The OSHA Trojan Horse: Organized Labor’s New Scheme to Gain Access to Your Workforce
As union membership continues to tumble, organized labor is getting desperate. First, the unions sought help from Washington; the Employee Free Choice Act, the RAISE Act and the President’s unconstitutional “recess” appointment to the National Labor Relations Board all were attempts by labor-friendly politicians to help unions gain access to the non-union American workforce. Now, federal agencies are riding to Big Labor’s rescue, using the power of the executive branch to help organizers recruit more dues-paying union members.
Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-the Department of Labor’s workplace safety watchdog-issued a guidance letter that offered a new interpretation of a long-standing rule.This new interpretation will allow labor union officials to participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee even if the employer is non-union.
During an OSHA safety inspection, employees are entitled to have an observer accompany the government investigators on the investigators’ tour of the workplace. For nearly half a century, this observer was understood to be an actual employee of the workplace in question; indeed, OSHA’s own interpretative manual uses the word “employee” when describing the observer. But in this new guidance letter, written by OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax, labor union officials could participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee-even if the employer is non-union.
By re-interpreting this “observer” law in such an expansive fashion, OSHA is giving unions an unprecedented opportunity to not only gain access to non-union facilities—an organized labor “Trojan Horse”—but also to advance the idea that without union representation employees’ personal safety is at risk
While ostensibly serving as “observers,” union representatives will be able to spread a pro-union message among employees, a sales pitch reinforced by the sudden discovery of a number of potential safety hazards and OSHA violations. Alleged violations need not be legitimate for the union’s gambit to succeed; they need only generate concern among the company’s workforce that management is fostering potentially unsafe working conditions. And with an organizer on-site, masquerading as an observer, the solution to this sudden spike in safety violations will be offered: union representation.
Employers can still fight back. First, companies must be prepared for the scenario described above. When an OSHA inspector and an organized-labor observer arrive at your worksite, it is critical to demonstrate an interest in identifying and remedying any potential safety issues. Such concern, however, does not mean acquiescence to bullying by an “observer” attempting to undermine employees’ faith in management. Have an OSHA expert, whether it is an attorney or a member of your management team, accompany the “observer” on his/her tour of your workplace. Be prepared to counter any exaggerated or erroneous violations made by the observer—a critical step in undermining the union’s credibility—while demonstrating to employees that management takes safety seriously. Furthermore, make sure the “observer” is only allowed to participate in the actual inspection; do not let him/her wander the facility unsupervised.
Already struggling with a massive increase in federal regulations, health-care “reforms” and a sea of red tape, employers now must contend with a federal government determined to reverse the decline in organized labor’s membership roles. But employers can, and, indeed, must, take proactive steps to protect their rights and the rights of their employees.