Federal agencies Unions

OSHA rescinds ‘walkaround rule'

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Washington – OSHA has changed its policy on allowing employees at non-union workplaces to choose a union-affiliated representative for “walkaround” inspections, according to an April 25 memo sent to regional administrators.

The policy began in 2013 with a letter of interpretation from OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Fairfax to the United Steelworkers. A coalition of industry groups criticized the move, claiming it would “undermine the safety focus of these inspections” and give unions the chance to gain a foothold inside certain organizations.

In September, the National Federation of Independent Business, with help from the Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a lawsuit challenging the policy in a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division. The court denied part of OSHA’s motion for dismissal in February, and NFIB withdrew its suit April 27.

“The new Department of Labor memorandum is a clear win for small businesses,” NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan said in a press release. “The 2013 memo gave unions a pathway to intimidate small business owners. Congress never intended that OSHA should open the door to unionization efforts. The Obama administration was on thin legal ground with their order, and we applaud the Trump administration for properly recognizing the rights of small business owners.”

The AFL-CIO had a different perspective regarding the news.

“We were very disappointed to see OSHA under the Trump administration backing away from protecting workers,” Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health, told Safety+Health. “We think in rescinding [the letter of interpretation] that [OSHA has] taken a right from workers who don’t happen to have a union. Most importantly, they have taken away and eliminated an important source of information about workplace hazards.”

The memo also indicated that the agency would revise part of its Field Operations Manual as a result of the policy change.

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