Campaign 2002: Was Ergonomics an Issue?

When the Bush administration, nearly all Republican lawmakers and a handful of Democrats nullified OSHA's ergonomics regulation in 2001, Democrats and their union supporters promised to make them pay for it in the next election. Did they succeed?

Rep. Anne Northrup, R-Ky., a member of the OSHA appropriations subcommittee, helped lead the charge against the ergonomics standard in the House. Having won by a narrow margin in 2000, she seemed a promising target in 2002 for those who believed an OSHA ergonomics rule is a winning political issue.

But Northrup won again in 2002. "Anne Northrup's victory in Kentucky was a victory for a general purpose business message, but particularly ergonomics," commented Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) in a post-election press briefing.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., was the most relentless foe of the ergo rule in the Senate. He was re-elected easily Nov. 5 and is now in line to chair the OSHA oversight subcommittee, or the powerful chairmanship of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Employing political advertisements that depicted injured workers, organized labor targeted Enzi's lieutenant in the ergo battle, Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark. The National Coalition on Ergonomics fought back with ergo ads supporting Hutchinson, but he lost anyway. Democrats who voted to nullify OSHA's ergonomics standard protected themselves from the political consequences by supporting legislation (S.2184) that calls for a new OSHA ergo rule. Now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, the bill's prospects are bleak.

While it was not clear how much opposing OSHA's ergonomics standard hurt candidates in the recent elections, one thing was clear: in 2002 ergonomics was a real political issue.

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