The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 16 ordered the Bush administration to respond to the the unions' lawsuit by March 19. However, several days before that deadline, legal counsel for Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao filed papers with the appeals court asking it to hold the case “in abeyance” until the final rule is issued in November.
“The secretary is moving forward with the PPE payment rulemaking,” the Department of Labor asserts in its response to the lawsuit. “The secretary has carefully reviewed the regulatory schedule and has determined that absent unforeseen circumstances, she will publish a final PPE payment rule in November 2007.”
The two unions in their lawsuit contend that the Department of Labor – which houses OSHA – has been dragging its heels in promulgating the proposed standard, which would require employers to pay for the costs of worker PPE such as gloves, lifelines and face shields.
“We applaud the decision to finally issue a a final rule on employer payment for their employee's protective equipment,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “This rulemaking has taken far too long. We will be monitoring the Department of Labor's actions to make sure they honor this commitment and issue a strong, protective rule.”
“A Victory for Workers”
OSHA first announced the rule in 1997 and proposed it in 1999 after the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission concluded that OSHA's existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for workers' protective equipment. In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000, but it missed that deadline.
The unions in their lawsuit note that OSHA has missed every self-imposed deadline since.
In an interview with OccupationalHazards.com, AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Peg Seminario hailed the turn of events as “a victory workers.”
“It's a shame that it has languished for 8 years and that it took a lawsuit to get them to commit them to do their job,” Seminario added.
Congress Got Involved
Congressional leaders also have been seeking avenues to compel OSHA to issue the standard.
On March 6, U.S. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced H.R. 1327 – the “Protective Equipment for America's Workers Act” – in an effort to require OSHA to release the PPE ruling within 30 days.
Seminario said that the new legislation introduced by Roybal-Allard and Miller will help ensure that OSHA's finalized rule will be “at least as protective as the proposed rule” from 1999.
“The lawsuit has gotten the Department of Labor to commit to issuing the final rule, but in the end of the day it has to be strong,” Seminario said. “In that regard, the legislation will helpful in setting out a standard that will not be weak.”
For more about the lawsuit, read “Labor Department Ordered to Respond to Lawsuit.”