Today is the 50th anniversary of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law at a White House ceremony on December 29, 1970. Our citizen advocacies were central to its passage over the opposition of the business lobbies, but were not invited to the White House signing. We worked on this legislation meticulously, obtained media coverage and labor support during its difficult path through the Senate and the House. Unsung heroes were Tony Mazzocchi, Secretary-Treasurer of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW), and our lawyer Gary Sellers, who worked closely with the great Congressional champion for OSHA, Rep. Philip Burton (Dem. California).
OSHA, whose mission is the saving of workers’ lives and protecting their health and safety, has come under fierce and unjust attack by industries with unsafe workplaces such as coal mines, chemical plants, agribusiness and the construction industry. OSHA’s funding has been tiny, its inspectors small in number and its authority undermined by corporate-indentured members of Congress and White House pressures.
Given the terrible hazards that millions of frontline workers are experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic, the mission of OSHA has never been more important and timely. Yet, Donald Trump and his Trumpsters have refused to issue mandatory safety standards and protection for these workers and have virtually shut down OSHA’s overall enforcement duties.
President-elect Joe Biden must revive OSHA’s life-saving mission with a strong nominee to head this agency and assure it is adequately funded. Presently its annual budget of about $500 million a year is what the Department of Defense spends each year on military bands. Almost 60,000 workers lose their lives from workplace diseases and traumas every year.