Inspections More Likely With 'Labor Unrest,' Says GAO

Companies experiencing labor unrest are about 6.5 times more\r\nlikely to be inspected by OSHA than those that are not, according to a General Accounting Office report.

Companies experiencing labor unrest are about 6.5 times more likely to be inspected by OSHA than those not experiencing labor unrest, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report.

The report, "Worker Protection: OSHA Inspections at Establishments Experiencing Labor Unrest," was done at the request of Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The study was conducted between June 1999 and June 2000. It used data compiled by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the National Labor Relations Board to identify approximately 22,000 establishments with some kind of labor unrest.

According to the report, about 68 percent of the approximately 1,900 OSHA inspections conducted each year at establishments experiencing labor unrest resulted from complaints, fatalities or catastrophes.

In contrast, only about 27 percent of the approximately 100,000 total inspections OSHA conducted each year resulted from complaints, fatalities or catastrophes.

While it did not appear that unionized companies were in general more likely to receive a complaint-based inspection than non-unionized companies, the analysis did find that, among companies experiencing labor unrest, there were a higher proportion of complaint-based inspections at unionized companies than non-unionized, said GAO.

The report pointed out that by law OSHA must perform inspections, regardless of whether labor unrest exists, if valid complaints, fatalities or catastrophes occur.

The term "labor unrest" is commonly used to indicate some type of dissatisfaction among workers, but there is no consensus about the ways in which labor unrest develops.

"However, it is clear that there is some relationship between labor unrest and employees'' dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions," wrote GAO.

OSHA: Process Not Being Abused

"We have no reason to believe that OSHA''s complaint process is being abused," OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said in a letter responding to the GAO report.

Jeffress said the agency believes there are shortcomings in the study''s methodology that "undermine the significance of its major conclusion and limit its usefulness."

In particular, Jeffress said that the study significantly inflates the correlation between ''unrest'' and the likelihood that an establishment will have an inspection.

"The great majority of inspections are based on targeting programs that are unaffected by the existence of labor unrest and, as GAO recognizes, are not influenced by employee complaints," noted Jeffress.

He went on to say that the most powerful determinants of the likelihood of inspection are the employers'' size and industry, not whether they are experiencing labor unrest.

He also emphasized that GAO found that a business with labor unrest was 2.5 times more likely than the average establishment to receive an inspection "based on complaint."

Jeffress said this was more indicative of the influence of labor unrest on complaints to OSHA than the "6.5 times higher" figure that GAO chose to highlight. He pointed out that the higher figure was based on a comparison that included inspections that had nothing to do with worker complaints.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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