WASHINGTON—The tire and rubber industries are supporting efforts in Congress to overturn a controversial ergonomics regulation via a five-year-old law that hasn't yet been put to the test.
But the United Steelworkers of America, which organizes rubber workers, and other unions are certain to fight such an action, just as they fought for issuance of the ergonomics rule.
Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and an outspoken critic of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, wants to introduce a resolution disapproving the OSHA ergonomics final rule promulgated by the Clinton administration in November. The standard took effect Jan. 16.
Mr. Enzi would act under the authority of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which provides for the House and Senate to pass an identical joint resolution of disapproval on any agency final rule, by simple majority vote. The president has the option to sign or veto the resolution, as with any other bill. If he signs it, the rule becomes null and void. While a regulation on the same subject may be issued in the future, it cannot be in "substantially the same form" as Congress rejected.
"If ever there was an instance that called for Congress to step in and send an administrative agency rule back to the drawing board, this is it," Mr. Enzi said in a Feb. 13 press release.
The ergonomics rule requires all employers not in the agriculture, construction, railroad or maritime industries—all of which will be addressed in separate rulemakings—to establish ergonomics programs to prevent repetitive motion injuries and disorders in the workplace. OSHA estimates the rule covers 102 million workers across the U.S.
The USWA, AFL-CIO and other labor unions applauded the final rule. Peg Seminario, health and safety director for the AFL-CIO, called repetitive motion injuries "the nation's biggest job safety problem" and predicted the 1,688-page rule will prevent hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries annually.
Business interests, however, unanimously condemned the final rule. Not only will it prove ruinously expensive to large and small employers alike, they said, but OSHA took far too little time—only four months—between closing the docket on comments on the proposed rule and issuing the final version.
"This rule should have taken much longer than it did," said Patrick Cleary, vice president of human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. "This thing was a rocket docket!"
Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, wrote Mr. Enzi Feb. 20, praising his decision to try and overturn the ergonomics rule under the CRA.
"Providing a safe and healthful workplace is of paramount importance to RMA members," Mr. Shea said. "However, allowing this proposed rule to proceed will not guarantee improved workplace safety. Many RMA member companies already have successful ergonomic programs in place, but the requirements of the proposed ergonomics rule would create unreasonable and unnecessary economic burdens."
The House and Senate have 60 business days to introduce resolutions disapproving the ergonomics rule under the CRA. Because the two bodies compute time differently and have different recess schedules, the Senate has until approximately mid-April and the House until about mid-May to introduce resolutions. This means that the Senate must move first.
Although Mr. Enzi was the first to express interest in sponsoring the legislation, it still isn't certain which senator will be the sponsor.
The NAM and other business organizations persist in their federal lawsuit against OSHA to block the ergonomics standard, Mr. Cleary said, but the CRA offers the best chance of quick action. The only other alternative would be for the Bush administration to begin rulemaking to rescind the rule, and that would take years.
Meanwhile, opponents of the ergonomics rule are aware that the CRA is uncharted territory. "The ergonomics rule may be the only time it's used," Mr. Cleary said.
While labor unions haven't yet issued their battle plan to defend the rule, there is no doubt that they will. All AFL-CIO affiliates, of which the USWA is one, "will unequivocally defend the ergonomics standard if it comes under attack," Ms. Seminario said in a Feb. 13 press release.