Congress to hold safety hearings on Workers Memorial Day

WASHINGTON - (PAI) Just over two years ago, in one of the most horrific individual industrial accidents in recent memory, Eleazar Torres Gomez was sucked into a 300-degree industrial dryer at a Cintas laundry plant in Tulsa, Okla., and died.

Torres Gomez was one of several thousand workers killed each year on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a rare move during the Bush administration, fined the firm $2.78 million for ignoring the job safety hazards in Tulsa.

As workers nationwide prepare to honor fallen colleagues on Tuesday, April 28, Workers Memorial Day, the new Democratic-run Congress will mark it with hearings on legislation to make fines such as the one Cintas faced the rule, not the exception.

In both the House and Senate, job safety experts and unionists will testify that day about OSHA’s fines and its job safety enforcement record. On Thursday, they’ll talk about whether the Bush OSHA’s “Enhanced Enforcement Program” for the last eight years worked.

That program supposedly targeted the “worst of the worst” – the companies with the worst death and injury rates, such as construction and meatpacking. A report last month by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office revealed that enforcement even in those cases was often lacking.

The objective of the hearings is to build a case for surer and swifter enforcement of job safety and health laws, and to increase the fines. The average OSHA fine, once it finally gets through review and – sometimes – cases, is four figures, not seven.

Those low amounts don’t deter Cintas and other corporate malefactors from their routine way of doing business, in an unsafe manner, the AFL-CIO, Change To Win and their member unions say.

That’s what UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor said of Cintas, in words that could be applied to many other OSHA cases and fines,.

“Cintas has a shameful pattern of illegally endangering workers’ lives,” UNITE HERE said in a statement after Torres Gomez died. Even after this tragedy, Cintas workers say they continue to work in the same deadly conditions. Cintas should not be able to ignore its moral and legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for all employees.”