Foxes in the Henhouse: OSHA, MSHA Nominees Appear Pro-Industry, Anti-Worker

Employing an all-too-familiar strategy, the White House has put forward two industry-insiders as its nominees for the top posts at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

While the nominee to lead MSHA, Richard Stickler, has a resume including 30 years in the mine industry but very little experience dealing with the safety and health of miners, Edwin Foulke, the administration's choice to head OSHA, has worked as a lawyer protecting companies from liability for safety and health violations.

No Stickler for Safety

In the wake of the recent mine tragedies, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Michael Enzi (R-WY) has grown anxious to fill the top spot at MSHA, but the Bush administration's nominee, Richard Stickler, is a relative unknown, with little background in health and safety issues and strong ties to industry.

Stickler worked for BethEnergy Mines of Amity, Pennsylvania for 30 years, before heading the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety from 1997 to 2003. His nomination last September to the post of assistant secretary for mine safety brought him out of a two-year retirement.

During a Jan. 31 hearing with both Stickler and OSHA nominee Edwin Foulke before the Senate committee, Stickler was asked if he planned to impose new or more stringent regulations in response to the recent mine tragedies. Investigators now believe that better communication devices, for instance, could have made it possible to locate the miners trapped at Sago more quickly, and adequate supplies of oxygen could have kept the miners alive until rescuers reached them. Despite this compelling evidence that new regulation to keep miners safe is in order, Stickler responded to questioning on the subject by stating that he planned to study the regulations on the books and make necessary changes, but that "generally [he] think[s] the current laws are adequate."

Despite long-standing evidence of the efficacy of these safety changes, the mining industry has been resistant to implementing new safety technology without the nudge of regulation. Stickler even admitted that technological innovation had "done more to improve health and safety during my career than any other factor." Yet he dodged requests by lawmakers that MSHA act as a spur for technological innovation in mine safety.

According to the United Mine Workers (UMWA), mines run by Stickler had accident rates double that of the national average for six of eight years, including two fatal accidents at a mine Stickler managed for five years. The United Mine Workers has opposed his nomination to lead the federal agency and previously opposed his 1997 nomination to the Pennsylvania mine safety department. According to a UMWA letter to President Bush opposing the nomination, "[t]he continued tenure of Mr. Stickler will have a grave and immediate impact on state's miners."

Despite the decline in mine-related fatalities over the past several decades, mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations.

Foulke's Anti-Worker Record

Edwin Foulke, Bush's nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and a lawyer for the union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis, has a wealth of experience related to occupational health and safety. In fact, as his law firm's head of OSHA compliance, Foulke has helped protect industry from health and safety regulations for most of his career. If appointed as administrator of OSHA, Foulke will be able to help his former clients even more--this time from the inside.

Foulke heads the firm's "Workplace Safety Compliance, including Violence Prevention" practice, whose stated missions is "to assist in compliance efforts and to reduce the likelihood of a citation, we advise employers in developing safety programs and conducting preventive self-audits to pinpoint and remedy potential legal vulnerabilities."

As a partner with Jackson Lewis, Foulke has challenged several workplace safety regulations, including penning an article for the South Carolina Bar denouncing the ergonomics standards. Foulke told a small business trade press that the short-lived ergonomics standards of the Clinton Administration "should be called the OSHA Lawyers' Full Employment Act" and suggested that voluntary standards would have been sufficient. Foulke also recommended voluntary standards over mandates to the senate committee, even though a 2004 Government Accountability Office investigation found that OSHA's voluntary standards were of unproven effectiveness. Foulke has also testified before Congress on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business trade association.

Foulke's law firm, Jackson Lewis, is also well known for its practice opposing organized labor, including "an attempt to undermine negotiations at a Borders book store and two separate lengthy, expensive union-busting campaigns against nursing home and home health car workers in New York facilities." Jackson Lewis calls its strategy "preventative labor relations."

In 2004, 5,700 workers were killed and over 4 million were injured or became ill because of their jobs. The rate of worker injuries actually increased in 2004 from previous years. Despite these disturbing trends, the administration continues to nominate individuals with, at best, a lack of health and safety experience and, at worst, records hostile to health and safety measures. The appointment of Foulke would mean that two of the three top jobs at OSHA would be filled by industry-friendly attorneys rather than health and safety experts. Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare is a former lobbyist for Metabolife and a member of the Republican National Lawyer's Association.

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