Business groups and organized labor are at odds over the nomination of David Michaels, President Obama’s pick to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They agree that Michaels, if confirmed by the Senate, would likely shift OSHA’s focus from voluntary compliance programs to stronger enforcement. While unions typically support that approach, business organizations are worried Michaels would take an adversarial approach toward employers, and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pressing for the Senate to schedule a confirmation hearing.
Michaels, an epidemiologist, served as assistant secretary of energy for environment, safety and health from 1998 to 2001. “He brings a lot of experience and a good background and will provide the kind of leadership that OSHA desperately needs,” says Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of safety and health. Michaels has said that he would resume OSHA’s focus on setting standards and relying on enforcement when necessary, she adds.
Business and industry groups acknowledge that Michaels has a background in workplace health issues, but they are concerned about his views. “The rhetoric coming out of the [Labor] department is extremely aggressive, even bellicose,” says Marc Freedman, the U.S. Chamber’s executive director for labor law policy.
Brad Sant, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s vice president for safety and education, says OSHA under Michaels might issue more citations for American National Standards Institute standards such as those for for repetitive-motion musculoskeletal injuries.