Senate Delays Workplace Rules

Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate voted Thursday night to block proposed Clinton administration rules giving workers new protections against repetitive motion injuries.

The 57-41 vote, on an amendment sponsored by GOP Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, was mostly along party lines and came several days after the House adopted a similar ban. Democrats immediately said President Clinton would veto the overall bill, which provides annual spending for the departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services.

Delaying the rules was ``one of many objectionable items'' in the bill, White House spokesman Joel Johnson said.

Democrats said the regulations developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could help for an estimated 1.8 million workers who suffer from ergonomic injuries each year.

``The Republican position is turn a deaf ear to these workers, ignoring the fact that they are facing debilitating injuries,'' said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Republicans insisted that the new rules would cost businesses too much. ``There are going to be workers who lose their job because of this rule if it's imposed,'' said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark. ``There are small businesses that are going to go bankrupt because of this rule if it's not stopped.''

The proposed rules, made public in November after a decade of study and delay, would require employers to minimize the everyday physical stresses of a broad range of jobs. Final standards are now scheduled to be released by the end of 2000.

Because the vote came on a one-year spending bill, the ban technically would expire at the end of the next fiscal year, in October 2001.

OSHA estimates the rules would cost businesses $4.7 billion to implement, but predicts net savings of $9 billion in medical costs and increased productivity. Republicans say that figure is wrong, pointing to Small Business Administration estimates of $60 billion a year or more.

``This is the largest, most onerous and expensive rule in the history of this agency,'' Enzi said. ``This rule has serious, substantial flaws.''

Republicans also argued that the rules are not based on sound science, that they could usurp state worker compensation laws and that they could jeopardize the quality of health care provided for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

``We don't want a regulation going into effect in December without us having additional time to consider it,'' said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.

Democrats disagreed. ``The science is clear,'' said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. ``The question is whether we have the will and the determination to protect American workers.''

Three Democrats broke ranks on the bill: Sens. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, John Breaux of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. One Republican voted against the amendment, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Two senators missed the vote: Democrats Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Barbara Boxer of California.