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Republicans In The House Take Aim At NH Labor Laws

Republican legislators in the New Hampshire House of Representatives want to change the current labor laws to allow kids to work “any time” of the day or night, remove requirements to display wage and discrimination laws, and handicap the State Department of Labor.

State Rep. Laurie Sanborn (Bedford), introduced the self titled “Red Tape Reduction Act” (HB1762-FN) aimed at what she says is to “reduce the excessive and unnecessary documentation and regulatory (red tape) burdens.” She claims that these “burdens” are inhibiting employers from hiring and growing their businesses.

What it really does it make it easier for employers to screw over workers and reduces the penalties if they get caught.

Some of the “burdens” that Rep. Sanborn wants to eliminate:

  • Eliminate the requirement to pay a worker “two hours of pay” when they show up to work and their shift is canceled
  • Eliminated the employees right to refuse to take part in “tip sharing”
  • Allow 16-17 year olds to “work any hours” and eliminates the Department of Labor’s requirement to randomly inspect worksites with young workers
  • Make unpaid interns responsible for their own Workers Compensation Insurance
  • Create a new “volunteer” worker category where an employee can “volunteer to learn” while working, without pay for up to 6 months
  • Remove the requirement to display safety, wage, hour, and discrimination laws in highly visible or “conspicuous” space
  • Removes the requirement that all wages and payment schedule changes must be made in writing
  • Changes the rules about employers providing uniforms and apparel with the “company logo” to be used in the work environment. (First uniform is free but employee may be required to pay for additional uniforms.)
  • Eliminate the Department of Labor’s rulemaking authority regarding wages and child labor laws; all relevant rulemaking changes must go through the legislature
  • Eliminate need for employers to file a “written safety plan, joint loss management committee, and safety summary form”
  • Expands the Department of Labor’s ability to waive fines, offers a 30 grace period on violations to avoid fines, and eliminates a number of mandatory fines for things like: “failure to pay a worker on time”, “failure to pay a worker in full”, and “requiring an employee to perform any illegal activities under threat of job loss.”

Of all of these the most egregious is the changes to child labor law allowing 16-17 year olds to work “any hours” of the day and night.   These are high school kids. Should they be working overnight shifts at the local mini-mart or working till midnight at the local fast food joint? No. These hour restrictions were put in place to ensure that children do not work too much or too late because it would have a detrimental affect on their education.

Under this new bill it would be the employee’s responsibility to know all of the laws concerning wages, overtime, discrimination, and safety regulations yet the employer is no longer required to display them. Does anyone actually think a 16 year old in their first job knows anything about child labor laws?

There have also been a couple of bills to increase the minimum wage with a caveat for 16-17 year old workers. These young workers would be allowed to work a sub-minimum wage or “training wage”. Rep. Sanborn’s proposed legislation coupled with the proposed “training wage” would allow employers to hire 16-17 year olds to work any time at a rate below the state’s minimum wage. How many low-wage workers would lose their jobs only to be replaced by 16-17 year olds earning “training” wages?

The bill has a number of co-sponsors, including Laurie’s husband, and first Congressional District Candidate, Sen. Andy Sanborn. The Sanborn’s have used their small business, The Draft bar and grill, to justify their votes against raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage.  In 2014, in a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Andy Sanborn called a minimum wage increase to $9.00 an hour a “job killer” but failed to mention how much a minimum wage increase would impact his personal business.

These proposed changes would also force reductions in the Department of Labor’s annual budget. The Department of Labor estimates that the proposed changes would have cost the state over $500,000 dollars in fines paid over the last three years. They also noted that the new regulations would require a “follow up inspection” which would “decrease in worker efficiency” and decrease the number of worksites inspected each year.

New Hampshire already has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country. There are lots of jobs available but many of our young adult workers are leaving New Hampshire in search of better wages in other states. Repealing these regulations will do nothing to help spur growth in our economy but it will allow employers to cheat worker without any fear of penalty.

