U.S. Representative expresses concern over OSHA auto-part supplier inspections

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby has expressed concern that the Obama Administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is targeting Alabama automobile plants for safety tours by inspection groups that will include union representatives.

In a Thursday letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, Roby, R-Montgomery, said she is concerned about the Regional Emphasis Program and a separate OSHA policy that appear to permit union representatives to accompany OSHA agents on inspection tours.

“Reasonable rules designed to ensure worker safety should be enforced in a manner that is fair, equitable, and free from political influence,” Roby wrote Perez.

She said the REP calls for “comprehensive safety inspections” for all members of the “Auto Parts Supplier Industry” covered by OSHA offices in Atlanta, Birmingham, Mobile, and Jackson, Miss.”

“Auto Parts Suppliers outside of the Southeast are not impacted,” she wrote. “An enforcement procedure that treats similar classes of businesses differently or that applies heightened scrutiny to a particular industry or a particular or a particular geographic area is dubious, and certainly only justifiable when compelling evidence exists to warrant such a distinction.”

The Montgomery Advertiser reported the story Sunday.

The new policy outlined by Roby comes after a failed organized labor attempt at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., by the automobile union. Organized labor was a major supporter of President Obama in his two campaigns and some of his official policies have helped organized labor.

“It is concerning that a federal agency may be advancing on Southeastern workers a pro-union agenda that they do not want,” Roby wrote. Perez testified that “third parties” can accompany inspectors if employees request them.

OSHA seeks hazards that could lead to serious injuries or deaths, the Advertiser reported. “Workers in this industry are exposed to caught-in, crushing, struck-by and electrical hazards due to the machinery utilized in the making of these parts,” according to an OSHA directive. The in-depth inspections will be conducted over the next two years.

Roby said she is unaware of any pattern of accidents that would justify the extra inspections.

There are 140 companies in Alabama manufacturing car parts employing more than 17,000 people, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Michael D’Aquino, a Labor Department spokesman, said the inspections focused on the three states because that’s where the industry is prominent in the Southeast but the agency isn’t targeting the states because of their right-to-work status, the Advertiser reported.

Roby said she plans to ask Perez about the targeted inspections at a Wednesday hearing when the secretary testifies before an Appropriations subcommittee about the Labor Department’s fiscal 2015 budget request, the Advertiser reported. Perez previously testified that OSHA conducts 40,000 inspections a year.

-Dana Beyerle