Job-site whistle-blowers left twisting in the wind
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Well, this certainly falls into the “unconscionable” category. A new report by Fair Warning‘s Myron Levin* charges that federal protections against job-site whistle-blowers have proven to be inadequate — primarily because the U.S. Solicitor‘s office often fails to properly defend whistle-blowers who have been fired in retaliation for alerting OSHA to safety problems.
From the story:
Over the years, scores of whistleblowers have seen their cases fall into a black hole because the Office of the Solicitor, the legal arm of the labor department, wouldn’t pursue them in court, undermining protections in the OSHA law. No matter that OSHA found the workers had been illegally demoted or fired; they were left with nowhere to turn. The situation has spurred calls for stronger protections for whistleblowers, which critics say are grossly inadequate.
From 1995-2009, regional solicitors filed 32 whistleblower lawsuits, while rejecting 279 other cases referred to them by OSHA, or almost nine times as many, according to government figures reviewed by FairWarning.
As I’ve asked before, what good are regulatory safeguards if the government fails to make sure they are followed? Appealing to a court would seem to be the obvious next step, but as Fair Warning reports, “under the OSHA law … there is no independent right of appeal. If the case can’t be settled, OSHA finds it lacks merit, or solicitors won’t take it to court, the worker is out of options.”
There is a proposal in Congress to change that and allow workers access to the courts, which would be welcome. But it would do little good for the hundreds of workers already fired for standing up — legally — for their own safety and that of their fellow workers.
* Levin is a former colleague at the Los Angeles Times.