Honestly does anyone really believe that removing the requirement to display wage and discrimination laws will somehow create jobs? Are they really expanding jobs and boosting the economy by hiring unpaid interns and “volunteer” workers?

This race to the bottom must end. We need in strengthen our labor laws not destroy them. We need to empower the Department of Labor to inflict harsher penalties on employers who violate the law not lessen worksite inspections and eliminate fines. This would be a step back for the hard working people of the Granite State if this somehow makes it through.


Full copy of the proposed legislation below

HB1762

Senator Hassan Presses DOL Nominee Alex Acosta on Workplace Safety

Senator Also Highlights Importance of Job Training
and New Hampshire’s Job Corps Center

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Maggie Hassan participated in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing for Alex Acosta, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Labor.

Senator Hassan highlighted the importance of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and OSHA inspections, which reduce injury rates at inspected workplaces and lower worker compensation costs.

The Senator noted that there are only seven OSHA inspectors to oversee safety and health at 50,000 worksites throughout New Hampshire, and voiced concerns with President Trump’s budget proposal to cut the Department of Labor’s budget by 21 percent. Senator Hassan asked Mr. Acosta, “Can you commit that if confirmed as Secretary that you will advocate for and seek funding that will maintain OSHA’s enforcement budget at no less than current levels?” Mr. Acosta responded, “I would be very concerned in a situation like you mentioned where there are only seven inspectors because going from seven to six has a substantial impact.” However, despite acknowledging the negative impact of a shortage of OSHA inspectors, Mr. Acosta wouldn’t commit to fighting to prevent harmful cuts that would exacerbate the situation.

Senator Hassan also pressed Mr. Acosta on his commitment to creating a more inclusive work environment for Granite Staters and Americans who experience disabilities. Citing that federal law allows employers to pay subminimum wages to workers who experience disabilities, Senator Hassan asked Mr. Acosta if he “supports individuals who experience disabilities being paid a subminimum wage.” Mr. Acosta declined to directly answer the Senator’s question or commit to supporting individuals who experience disabilities, saying, “I think this is a very difficult issue.”

In her opening statement, Senator Hassan also expressed her concern with President Trump’s proposed budget cuts that would decimate job training programs throughout the nation, and highlighted the importance of job training programs and the new Job Corps Center in New Hampshire that is helping build a stronger workforce that businesses throughout the state need to grow and compete. The Senator urged Mr. Acosta to do everything in his power should he be confirmed “to support both job training and our Job Corps Centers.”

After the Senate hearing, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, released the following statement:

“Alex Acosta’s testimony today raises serious questions and doubts whether he is committed to making life better for working families. Mr. Acosta’s nomination was a major improvement over the previous nominee, based on his qualifications, yet he offered no indication that he would use those qualifications to stand up for workers.

 The Labor Secretary is not just another Cabinet member – his or her actions directly impact our wages, safety, retirement security and rights on the job every single day. Working people wanted to hear how Mr. Acosta would enforce and uphold labor laws to benefit us and not further tilt the balance of power toward corporate CEOs. Today, presented with the opportunity, he failed to do so and ensure America’s workers he’s on our side.”

Watch Senator Hassan question Alex Acosta below.

Watch video of Senator Hassan’s questioning here.

Portsmouth should shut down UBER X service

uber-logo

(PORTSMOUTH, NH) Representing client Great Bay Taxi in pleadings filed today in Rockingham County Superior Court, attorney and public safety advocate Joe Plaia again makes the case that the City of Portsmouth’s failure to regulate Uber X in the same way that it does Great Bay Taxi is harming this well-established local business:  

“The influx of an unlimited amount of UBER X drivers into the small Portsmouth market, by not having to comply with the same regulations has threatened the survival of Great Bay Taxi and the entire taxi industry in the City of Portsmouth.  GBT (Great Bay Taxi) has lost enough revenue from weekend fares that it has been required to remove two vehicles from its fleet because they can no longer afford to pay the commercial insurance for those vehicles.”

Uber’s rapid expansion has been marked by their drivers committing crimes against their passengers.  The crimes range from assaults, thefts, sexual assaults, kidnapping and rape.  The concern is so great that many other states are taking action to ensure Uber is either banned in their jurisdiction or subject to the same regulations other taxi companies abide by.  In addition, Uber drivers have also been in traffic accidents that have resulted in injuries to their passengers, and in one case the death of a six year-old girl.

A state legislative committee, created in response to public safety concerns surrounding Uber, will begin hearings later in the summer. 

GET THE FACTS: EPA Plan to Cut Carbon Pollution (Via Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter)

Kyndby Powerplant (Image by Peter Madsen Flickr)

Kyndby Powerplant (Image by Peter Madsen Flickr)

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The Clean Power Plan proposal will help protect public health and fight climate change by cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 baseline levels by 2030.

“Climate change is real and we’re increasingly seeing its impacts on New Hampshire’s natural resources and our economy,” Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter said. “That’s why New Hampshire’s small businesses support new guidelines to limit the amount of carbon pollution power plants can dump into our environment. These safeguards will protect our health and spur innovation, potentially creating thousands of jobs and making us more energy independent.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) today released a package of facts, myths, and statistics about the new EPA guidelines. New Hampshire doesn’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment, and these numbers prove it. 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

·         New Hampshire will have flexibility to meet the EPA’s target using the energy sources that work best for our state and by cutting energy waste. New Hampshire has been a leader in efforts to curb harmful emissions, and these rules will help level the playing field by requiring other states to do what New Hampshire has already done.

·         New Hampshire is already experiencing extreme weather. Since 2010, severe weather caused $47 million in property damage. In mountains along the Maine and New Hampshire border, snow depth decreased by 16 percent in recent years, affecting outdoor recreation industries like skiing and snowmobiling and contributing to a decline in moose due to a longer tick season.

·         Combatting carbon pollution will improve Granite Staters’ health, including the 10.2% of New Hampshire adults who suffer from asthma. In New Hampshire, there were over 1,000 hospital admissions for asthma in 2011, with an average charge of close to $12,300 for each stay.

·         Clean energy is already playing a role in New Hampshire’s economy. In New Hampshire, renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources increased more than 35 percent since 2009.

·         New Hampshire is already making progress. Between 2008-2011, carbon emissions from the power sector in the Granite State decreased by 25 percent.

NATIONWIDE

Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are currently no federal limits on carbon pollution levels. By 2030, the Clean Power Plan will:

·         Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.

·         Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit.

·         Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits.

·         Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

MYTH vs FACT

MYTH: JOHN BOEHNER: Climate change policies will kill 224,000 jobs and surge electric bills by $17 billion every year.

FACT: We rate his statement False. [Politifact, 6/2/14]

“Boehner said the EPA’s plan to regulate carbon emissions in existing power plants will increase electric bills by ‘$17 billion every year’ and ‘potentially put an average of 224,000 more people out of work every year.’ Those numbers are based on a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study that came out before the EPA announced the regulations on existing power plants.

“That study wrongly assumed the administration would set a benchmark of reducing carbon emissions by 42 percent before 2030. The regulations released June 2 actually put forward a 30 percent reduction within that timeframe. The chamber itself told PolitiFact its estimates are not based on the goals as announced.

“But despite these serious flaws, Boehner used the numbers anyway.”

POLLS

A recent Washington Post – ABC News poll found that the majority of Americans support efforts to reduce carbon emissions:

·         70 percent say the federal government should require limits to greenhouse gases from existing power plants.

·         57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent among independents and 79 percent of Democrats support state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

·         The overall results are closely in line with Post-ABC polling since 2009, where between 65 and 75 percent have supported limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. 

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

Health organizations, business community leaders, and religious groups are also coming out in support of the EPA’s proposed standard:

·          “A coalition of 176 companies, including Unilever, Mars Inc. and clothing maker VF Corp., sent letters Monday to the Obama administration and congressional leaders to support the administration’s proposal to limit power plant carbon dioxide emissions.” [The Hill, 6/2/14]

·         U.S. Conference of Bishops: “We are pastors in a faith tradition that teaches, as Pope Francis recently stated, ‘Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.’ The best evidence indicates that power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the United States, and a major contributor to climate change.”

