advancement on this Congress’s version of PAWA would require eliminating the filibuster from an evenly divided Senate, and even then, success would not be automatic.
“In the midst of a historic pandemic that turned workplaces into hives of disease and threatened workers making barely livable wages with sickness or death, it’s particularly maddening that workplace safety has remained such a low priority in Washington. In a nation with over 130 million workers employed at more than eight million worksites and ever-evolving job environments, OSHA desperately needs to be retooled. But how can that be accomplished amid an indifferent Congress, and an agency with too little to offer workers?
“For 50 years, OSHA has fallen short of its mission to protect workers, hamstrung by inadequate funding and bad agency design. Staffing levels are at a 20-year low, down about 22 percent from the peak. OSHA’s fines, which by statute max out at as little as $13,653 for serious violations, are much too weak to have a deterrent effect, except for the smallest employers. Even these penalties are often left unpaid for years while being appealed, or are reduced or dismissed entirely. …