Miller: Every Worker Entitled to a Safe Workplace

In a press conference held Dec. 12 on Capitol Hill, the chairman-designate of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce promised to hold the Bush administration and Congress "to the highest standards of accountability and responsibility."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., emphasized that the mission of the committee – which has oversight of workplace safety and health – is "strengthening America's middle class." According to Miller's Web site, this will involve measures such as revamping President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, cutting interest rates on college student loans and raising the minimum wage.

While workplace safety did not take center stage at Miller's press conference, he asserted that every worker should have "the right to expect a safe workplace."

"It is an implied contract that when you leave home, you go to a safe workplace," Miller told reporters.

When asked about whether the new Democratic Congress – which will take office in January – will ratchet up oversight of OSHA and MSHA, Miller stated that it will be critical for the new Congress to work with employers in an effort to ensure that employers have "rational and accountable" workplace safety systems. Miller declared that the committee will work with OSHA to help the agency spread such a message to employers.

Miller also said that despite many of the breakthroughs in technology that have minimized hazards in the workplace, "many of the dangers are real."

Mine Safety Meetings Promised

On the heels of coal mining's deadliest year in more than a decade – according to MSHA, 46 coal miners have died so far in 2006 – Miller said that the new Congress plans to have public meetings on mine safety. He stated that that it is important to give families of miners and mining communities an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Miller added that Congress' initial refusal to hold hearings on the Sago and Aracoma coal mine tragedies earlier this year was "one of the greatest failings of Congress."

Departing committee Chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., praised Miller for some of his plans and said there are opportunities for bipartisan cooperation on several fronts. However, McKeon noted there still are fundamental differences between the parties' respective approaches on some matters, such as Miller's support of measures that would make it easier for workers to join labor unions.

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