ERGONOMICS: ‘Explosive’ Issue Wages ‘War’ in Congress
Ergonomics has become one of the major "stumbling blocks" in passing a Labor-HHS-Education budget bill, fueling a "war" that "collapsed" a tentative spending agreement on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports. Under the budget deal, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would have issued the regulations to reduce the incidence of repetitive stress injuries in the workplace as planned. Installation of the rules would have been delayed until June. Now the "explosive" issue, contested by both businesses and GOP leaders, has left "budget talks in disarray"
At the center of the debate is OSHA Director Charles Jeffress, who "earned [a] reputation" as a "conciliator" while managing North Carolina's OSHA, but now has been criticized of running an "overzealous agency" and "caving to political pressure from the White House" to issue the ergonomics rules before the year's end, the Wall Street Journal reports. Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), a former state lawmaker who "paved the way" for Jeffress' OSHA confirmation in 1997, said, "The administration is pulling his strings. The Clinton people want ergonomics, and Charles is going to give it to them, regardless of whether he'd really want to on his own." But the Wall Street Journal reports that Jeffress "seems to have misread the intensity of industry opposition to a program he considers both well-founded and reasonable," as employers "question the need" for ergonomic regulations and "argue that the science [of the issue] is inconclusive." With OSHA pressing to release the final version of the rules soon, the business industry has "promised" to try to block their implementation with a court order.
On the political front, where the "real battle will be waged," President Clinton will likely veto> any legislation with an anti-ergonomic rider. But the potential "collapse of the spending agreement sets the stage for more sparring with House Republicans." Furthermore, both sides "are also anxiously awaiting" Election Day, "which could shape the regulations' future," the Journal reports. If Vice President Al Gore is elected as the next president, his administration would likely "vigorously enforce and defend" the regulations in court. For his part, George W. Bush, though legally committed to enforce the rules, may "take steps to make them less onerous" for businesses (Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, 11/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.