Time is running out for worker safety legislation

Flickr photo by Thiophene_Guy

As Congress plods through its lame-duck session, the prospects of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act getting a vote on the House floor are doubtful. In the Senate, they’re nonexistent. Despite the life-saving, job-saving, and even money-saving measures contained in the legislation, the bill will likely die this Congress and the issue of mine and workplace safety will fade from congressional and national consciousness until the next horrific disaster.

In a year where multiple high-profile workplace tragedies–Upper Big Branch Mine, Deepwater Horizon, Tesoro Refinery, Kleen Energy–captured news cycles and Congress’ attention, it is deeply disappointing to watch the prospects for passage dim. Before Congress adjourned in September, the bill passed out of the House Education and Labor Committee and was placed on the calendar for a vote. It has languished since then. In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia attempted to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate but was blocked by Republican Senator Mike Enzi.

We urge Congress to pass this bill during the lame-duck session. If workplace safety isn’t addressed in this Congress, it faces a much bleaker fate under the Republican-led House. A recent New York Times report found that more than a fifth of the third-quarter contributions to Representative John Boehner’s fundraising committee Boehner for Speaker came from the mining industry, which opposes this legislation. In addition, Republican members of the House Education and Labor Committee voted unanimously against the bill earlier this year.

In addition to the urgent and necessary reforms that the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act would make to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the bill would save money. A Congressional Budget Office study of the bill [PDF] found that the legislation would increase government revenues by $200 million over the next 10 years. With both parties talking so much about cutting spending and reducing the deficit, this bill should be a priority for Congress. Instead, and despite the best efforts of some members, it is being ignored as employees continue to die on the job.