·         The American Lung Association: “Power plant pollution makes people sick and cuts short lives. We are pleased to see significant health benefits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which would reduce the burden of air pollution in America.”

ICYMI

When asked if New Hampshire already had compliance with the EPA rule “in the bag”, state officials said that seems to be the case.

N.H. Likely Has Proposed Carbon Limits ‘In The Bag’
NHPR // Sam Evans-Brown
June 2, 2014

Under a proposed rule out of the EPA Monday, New Hampshire will have to come up with its own plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, many of the building blocks for that plan are already in place. 

The new EPA rule says that New Hampshire should emit 486 pounds of carbon per megawatt hour of electricity generated, and that, as of 2012, New Hampshire’s rate was 905 pounds per megawatt hour. 

Mike Fitzgerald with the New Hampshire DES says the 486 pound limit is “sort of akin to a speed limit of miles per hour.” 

That speed limit is more than four times less what comes out of an average coal-fired power plant,  which likely means New England can’t have many of those on-line and meet the new rate.

Responses to the proposed rule came swiftly. The only company that operates coal plants in New Hampshire, Public Service of New Hampshire, said in a statement that while it produced 70 percent less carbon in 2013 compared with 2005, “it may be challenging to grow our success.” Environmental groups like the Clean Air Task Force hailed the rule as “an excellent first bid,” and energy industry groups such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers claimed the rule would have far-reaching economic impacts. 

Compliant Already?

New Hampshire will try to figure out if it can get below the speed-limit proposed by the EPA with the variety of programs already underway.

For instance, Fitzgerald says the “ideal situation” would be if by simply pointing to the state’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon cap-and-trade program, the EPA would give the state its approval.

RGGI places a cap on how much carbon dioxide can be emitted by power plays, which Fitzgerald thinks is “more analogous to a limit on the total length you can drive.” DES will have to translate the distance-driven cap into the speed-limit number that the EPA is looking for. 

The EPA also says energy efficiency programs and state renewable energy goals will be considered toward compliance with the proposed rule, though state officials say they are still working out how those factors will be weighed. New Hampshire has both efficiency programs and a “renewable portfolio standard” which says the state will get 25 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025.

When asked if New Hampshire already had compliance with the EPA rule “in the bag”, state officials said that seems to be the case.

New Hampshire will have until 2016 to come up with the plan, and the rule itself won’t be finalized until June of next year.

Local Voices Praise New Federal Carbon Pollution Standards to Protect Public Health, Address Climate Change

Image by David J (Flickr)

Image by David J (Flickr)

Public Health Experts, Scientists, Businesses and Sportsmen Support Climate Solutions 

CONCORD, NH – Today, a variety of local voices praised newly announced federal carbon pollution limits for power plants, the leading cause of climate change, as important public health safeguards. Local people included scientists, a medical doctor, a fly fisherman and a local businessman. The chorus of support is no surprise as poll after poll demonstrates wide acceptance by the American people to address climate disruption with a carbon safeguard.

 “Carbon pollution standards are critical for protecting the health and safety of Granite Staters and other Americans who are breathing dirty air,” said Catherine Corkery, Chapter Director of NH Sierra Club, representing a variety of groups. “Regardless of the efforts of our small state and those in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, polluters across the country are allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air and it’s time for that to stop.”

 “The impacts of climate change are overwhelming. The time to act is now, to protect public health, address the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change and extreme weather, and move toward cleaner, safer energy that will grow our economy and create jobs,” concluded Corkery.

 Carbon pollution fuels climate change, triggers more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, worsens air quality, and contributes to more frequent, more destructive, more costly and more deadly extreme weather events. Our nation’s power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the carbon pollution in the United States.

 While many states and local communities, including here in New Hampshire, have taken action on climate change, this new federal safeguard will set commonsense limits on carbon pollution, inspire investment in infrastructure to protect communities from the climate change impacts they are already experiencing, and spur the kind of innovation that will power America with clean energy in the 21st century. The new safeguards will also give states flexibility to implement plans that increase efficiency, improve resiliency and remove carbon pollution from our air.

Governor Maggie Hassan:

“New Hampshire has been a leader in efforts to curb harmful emissions while encouraging the creation of innovative energy technologies that help our businesses succeed. It is important that the federal government recognize that states like New Hampshire have been hard at work on this effort for a number of years, and I hope that these rules will level the playing field by requiring other states to begin to catch up to us.

“It is also important that the Administration recognize that states need flexibility to develop their own policies to protect the health of our people and our economies. So I am encouraged that the new proposed regulations provide for state-specific solutions.

“Programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have brought numerous benefits to the Granite State, leading to new innovations while generating jobs and saving energy costs. We look forward to continuing to work with our regional partners to ensure that we reduce the harmful emissions that lead to climate change, while also helping to reduce energy costs, create jobs and encourage innovation in the state’s clean-energy economy.”

Statements from Local Voices

Art Greene of Littleton, NH and Trout Unlimited Ammonoosuc Chapter.

Mr. Greene has a Ph.D. in Particle Physics and has worked at several national laboratories in the U.S. and Europe. He retired from Brookhaven National Laboratory as a Senior Scientist where he assisted in the construction of several particle accelerators. In 1996 he moved to northern NH where he was Engineering Director for New England Wire Technologies, a company that manufactures many high technology wire and cable products including a key component for particle accelerators. His favorite places to fish in the Granite State include the Ammonoosuc River and Israel’s River.

“Many of us who love outdoor activities in NH have become increasingly concerned about climate change and its impact on us and on future generations.  I love the sport of fly fishing, particularly for Eastern Brook Trout which is a revered species where we live, and I have been very worried about increased water temperatures reducing the number of streams and rivers where Brook Trout can survive.  I am encouraged to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency will be imposing restrictions on carbon pollution from power plants, a key contributor to global warming.  This will help many forms of NH wildlife including our Brook Trout.”

Georgia Murray, Appalachian Mountain Club Air Scientist,

Ms Murray oversees AMC’s ambient air pollution monitoring program in cooperation with the NH Department of Environmental Services, EPA and U.S. Forest Service. She also works to advance science-based policy related to air quality.

“The good news is that air quality has improved, thanks to successful Clean Air Act cap-and-trade programs and Northeast states’ participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Mountain ozone levels have decreased, hazy polluted days have declined, and rain and cloud water are less acidic,” said Georgia Murray, Staff Scientist for the Appalachian Mountain Club. “The RGGI program has seen success with reduced CO2 emissions and increased energy efficiency investments that will pay off far into the future. AMC believes these same proven tools can be used to make much needed additional progress nationally.”

Lisa Doner, Research Assistant Professor with the Center for the Environment at Plymouth State University.

Ms Doner studies lake sediments to decipher past watershed changes. Her primary focus is on how climate interacts with other mechanisms for change including natural catastrophe (fire, flood, landslide, tsunami), human disturbance (agriculture, logging, development) and long-term trends (glaciations, tectonics, sea-level change). These projects are globally distributed, with lake sites in Utah, Maine, Baffin Island (Canada), Iceland and Turkey. Doner is also Chair of the Plymouth Conservation Commission.

“The EPA’s new rule matters because it gives us a handle on large point source polluters in our own country, including many that impact New England’s air quality. It also puts the US back in the global arena for discussing global problems caused by rising CO2 levels, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification. Finally, it demonstrates to our younger generations that, as a nation, we are willing to take action to protect their future. That reason to hope is probably the most important outcome of all.”

Phil Coupe, Co-Founder of Revision Energy

Phil is a managing partner of ReVision Energy, responsible for leadership in sales, marketing and strategic direction. An active member of the local community, he serves as Chair of Maine Audubon’s corporate partner program and on the board and of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech) and is a long time mentor in the Big Brother/Big Sister program.

