During the 111th Congress, ABC opposes the “Protecting America’s Workers Act” (PAWA), introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) in the House (H.R. 2067) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in the Senate (S. 1580). Among the many proposed changes, this legislation would: significantly increase penalties, including instituting a minimum and maximum penalty of $50,000 and $250,000, and raising the criminal penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony, for violations deemed “willful,” that result in a “serious bodily injury” or death; require employers to provide all personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees; and prevent the dismissal of employees for refusing to perform duties they perceive as being dangerous.
On March 16, 2010, the House Education and Labor Committee Subcommittee on Workplace Safety held a hearing regarding H.R. 2067, specifically focusing on the penalties provisions of the PAWA.
However instead of H.R. 2067 moving forward, on July 1, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 5663, the Miner Safety and Health Act, that includes provisions from PAWA to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) that will significantly increase penalties and impose substantial costs on American employers, particularly small businesses. H.R. 5663 imposes new and vague standards for criminal liability—including felony criminal sanctions against “any company officer or director” for “knowing” violations of the OSH Act. The legislation seeks to significantly increase civil penalties, including instituting fines of up to $250,000 per violation.
Moreover, under the bill, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors could require employers to make immediate and costly changes to the workplace without OSHA showing an imminent threat or providing employers with a hearing or judicial review of the inspector’s allegations. Employers who fail to comply with the work stoppage would face a fine of $7,000 per day.
The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on H.R. 5663 on July 13, and then subsequently marked it up on July 21. Before the U.S. House of Representatives adjourned for the August recess, House Democrats tried to push H.R. 5663 to the House floor for a vote. The bill, however, did not come up for a vote, and further action may occur this fall. Additionally, a companion bill, S. 3671 was introduced in the Senate in late July by Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV).