Progressive advocate calls for review and renewal of worker safety laws

Lisa McCormick being interviewed by Charlie Kratovil

​New Jersey progressive advocate Lisa McCormick says it is time to revisit workplace security to require that employers assure as far as possible, safe and healthful job conditions for every working man and woman in the nation.

Citing reports that workplace fatalities increased significantly in recent years, progressive Democrat Lisa McCormick says Congress should review existing job safety laws and consider beefing up enforcement capabilities at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in addition to updating statutes that define employer responsibilities at companies that inappropriately classify workers as independent contractors.

“Companies like Uber and Lyft are taxing personal auto liability coverage by slipping their employees into excess hours behind the wheel,” said McCormick, who explained that “expanding the number of motor vehicle accidents and the number of plaintiffs engaged in will be driving car insurance rates higher before you know it.”

“Shifting responsibility for insurance liability from workers’ compensation coverage to personal auto policies is an example of the gig economy’s corporate secret to success but in simple terms, it is stealing,” said McCormick. “The same employers often misclassify workers as independent contractors, in order to escape their duty to pay Social Security taxes, unemployment insurance premiums, and other costs of doing business, but every time they duck responsibility for a cost, someone else has to pick up that tab.”

“Too often, gig economy entrepreneurs have found ways to skirt their obligations and offload employee costs on taxpayers, in the form of public assistance, health insurance, and even food stamps, or on other industries where managers most likely conduct responsible business practices,” said McCormick. “These unethical profiteers should not be permitted to get a free ride on personal auto policies when they should pay for commercial insurance or soak up extra profits by stealing welfare benefits, but that is exactly what they do.”

On December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which gave the federal government the authority to set and enforce safety and health standards for most of the country’s workers.

Although the roots of government regulation of workplace hazards date back to the late 19th century, the OSHA law was the result of a hard-fought legislative battle that began in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson unsuccessfully sought a similar measure, ​but it has been more than 50 years since it was enacted.

“For all the talk in Washington about protecting our national security, federal law entitles all Americans to a safe workplace, and it has been 50 years since there was a major update of our laws and regulatory system,” said McCormick. “All employers must keep workplaces free of known health and safety hazards. Workers also have the right to speak up about hazards without fear of retaliation.”

“Besides rewarding workers with a well-earned pay raise more frequently, to enable Americans to better keep up with inflation, employers should be encouraged to protect the lives of their employees, reduce the unfair strain on social services, and share the prosperity that productive workers generate in their businesses,” said McCormick.

“Government has a responsibility to make sure the economy works for everyone by imposing and enforcing rules that require employers to share prosperity with the workers who make it possible,” said McCormick. “American citizens should elect leaders who are prepared to guarantee health care, education, and labor rights because these are the tangible manifestations of liberty, security, prosperity, and justice for all upon which our nation was founded.”

McCormick praised the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for its proposed joint employer rule, which would help ensure that workers—who are hired through subcontractors, temporary staffing agencies, and other intermediaries—hold all the entities that control their working conditions accountable for their right to bargain collectively for higher pay, better benefits, and safer workplaces.

Specifically, McCormick said the proposed NRLB rule would rescind a Trump administration rule adopted in 2020 that weakened workers’ ability to hold their employers accountable by narrowing the standard to only cover one business when two or more entities really exercise control over workers’ terms of employment.

Under the proposed rule announced September 6, 2022, two or more employers would be considered joint employers if they “share or codetermine those matters governing employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment,” such as wages, benefits and other compensation, work and scheduling, hiring and discharge, discipline, workplace health and safety, supervision, assignment, and work rules.

The proposal largely reestablishes the broad Obama-era standard of joint employment, under which one company may be deemed the joint employer of a second company’s employees not only where it directly or immediately exercises control over the second company’s workforce, but where the first company’s putative control is indirect, or even simply reserved but not ever actually exercised.

“The importance of this change should not be understated because joint-employer status can have profound consequences,” said McCormick. “An employer may be required to bargain with a union representing jointly employed workers, or may be subject to joint and several liability for unfair labor practices committed by the other employer; and it may be subject to union picketing that would otherwise be unlawful.”

“The gig economy, innovative benefit schemes and unconventional ways of managing workers do not obliterate employer responsibility,” said McCormick. “Congress must devise laws that keep up with such innovations while cracking down on explicit cheating, such as when corporations intentionally misclassify workers as independent contractors.”

McCormick said the federal Department of Labor should significantly increase the number of working class Americans who are eligible for overtime pay when they put in extended hours on the job.

An Obama-era attempt to improve coverage was stymied by the courts and the Trump administration short-shifted workers by setting the salary threshold under which salaried workers are automatically entitled to overtime pay at just $35,568 a year.

“Federal law once required most employees to be paid time and a half, or 1½ times their regular pay rate, for each hour of work per week beyond 40 hours,” said McCormick.

“In 1975, nearly two-thirds of salaried workers (65 percent) were covered by overtime protections based on their earnings alone,” said McCormick. “The Obama administration would have increased the threshold to $47,476 and indexed it to wage growth going forward. That would have only restored coverage to roughly 33 percent of American workers.”

“If the overtime rule had been adjusted for inflation since 1975, today it would be more than $56,500,” said McCormick. “Roughly 8.2 million workers who would have benefited from the rule proposed by Obama were left behind by Trump and even the Democratic administration failed to go far enough to support middle-class workers and their families.”

“Just like worker safety laws and regulations that define employee status, overtime rules must be updated and brought in line with the facts of our economy,” said McCormick.

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