Friday, October 04, 2019
NorCo Council: Extend OSHA Protections to Public Workers
Schwab, a mechanic with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, was fatally injured at work in 2014 by an exploding air bag. He had been using the wrong tools and was working at a garage that had gone nine years without safety training. His public sector employer is exempt OSHA protections.
Every Democrat in the Lehigh Valley delegation to the state house has agreed to sponsor this legislation. But not one Republican.
Jim Irwin, a former Gracedale employee who now works for AFSCME District 88, argued that worker safety protection should be the same for everyone. He said the proposal, first made four years ago, has never made it out of committee because of cost.
"What's the cost of someone's life?" he asked.
Council President Ron Heckman talked about his own experience, pre-OSHA, working one summer at a cast iron foundry. He and his co-workers donned leather gloves they would purchase themselves, and would wrap a wet handkerchief around their faces. By the end of the day, the entire room was a fog. "OSHA changed that," he said. "They actually got masks."
Heckman went on to say that the government often passes laws applying to the private sector, but exempts itself. "I think that stinks," he concluded.
Council member Kevin Lott recounted that he once observed borough workers dig inside a trench about three feet over their head, with no protections. "Our public sector workers are second class citizens," he complained. "You need to set standards."
Northampton County's resolution, which is non-binding, was passed 8-1. The sole No vote was from Council member John Cusick.
Cusick said he "supports worker safety," but the statewide organization representing counties is opposed to this legislation. He suggested that this group, called CCAP, should first be asked to change its platform.
Council member Bill McGee, who introduced this resolution, told Cusick he would contact this county government advocate, which is known as the County Commissioners' Association of Pa.