April 9 2014
Jillian Kay Melchior
Alabama representative Martha Roby, a Republican from Montgomery, is concerned that the U.S. Department of Labor is targeting Southern vehicle and auto-parts manufacturers because of their failure to unionize.
Automotive manufacturers in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi are all now subject to in-depth inspections, part of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regional emphasis program that went into effect on January 15. This increased scrutiny comes a year after the agency also issued a rule clarification in response to a question from organized labor, newly allowing union staffers to accompany OSHA officials on inspections to non-union sites.
“I find the timing of these events rather peculiar, especially after the recent loss of the [UAW] elections in Chattanooga,” Roby tells National Review Online. She added, “I think this is clearly another example of the Obama administration using government agencies to project their own political agenda, and in this case, it’s targeting right-to-work states and non-unionized industries through OSHA.”
NRO called several auto manufacturers in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. None said they felt that OSHA had intimidated them, and none reported any union presence during recent OSHA inspections.
Roby says that while she doesn’t know of any specific examples of explicit OSHA targeting in Alabama, “we wanted to get out in front of this to shine the light on it and hopefully prevent these kinds of activities from taking place.”
Nevertheless, Roby says, she has valid reason to be suspicious of OSHA. As NRO reported, organizers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) recently tagged along on an OSHA inspection of a Houston-based janitorial company, despite seven years of bad blood between the business and the union, including an open $9 million slander suit against SEIU.
Furthermore, when Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke at a congressional hearing, he used some odd — and arguably deceptive — data to justify the regional emphasis program on these southern manufacturers.
“The reason we added this regional emphasis program is because when we see data and we have experiences showing there is a problem, then we put that emphasis in the areas where there is a problem,” Perez explained at a congressional hearing on April 2, claiming that Alabama’s auto-parts manufacturers in particular had seen about 4.5 occupational injuries per 100 workers, compared with the average of 3 per 100 nationwide.
However, the 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — the most recent available, encompassing injury data for all types of transportation-parts manufacturing — shows that both Georgia and Alabama actually have a better safety record than the national average. (Comparable statistics did not exist for Mississippi.)
Roby says when she pushed Perez on his statistics, she learned that he was relying on 2010 data.
In an e-mailed statement to the Washington Examiner on April 4, a spokesman from the Department of Labor said the agency had relied on four-year-old numbers because they were the most recent available statistics for motor-vehicle-parts manufacturing alone.
Roby says she thinks it’s strange that, if OSHA was so deeply concerned about the hazards revealed in the 2010 data, it failed to launch a regional emphasis program then. “Why wait?” she asks.
The regional notice published by OSHA states that “hazards associated with the Auto Parts Supplier Industry that are the focus of this REP continue to be the source of serious injuries, including amputations, and deaths to employees. . . . Workers in this industry are exposed to caught-in, crushing, struck-by and electrical hazards due to the machinery utilized in the making of these parts.”
Todd Stacy, a spokesman for Representative Roby, says OSHA has “provided zero statistics to back up” claims of deaths and serious injuries at the southern manufacturers being targeted by this regional emphasis program, and “that’s obviously pretty curious.”
“You’re talking about an immensely powerful federal agency, and for a federal agency to treat similar businesses in different areas of the country differently, there’s a high bar of justification [needed], and they did not supply that in the regional emphasis program,” Stacy says. “OSHA is targeting the automotive industry in the American South for special inspections, without data justifying the need for it. And we can’t find any similar effort to inspect the auto industry in other parts of the country in the same way.”
Greg Canfield, Alabama’s secretary of commerce, tells NRO that the data used by the Department of Labor is odd, but claims that the Southern automotive industry is being targeted are also dubious.
“I do think from our point of view, whether it’s a credible threat or not, what is most disturbing is the targeting of a specific industry within a specific region of the country by the federal government — a federal government that has, under this administration, shown a great deal of political support for organized labor,” Canfield says. “It smacks of politics.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.