“This state cash rebate program is creating jobs throughout New Hampshire and ReVision Energy is a perfect microcosm of that job creation–in just 3 years we have grown from two employees to a total of 18 in our Exeter, NH facility and we are continuing to hire. The new EPA carbon pollution will build upon New Hampshire’s existing policy framework, enabling us to grow our renewable energy business and create good-paying jobs while reducing fossil fuel consumption and harmful greenhouse gas emissions. By investing in local renewable energy, New Hampshire is building a powerful clean energy economy that will position our state to be economically and environmentally sustainable as we make the inevitable transition away from finite, polluting fossil fuels.

Cristine Trayner , Marketing Director at Water Country, Portsmouth, NH.

Mrs. Trayner was honored to be crowned Mrs. NH United States 2013 and has used her title to promote sustainability initiatives to local businesses and her own employer Water Country.

“Local governments and tourism dependent businesses are on the front lines, but we cannot manage alone. The federal government needs to reduce the carbon pollution that is chiefly responsible for our changing climate. The EPA rule to lower carbon emissions at existing power plants is an important step in the right direction because the rules will make a difference and they do show the United States is a leader in global climate change action.”

OSHA Releases New Resources To Protect Hospital Workers And Enhance Patient Safety

Screen Shot of New OSHA Site

Screen Shot of new OSHA/Hospitals site

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today launched a new educational Web resource, http://www.osha.gov/hospitals, which has extensive materials to help hospitals prevent worker injuries, assess workplace safety needs, enhance safe patient handling programs, and implement safety and health management systems. The materials include fact books, self-assessments and best practice guides.

“These new materials can help prevent hospital worker injuries and improve patient safety, while reducing costs,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “At the heart of these materials are the lessons from high-performing hospitals that have implemented best practices to reduce workplace injuries while also improving patient safety.”

“By fostering research to identify injury risk factors and safety interventions, steps can be taken to save costs and enhance service to the patients,” said Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The website’s materials on safe patient handling are designed to address the most common type of injuries hospital workers face, and hospitals can use these resources to protect their workers, improve patient safety and reduce costs.

Hospital workers face serious hazards, including: lifting and moving patients, workplace violence, slips and falls, exposure to chemicals and hazardous drugs, exposures to infectious diseases and needlesticks. In 2012, U.S. hospitals recorded 250,000 work-related injuries and illnesses, almost 60,000 of which caused employees to miss work. Nationwide, workers’ compensation losses result in a total annual expense of $2 billion for hospitals.

Michaels was joined on a call announcing the resources by Howard, Dr. Lucian Leape, chairman of the Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation, and Dr. Erin S. DuPree, chief medical officer and vice president of the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security

The AFL-CIO welcomes the Executive Order issued by President Obama today to address chemical hazards that threaten our nation’s workers and communities. This directive brings leadership and direction that is urgently needed to improve chemical safety and security throughout the country.

This past April, an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, which killed 15 people and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses, revealed huge gaps in the regulation and oversight of chemical facilities. The Texas facility, which stored tons of the deadly chemical ammonium nitrate was exempt from key EPA and OSHA chemical safety rules and had not been inspected by OSHA since 1985.

But this was only the latest in a long series of chemical accidents that have resulted from gaps in regulation. Deadly explosions caused by reactive chemicals and processes that are exempt from OSHA’s process safety management standard have killed and injured hundreds of workers in the past two decades. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has recommended immediate action to strengthen this rule, but this has not happened.

Today’s order outlines a comprehensive action plan to address chemical hazards. Once implemented, it will improve coordination of EPA, OSHA and DHS and other government agencies in their efforts to address these deadly hazards. It will provide local first responders with ready access to information so they can prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies, and it will enhance oversight of high-risk facilities. It will also spur action to modernize chemical safety regulations, including OSHA’s process safety management standard, which the AFL-CIO and unions have been seeking for many years.

President Obama’s order provides the direction and roadmap to address chemical hazards. The AFL-CIO looks forward to working with government agencies and other stakeholders to see that this order is implemented promptly and fully so our nation’s workplaces and communities are safe and secure.

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