(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) reintroduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA), which amends and updates the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) to make sure that workers are protected in the 21st century economy. Murray spoke on the Senate floor this afternoon to urge her colleagues to support this critical legislation.
“Every worker, in every industry, deserves to be confident that while they are working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to protect them,” said Senator Murray on the Senate floor today. “That…is why I am so proud to reintroduce the Protecting America’s Workers Act. This legislation is a long-overdue update to the…OSH Act.
“Since that groundbreaking law was passed over 40 years ago, American industry has changed significantly. Businesses have become more complex, workers are performing 21st century tasks, but the government is still using a 1970 approach to regulations to protect employees.”
“…Nothing can bring back the workers we have lost in communities like Anacortes. But we owe it them to make sure workers everywhere are truly protected on the job. So I urge my colleagues to support the Protecting America’s Workers Act. And to keep working with us to make workplaces safer and healthier across America.”
PAWA works to address workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths, which have remained persistent despite the administration of the OSH Act. Specifically, PAWA expands OSH Act protections to include state, county, municipal and U.S. government employees; it increases whistleblower protections, so workers can sound the alarm on unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation; and improves OSHA reporting, inspection, and enforcement.
These improvements will help the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ensure safe and healthful work environments in industries that have outpaced decades old government regulation. This legislation was sponsored by Senator Kennedy in previous Congresses, and has the support of the AFL-CIO.
Senate co-sponsors of this legislation are Senators Akaka, Blumenthal, Brown
(OH), Franken, Harkin, Lautenberg, Rockefeller, Shaheen, and Whitehouse.
The full text of Senator Murray’s speech on the Senate floor follows:
“Madam President, I come to the floor today to talk about our obligation to protect workers across America. And to urge my colleagues to support the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which I am proud to reintroduce today.
“Madam President, middle class families across America are really struggling.
“So many of them have lost their homes, lost their jobs—and so many others are fighting to keep their heads above the water.
“We are working hard to create jobs and get the economy back on track, but we also owe it to those middle class families to make sure those jobs are safe and healthy.
“Madam President, in 2009 alone, there were 4,340 deaths in workplaces across America. And over 3 million more were injured or sickened while on the job.
“You know, if more than 4,000 Americans were killed in one day it would be on the front page of every paper across the country.
“If an epidemic claimed 4,000 lives in a week, it would lead the nightly news each night.
“But that’s not the way it usually works with workplace injuries. They happen a few at a time, spread out across the country.
“In communities like Anacortes, in my home state of Washington—where a fire broke out at last year at the Tesoro Refinery that killed 7 workers.
“These were men and women who were taken too young—with so much life to live, and with so many people to live it with.
“Workers who took on tough jobs, worked long hours, during difficult economic times— to provide for their families.
“They were people who made tremendous sacrifices and who embodied so much of what is good about their community and their state. And they have been dearly missed.
“Washington state investigators looked into this incident—and they determined that this tragedy could have been—and should have been—prevented.
“The problems that led to what happened were known beforehand—they should have been fixed, but they weren’t. And that is just heartbreaking.
“Every worker—in every industry—deserves to be confident that while they are working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to protect them.
“And that, Madam President, is why I am so proud to reintroduce the Protecting America’s Workers Act.
“This legislation is a long-overdue update to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, or, the OSH Act.
“Since that groundbreaking law was passed over 40 years ago, American industry has changed significantly.
“Businesses have become more complex, workers are performing 21st century tasks, but the government is still using a 1970 approach to regulations to protect employees.
“This doesn’t make sense, and it needs to change.
“We need to update the way we as a country think about our worker safety regulations, and this law is an important step in that direction.
“This is not about adding more regulations, it’s about having smarter regulations.
“It’s about having regulations that protect workers, and that make sense for businesses.
“Madam President, the Protecting America’s Workers Act makes a number of key improvements to the OSH Act, but I want to highlight just a few here today.
“First of all, it increases protections for workers who blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions.
“Protecting workers who tell the truth is just common sense—and in fact, other modern laws, like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, do exactly that.
“But since the OSH Act hasn’t been updated, the vast majority of workers don’t have similar protections.
“So my bill would make sure that a whistleblower’s right to protection from retaliation can’t be waived through collective bargaining agreements.
“And that they have the option to appeal to the federal courts if they feel they are being mistreated for telling the truth about dangerous practices.
“The Protecting America’s Workers Act also improves reporting, inspection, and enforcement of workplace health and safety violations.
“It expands the rights of the victims, and it makes sure that employers who oversee unsafe workplaces are pushed to quickly improve them to avoid further endangering worker health and safety.
“Madam President, this is a good bill. I am proud to have a number of cosponsors here in the Senate, as well as the support of over 100 national groups in our efforts to improve workplace safety.
“Nothing can bring back the workers we have lost in communities like Anacortes. But we owe it them to make sure workers everywhere are truly protected on the job.
“So I urge my colleagues to support the Protecting America’s Workers Act. And to keep working with us to make workplaces safer and healthier across America.
“Thank you. I yield the floor.”