Unions Leverage OSHA and other Dept. of Labor Enforcement as an Organizing Tactic

By Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn & Lindsay A. DiSalvo

As the private sector continues to see a decline in labor union membership among employees, labor unions are struggling to remain relevant and recruit new, dues-paying members.  Traditionally, when a labor union begins an organizing campaign at a workplace, the federal agency at the center of the process is the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).  The NLRB’s purpose is to protect the rights of workers to organize and to freely choose whether or not to be represented by a labor union.  Indeed, the NLRB is an intrinsic part of the election process, and the NLRB may also become involved in a union organizing campaign if, for instance, the union asserts that the employer has committed an unfair labor practice.

However, unions are more and more often engaging with or depending on the regulations of other federal agencies as a tactic to gain leverage during organizing campaigns.  There are numerous ways a union may influence the outcome of an organizing campaign by using federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) or the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the Department of Labor (“DOL”), to persuade employees to embrace the union, or to put pressure on employers to concede to union representation.

Taking OSHA as an example, an on-site workplace safety inspection, or even just the threat of an inspection, can impact an organizing campaign in a manner favorable for the union.  The threat of making an OSHA complaint or inviting OSHA into the workplace to conduct an inspection can put pressure on an employer to stand-down against a union’s organizing efforts, even if it does not believe a particular violative condition or safety hazard exists.  A safety complaint could spark an OSHA inspection and, with 75% of all OSHA inspections resulting in the issuance of at least one citation, the chances are high that the employer would have an OSHA enforcement action on its hands. Continue reading

Finally We Have a Labor Secretary – Alexander Acosta

By Lindsay A. Disalvo

On Thursday, April 27, 2017, Alexander Acosta was confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as the first Secretary of Labor in the Trump Administration.  As we reported in an earlier article when Acosta was first nominated by Pres. Trump, in this role, Sec. Acosta will oversee the federal department that develops and interprets labor regulations and investigates alleged violations of minimum wage, overtime, and workplace safety laws and regulations.

The Senate approved Acosta by a vote of 60-38, meaning there was some cross-party support, despite the party-line vote on Acosta’s nomination by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  This marks the fourth time Acosta has been confirmed by the Senate, including his prior positions in the Bush Administration.

Specifically, during the Bush Administration, Acosta served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board for approximately eight months.  In 2003, President Bush appointed him to Head the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice’s , a position which he held for about two years, before being appointed to serve as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.  Most recently, Acosta was the Dean of Florida International University’s School of Law.

At this point, it is still uncertain what jurisprudence Acosta will bring to the role of Secretary of Labor.  The Trump Administration and its initial Secretary of Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration back in February, have taken aggressive stands on deregulationHowever, Acosta’s positions on regulation and enforcement have not been as clearly expressed, and his prior experience as a prosecutor may suggest a more measured approach in managing the enforcement responsibilities of the various agencies under his direction.  We will have a better idea of Acosta’s approach soon, however, because there are a number of time sensitive issues that will need his prompt attention upon being sworn in.

In particular, we expect that one immediate priority for Acosta will be Continue reading

Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch Sides with Businesses on Labor and OSHA Issues

On February 1, 2017, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Colorado, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.  Indeed, since February 2016, the High Court has functioned with only eight members; four liberal Justices and four conservative Justices.  gorsuch-imageTherefore, the confirmation of a ninth Justice to fill the vacant position, and establish a majority conservative bench, is likely to have a substantial impact on the outcome of controversial issues brought before the Court.

Gorsuch was appointed to the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2006.  Although he is considered a firm conservative, as was expected given President Trump’s public stance to fill the vacancy with a judge who embodies Scalia’s principles, he has garnered praise from both liberals and conservatives for his work as an appellate judge due to his reputation for conveying his ideas fluently and courteously.

A number of Democrats have already conveyed their opposition to Gorsuch’s nomination, which could prove problematic as he will need to win over some Democratic senators to get the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.However, setting the political climate aside, when Judge Gorsuch was appointed to the Tenth Circuit in 2006, he was confirmed by the Senatewithout objection.  Only time will tell if Judge Gorsuch will acquire enough support from Senate Democrats to overcome a filibuster given the immediate public opposition from Democrats following Gorsuch’s nomination, and whether he will be approved in time to hear oral arguments later this spring.  Judge Gorsuch’s opinions on labor and employment topics suggest that he favors businesses, and his decisions reflect a distaste for overreaching agency action which could result in some limiting decisions if he is ultimately confirmed.

Who is Judge Gorsuch?

