In a possible effort to placate a prominent congressional critic of OSHA''s proposed ergonomics standard, the agency announced yesterday that next month''s informal public hearing on the proposal would be held in Atlanta, Ga., instead of Washington, D.C.
Last month, OSHA concluded nine weeks of ergonomics hearings that were held in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Seattle.
When the Labor Department rejected his April request to hold hearings in the Old South, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Tex., blasted Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman for the decision, and held his own town hall meetings in his West Texas district.
But Bonilla showed no signs of appreciation for OSHA''s recent decision to hold the upcoming July 7 ergonomic hearing in Atlanta.
"Changing the venue of a hearing that had already been announced is not going to solve the problem," he said in a statement released yesterday. "Moreover, interested parties preparing to testify in Washington, D.C. now have to rethink their plans quickly and prepare to go to Atlanta."
The additional hearing is necessary because in its original economic impact statement, OSHA failed to include state and local governments, the U.S. Postal Service (USPA), and railroads, even though workers in these areas will be covered by the proposed rule.
OSHA yesterday also extended the deadline for notices of intention to appear at the hearing by one week, giving participants until June 21 to file the notices.
Bonilla sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over OSHA''s budget, and is one of the agency''s harshest critics.
The congressman''s comments, and OSHA''s abrupt decision to switch the hearings to Atlanta, came as the House debated an appropriations bill that freezes OSHA''s 2001 budget at this year''s level, $44 million below the President''s request.
The House Appropriations measure also contains a rider barring OSHA from spending any money on the promulgation of an ergonomics standard.
OSHA offered no explanation for its decision to move the hearing to Atlanta.
More information on the informal public hearing is available from OSHA''s Web site, www.osha.gov.
by James Nash