OSHA Move To Hold Joint Employers More Responsible For Safety Violations Angers GOP

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) move to hold joint employers – think McDonald’s headquarters and local McDonald’s restaurants – more responsible for job safety and health violations is angering GOP right-wingers.

But the agency says it’s just giving more-detailed guidance to its inspectors on how to enforce job safety law when they hit such joint employer situations.

The issue is important for millions of workers nationwide employed by franchise-holders, such as local outlets of national fast-food and motel chains, but whose wage scales, working conditions and even uniforms are set by the chain’s corporate headquarters.

OSHA, news reports add, is responding to complaints filed earlier this year by the Service Employees and the pro-worker organization Fast Food Forward. The two asked the agency to probe the possibility that, specifically, McDonald’s Corp., is jointly responsible with local franchises for working conditions at the restaurants.

The union and Fast Food Forward acted after burning grease injured workers at 19 McDonald’s outlets in New Orleans, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

“There are many different work arrangements, including temporary workers, subcontractors and franchising arrangements, that could be considered joint employers,” OSHA spokeswoman Laura McGinnis said when a legal publication fist disclosed the memo to the agency from the Labor Department’s Solicitor, its top lawyer, in late August.

“The information in this document is meant to help OSHA inspectors determine whether there is joint responsibility for worker health and safety at a particular business. As with all guidance OSHA’s inspectors follow, our chief concern is protecting the lives and well-being of America’s workers,” the Solicitor’s memo says.

It adds that “while the franchisor and the franchisee may appear to be separate and independent employers, a joint-employer standard may apply where the corporate entity exercises direct or indirect control over working conditions, has the unexercised potential to control working conditions or based on the economic realities.”

That includes whether the franchise holder can implement its own job safety and health programs or whether it must use what the corporate headquarters promulgates, and whether the franchise-holder must report injuries and hazards to that headquarters.

The National Labor Relations Board is already moving towards such joint responsibility, and drawing howls – and anti-board legislation – from Congress’ GOP majority. Now, an Oct. 13 letter from two top Republicans on the highly ideological House Education and the Workforce Committee shows OSHA faces the same flak.

“OSHA already has a robust multi-employer citation policy,” Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. “Inspectors are directed to consider who has control, responsibility or ability to expose a worker to a hazard…The department has not put forward any evidence to demonstrate the current standard is not sufficient” to protect workers, they claimed.  The two demanded all meeting records and documents about the memo, including outside communications.