Labor Troubles at US Labor Department

For Immediate Release

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Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Labor Troubles at US Labor Department

Union Charges Unfair Practices in Whistleblower Reorganization Lockout

WASHINGTON - Plans to fix the embattled whistleblower program within the
Occupational Safety & Health Administration hit another snag as the
union representing the affected employees has filed unfair labor
practice charges over being frozen out of deliberations, according to
documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).  The latest problems stem from completion of a
long-awaited “top to bottom” review of the program charged with
enforcing whistleblower provisions of 20 statutes covering more than 200
million workers.

On Friday, October 22, 2010, Danielle Gibbs, American Federation of
Government Employees (AFGE) Local 12 Vice President for OSHA,
representing employees within the Office of the Whistleblower Protection
Program (OWPP), notified agency managers that her union is filing
charges of unfair labor practice and violation of the terms of the
Collective Bargaining Agreement because affected employees had not been
consulted about pending reorganization changes.

“It is surprising that an Obama-run Labor Department is having so much
trouble relating to its own unions,” commented PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch, noting AFGE’s early and strong support for the 2008 Obama
campaign.  “It appears that everyone and his brother have been consulted
about what to do with OSHA’s whistleblower program except the people
who are actually doing the work.”

The top to bottom review was offered as OSHA’s principal response to
scathing back-to-back reports by the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) and the Labor Office of Inspector General.  This new review,
distributed in draft, finds “significant deficiencies and challenges
facing OSHA’s whistleblower protection program” and “systemic problems”
requiring “widespread reforms.”  It makes a dizzying array of 81
recommendations without assigning priorities or spelling out an
implementation strategy.

“This mishmash of a review reinforces the need to take this program
completely away from OSHA,” stated Ruch, whose organization is urging
creation of a separate whistleblower program with dedicated funds and
leadership.  “This review is still in draft so that OSHA managers can
water down even this thin gruel.”

Significantly, the review does not even analyze the proposal which the
Labor Department has forwarded to the White House Office of Management
& Review for inclusion in the FY 2012 budget. That proposal would
move whistleblower programs for 19 environmental, consumer protection
and other subjects to another arm of Labor but leave the biggest and
most troubled whistleblower program, that for the Occupational Safety
& Health Act itself, inside OSHA.  PEER has attacked this plan as
making a bad situation worse. 

“The Labor Department needs to let its own employees and the public in
on possible solutions to decades of mismanagement of the nation’s
largest whistleblower program,” concluded Ruch, whose organization is
also suing OSHA in federal court to force release of an internal survey
of OWPP staff and other documents provided to GAO.   “As it stands now,
thousands of workers who report dangerous conditions, corporate rip-offs
or other problems are being left out in the cold by the very agency
that is supposed to protect them from reprisal.”

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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