Republicans propose funding cuts to OSHA during pandemic

The fate of a new coronavirus relief package is still uncertain and lawmakers face a Dec. 11 deadline to come up with funding to keep the federal government open. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans unveiled a flurry of spending bills, and one cuts $11 million out of the worker safety program, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, during the pandemic.

The role of OSHA has never been so important, said Debbie Berkowitz with the National Employment Law Project.

“We know that workplace exposures are a significant driver of this pandemic,” Berkowitz said.

She said that under the Trump administration though, the agency has pulled back and is doing little enforcement. OSHA’s website says it has received more than 10,000 COVID-related complaints. The agency has issued fewer than 200 citations since the pandemic began.

“So if OSHA doesn’t act, if OSHA doesn’t inspect, there is nothing,” Berkowitz said. “Workers do not have the right to sue an employer under the OSHA law.”

She expects under the leadership of President-elect Joe Biden the agency will become more aggressive. But that would take more resources, said James Brudney, an employment law professor at Fordham University.

“A more substantial and visible enforcement presence would be very helpful,” Brudney said.

OSHA says with its state partners it has 2,100 inspectors responsible for the safety of 130 million workers.