Prior to being appointed to the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch amassed an impressive resume.  He received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in New York City in 1988 and his law degree from Harvard Law School, with honors, in 1991 where he was the editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and classmates with former President Obama. Judge Gorsuch also earned a doctorate of legal philosophy from Oxford University in 2004, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar.  Judge Gorsuch began his law career as a

Continue reading

OSHA Issues During Acquisitions and Divestitures – [Webinar Recording]

On November 8, 2016, Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. DiSalvo of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice, presented a webinar regarding OSHA Issues During Acquisitions and Divestitures.

OSHA compliance issues have been long ignored in the due diligence process for mergers, acquisitions and divestitures.  With OSHA’s focus on follow-up inspections and Repeat citations, and expanding the concept of successor OSHA liability, it is a topic that should no longer be left out of the due diligence process.  This webinar delved into the current landscape of successor liability under the OSH Act, explained what safety and health obligations a new employer may assume as a result of past conduct by a predecessor employer, and provided tips and strategies for managing OSHA compliance related due diligence.

Participants learned about: Continue reading

OSHA Promulgates Final Rule on ACA Whistleblower Complaints

The Employer Defense Report

WhistleblowerOn October 12, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA” or the “Agency”) announced that it had issued a Final Rule establishing procedures for the filing, evaluation, and litigation of whistleblower complaints under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  The rule became effective on October 13, 2016.  It lays out time frames for the handling of retaliation complaints under the ACA and explains the different procedural steps in the process; namely, filing a complaint, investigation of the complaint by OSHA, appealing OSHA determinations, hearings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and options for review of final determinations.  Much of the framework for ACA whistleblower complaints is similar to other whistleblower laws enforced by OSHA and will seem familiar to employers, but below are some of the highlights of the final rule of which employers should be aware.

Protected Activity and Types of Retaliation

The ACA was signed into law back…

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Employment Law and OSHA Concerns with Temps, Contractors, and Joint- and Multi- Employer Sites

By Eric J. Conn, Jordan B. Schwartz, and Lindsay A. Smith

Employers must beware as the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) cracks down on what it perceives as rampant misclassifying employees as contractors and shirking other responsibilities, such as safety training, because a worker is supplied by another employer.  With more and more unique employment relationships and multi-employer worksites, it is crucial to understand the complexities of how the DOL and its various enforcement agencies define the employment relationship and/or assign liability in these contexts.

It has long been a priority of the Obama Administration to treat more workers as actual employees of host employers in order to provide them with a litany of labor protections and benefits, even when these workers are not hired directly, may not stay long, and may not even consider themselves to be employees.  This enforcement philosophy affects businesses in numerous areas – such as wage and hour law and OSHA compliance – even when employers thought staffing through an agency or on an independent contract basis relieved them of many of these DOL burdens and liabilities.  Not only does this increase the cost of many temporary, contract and multi-employer arrangements, it also puts employers at great risk of costly DOL enforcement actions if they do not understand when they have the responsibility (as opposed to another employer) to satisfy certain terms of labor law compliance.

First and foremost to keep in mind, although an employer may classify a worker as an independent contractor or as a non-employee temporary worker, and their maybe contract documents that express that classification, that does not mean DOL takes the same view.  Indeed, as DOL sees it, most workers should be treated as employees.  Also, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA-related obligations and potential liability even for non-employees depending on the employers’ roles at multi-employer worksites or in joint-employer situations.

New ‘Joint Employer’ Standard

Outsourcing to a temporary or contract worker can be a great way for a company to take care of some tasks and may make more sense for the business, rather than hiring full-time workers to fill those gaps.  However, if the DOL finds under one of various legal tests that the business is a joint-employer of that worker with another company, then numerous legal obligations kick in vis-a-vis these shared employees (such as collective bargaining and mandatory dispute resolution) as well as significant exposure for your organization under various labor laws.

In the past few years, both state and federal agencies have been expanding the joint-employer definition. Continue reading

Employment and OSHA Issues related to Multi- and Joint-Employers, Contractors, and Temps [Webinar Recording]

On August 16, 2016, Jordan B. SchwartzEric J. Conn, and Lindsay A. Smith, of Conn Maciel Carey’s national Labor and Employment Practice and OSHA Practice, presented a webinar regarding Joint Employer, Multi-Employer, Contractor and Temp Employment Law and OSHA issues.

Employers’ perceptions about their legal responsibilities for certain workers is not always reality.  Although an employer may classify a worker as a temporary worker or independent contractor, that does not mean the Department of Labor takes the same view.  Recently, DOL has been vocal about its belief that most workers should be treated as employees, insinuating that in a majority of cases, it would hold employers accountable for the specific obligations of an employer-employee relationship.  Additionally, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA related obligations and potential liability depending on their role at multi-employer worksites or in joint employer situations.

Overall, DOL has been cracking down on employee misclassification and division of responsibility among multiple employers; thus, it is essential for employers to carefully evaluate the employment relationship and their own individual function at in the multi-employer context.

