Labor Troubles at U.S. Labor Department
Union Charges Unfair Practices in Whistleblower Reorganization Lockout
Washington, DC — Plans to fix the embattled whistleblower program within the Occupational Safety & Health Administration hit another snag as the union representing the affected employees has filed unfair labor practice charges over being frozen out of deliberations, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The latest problems stem from completion of a long-awaited “top to bottom” review of the program charged with enforcing whistleblower provisions of 20 statutes covering more than 200 million workers.
On Friday, October 22, 2010, Danielle Gibbs, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 12 Vice President for OSHA, representing employees within the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program (OWPP), notified agency managers that her union is filing charges of unfair labor practice and violation of the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement because affected employees had not been consulted about pending reorganization changes.
“It is surprising that an Obama-run Labor Department is having so much trouble relating to its own unions,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting AFGE’s early and strong support for the 2008 Obama campaign. “It appears that everyone and his brother have been consulted about what to do with OSHA’s whistleblower program except the people who are actually doing the work.”
The top to bottom review was offered as OSHA’s principal response to scathing back-to-back reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Labor Office of Inspector General. This new review, distributed in draft, finds “significant deficiencies and challenges facing OSHA’s whistleblower protection program” and “systemic problems” requiring “widespread reforms.” It makes a dizzying array of 81 recommendations without assigning priorities or spelling out an implementation strategy.
“This mishmash of a review reinforces the need to take this program completely away from OSHA,” stated Ruch, whose organization is urging creation of a separate whistleblower program with dedicated funds and leadership. “This review is still in draft so that OSHA managers can water down even this thin gruel.”
Significantly, the review does not even analyze the proposal which the Labor Department has forwarded to the White House Office of Management & Review for inclusion in the FY 2012 budget. That proposal would move whistleblower programs for 19 environmental, consumer protection and other subjects to another arm of Labor but leave the biggest and most troubled whistleblower program, that for the Occupational Safety & Health Act itself, inside OSHA. PEER has attacked this plan as making a bad situation worse.
“The Labor Department needs to let its own employees and the public in on possible solutions to decades of mismanagement of the nation’s largest whistleblower program,” concluded Ruch, whose organization is also suing OSHA in federal court to force release of an internal survey of OWPP staff and other documents provided to GAO. “As it stands now, thousands of workers who report dangerous conditions, corporate rip-offs or other problems are being left out in the cold by the very agency that is supposed to protect them from reprisal.”