By Mike Lillis
Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee are cheering Wednesday's passage of legislation to bolster the nation's mine-safety protections. Business lobbyists, not so much.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a related business group, the Coalition for Workplace Safety (CWS), warned this week that the Democrats’ mine safety proposal — which also expands employee protections at workplaces other than mines — will hobble employers at a time when the economy can least afford it.
In separate letters to Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and John Kline (R-Minn.), who head the House labor panel, the lobbyist groups took shots at each of the major reforms promoted by the bill.
An expansion of whistleblower protections, for instance, will be ineffective, CWS wrote Tuesday, because “the vast majority of complaints brought are not meritorious.”
“[N]o expansions of whistleblower rights are needed, nor will any expansions produce different results,” the group claims.
Hiking penalties for safety violations, the Chamber says in its own letter, is a “misplaced” policy that will only “make the compliance and enforcement process more contentious.”
Another provision, which would force employers to fix safety hazards even in cases where they appeal violations, could be complicated by demands from OSHA inspectors “who may not have a good understanding of the workplace at issue,” the Chamber said.
“Operators should not be forced to comply with costly and disruptive abatement measures specified by an OSHA inspector unfamiliar with the workplace without due process,” the group wrote.
And the list goes on.
Republicans on the House labor panel echoed those concerns during a markup of the bill Wednesday — to no avail. The panel approved the bill by a party-line vote of 30 to 17.
The Democrats’ mine safety bill came in direct response to a deadly explosion at a West Virginia mine owned by the Virginia-based coal giant Massey Energy. The company’s CEO, Don Blankenship, was a member of the Chamber’s board of directors until last month, when his six-year stint expired.
This post was updated at 5:44 p.m.