Participants in the webinar learned: Continue reading

New ALJ Decision Emboldens OSHA to Demand More Corporate-Wide Abatement

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. Smith

Employers with multiple worksites beware – OSHA is now much more likely to demand so-called “enterprise-wide abatement” in Complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the “Review Commission”).

Despite what had been settled law for years and the plain language of the OSH Act – that abatement must be limited to the specific workplace where a violative condition was observed by OSHA during an inspection – during the Obama Administration, OSHA began to pursue “enterprise-wide” mandatory abatement; not only as negotiated terms in settlement agreements, but also in relief sought in Complaints filed withCentral Transport Pic 3 the Review Commission. 29 U.S.C. Sec. 659(c) authorizes the Review Commission to:

“issue an order … affirming, modifying or vacating the Secretary’s citation or proposed penalty or directing other appropriate relief ….”

Relying on the “other appropriate relief” language, OSHA has been requesting the Review Commission to order enterprise-wide abatement based simply on observations of a violation at a single location within a multi-facility company.

The Agency’s enterprise-wide abatement efforts first gained notoriety a few years ago during OSHA’s relentless enforcement efforts targeting the U.S. Postal Service. In a 2010 enforcement action against USPS, relying on the “other appropriate relief” OSH Act language, OSHA demanded from the Review Commission an order for USPS to abate the alleged hazards that the Agency observed at one USPS station at all USPS operations around the country. USPS fiercely contested that demand. The enterprise-wide abatement issue was not decided by the Review Commission in that case, however, because OSHA and USPS reached a landmark settlement obviating the need for the Commission to rule on its authority to grant such relief.

We saw OSHA’s efforts to legitimize corporate-wide abatement again in Continue reading

Slicing the Nuances of OSHA’s Amputation Reporting Requirements

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. Smith

Under OSHA’s new injury and fatality reporting rules, amputations have become a specific type of injury that must be reported to OSHA, regardless of whether the employee is hospitalized.  Specifically, OSHA amended its reporting rule at 29 C.F.R. 1904.39 (“Reporting fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye as a result of work-related incidents to OSHA”) to read, in pertinent part:Reporting 3.JPG

“Within twenty-four (24) hours after … an employee’s amputation …, as a result of a work-related incident, you must report the … amputation … to OSHA. . . .  For an … amputation …, you must only report the event to OSHA if it occurs within twenty-four (24) hours of the work-related incident.”

The long and short of the new reporting requirement is that an amputation constitutes an automatic report to OSHA even if it does not result in a hospitalization or any days away from work, or even require medical treatment beyond first aid.  There are, however, several key nuances that employers must be aware of before they pick up the phone to call OSHA.

What Types of Injuries Should be Reported as an Amputation?

As an initial matter, an employer must understand what constitutes an amputation.  The rule defines “amputations” as:

“[T]he traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part.  Amputations include a part, such as a limb or appendage, that has been severed, cut off, amputated (either completely or partially); fingertip amputations with or without bone loss; medical amputations resulting from irreparable damage; amputations of body parts that have since been reattached. Amputations do not include avulsions, enucleations, deglovings, scalpings, severed ears, or broken or chipped teeth.”

Although this definition may seem straightforward, there is ambiguity around the distinction between a “partial amputation” and an avulsion or laceration.  Based on OSHA’s definition, the term “amputation” would require Continue reading

OSHA’s Full Time Enforcement Policy Regarding Temporary Workers

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. Smith

In April of 2013, OSHA declared that protecting temporary workers would become a top priority, and that has proven true in 2014 with the roll-out of OSHA’s Temporary Worker Initiative and in 2015 with a heavy dose of enforcement and new guidance for employers.  OSHA maintains that temporary employees are entitled to the same safety protections as other workers, and no one would dispute that, but the question remains, who is responsible – the staffing agency Temp Worker 2.JPGor the host employer – when a temporary worker is exposed to workplace hazards?

Although OSHA has regulated the treatment of temporary workers for many years, its new emphasis on protecting temporary workers has been sparked by several concerns. Most prominent among them is the surge (and expected continued growth) of the temporary workforce, the nature of the work performed by temporary workers, and recent fatalities among temporary workers. For purposes of the Initiative, OSHA defines “temporary worker” to include only one who is working in a host employer/staffing agency employment structure.

OSHA’s stated goals for the Temporary Worker Initiative are to:

  1. Protect temporary workers from workplace hazards;
  2. Ensure staffing agencies and host employers understand their safety and health obligations; and
  3. Allow OSHA to learn information regarding hazards in workplaces utilizing temporary workers.

To achieve these goals, OSHA has been producing compliance assistance materials, such as fact sheets and webpages, conducting outreach to affected stakeholders, and of course, exercising its enforcement hammer. Specifically, OSHA directed its inspectors to Continue reading