Business lobby wary of Dems' proposal to protect miners

"Card-check" might be dead, but mine safety legislation remains pending among "organized labor’s top priorities in this Congress," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned its members Thursday. 

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), "purports" to fix "perceived problems" that led to April's deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine in West Virginia — although "no official report on the cause of the accident has been released," the Chamber wrote in its annual Labor Day assessment of the country's business climate.

Miller’s proposal, which passed through the House Education and Labor Committee in July, focuses largely on protecting the nation's miners underground. But it also includes language that would greatly expand the powers of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to police other job sites as well.

The Miller bill, for instance, would hike fines on companies that violate OSHA safety rules; expand whistleblower protections for workers who report safety concerns; and require employers to correct health and safety hazards even when they plan to appeal those citations — a stipulation that currently governs mines, but not other workplaces.

"Workers should have basic workplace protections no matter if they work in a mine extracting coal or at an oil refinery handling explosive chemicals," Miller said during the July markup of his proposal.

The Chamber has a different take, saying the "troubling" reforms represent "the most sweeping changes to [OSHA's powers] since its inception in 1970" — changes that will hobble businesses trying to emerge from the recession.

The expansion of whistleblower protections, for instance, "will lead to an increase in the number of lawsuits against employers," the Chamber said; the mandatory hazard abatement rule "restricts an employer’s due process rights," forcing employers "to immediately begin correcting problems;" and making executives more liable for safety hazards targets folks "who may not have been aware of any of the alleged violations." 

Of note, Don Blankenship, the CEO of the coal giant that owns UBB, was a board member of the U.S. Chamber until June, when the last of his three two-year terms expired.