Labor Groups Sue to Force Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment

January 8, 2007

The AFL-CIO has joined with the breakaway United Food and Commercial Workers in suing the Labor Department to force adoption of a rule requiring employers to pay for personal safety equipment for workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule, proposed in 1999 but never adopted in final form, would require employers to pay for protective clothing and other equipment used by millions of workers to protect them from job hazards.

“The Department of Labor held hearings, took comments and then put it on the back burner,” said Peg Seminario, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO. “There’s a clear-cut requirement that employers pay for it. But some employers are not paying, especially in industries with low-wage workers or unrepresented workers.”

The lawsuit claims that the Bush administration’s failure to act on the OSHA proposal is endangering workers. The labor groups say that workers in some of the country’s industries such as meatpacking, poultry and construction are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear.

David James, a spokesman for the Labor Department, said, “The case has not fully been reviewed by the department and it deals with complicated issues that will affect different employers and employees in a variety of ways.”

James said the department is reviewing public comments about the proposal before offering a final rule.

OSHA has never followed through by issuing the final rule, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit seeks to end the eight-year delay.

“It is long overdue that the agency take action on protective equipment,” said Joseph Hansen, international president of UFCW, which broke away from the AFL-CIO along with a half-dozen other unions that have formed a rival labor federation called Change to Win.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the Bush administration’s Labor Department “should stop looking out for corporate interests at the expense of workers’ safety and health on the job.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


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