Labor Dept. Reviewing Bush Worker Protection Rules

The Labor Department today announced separately that it will review two controversial Bush administration policies.

The first is an OSHA proposal that could limit worker exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used to give food a buttery flavor. Factory workers (and possibly consumers) exposed to diacetyl are at a higher risk for developing bronchiolitis obliterans, a potentially fatal lung disease. (Background here.)

OSHA said today it will withdraw Bush’ advanced notice of proposed rulemaking – a relatively minor step – and develop a more concrete proposed regulation. Newly minted Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said, “It is imperative that the Labor Department move quickly to address exposure to food flavorings containing diacetyl.” Celeste Monforton at the Pump Handle blog has the full scoop on today’s announcement.

Labor also has announced a review of a Bush-era final regulation that stripped agricultural workers of certain housing and wage protections. The rule, one of President Bush’s midnight regulations, was finalized Dec. 18 and went into effect Jan. 17.

In today’s Federal Register notice, Labor proposed suspending implementation of the rule for 90 days. Labor will accept public comment on a proposed suspension for 10 days (a remarkably short period of time) and, presumably, formally suspend the rule shortly thereafter. If Labor suspends the rule, it will replace it with the rule that had been in effect before Jan. 17.

The regulation restructured the H2-A visa program. The program allows foreign nationals to apply to perform agricultural work in the U.S. on a seasonal basis. According to the advocacy group Farmworker Justice, the regulation will succeed in “reducing obligations for growers to effectively recruit U.S. workers before applying to bring in guestworkers, lowering the wage rates by changing the program’s wage formula and eliminating government oversight of the program.” In a statement today, a number of advocacy groups applauded the proposed suspension.

But a suspension wouldn’t completely fix the Bush rule – some damage has already been done. According to Farmworker Justice, “Meanwhile workers who begin their contracts during the period the Bush Administration's rules are in effect (from January 17th until the suspension begins) may end up working for the lower wages and benefits of the Bush rules.”

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