U.S. Representative Martha Roby has questioned a federal initiative that is targeting the southern automotive industry.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recently initiated a "Regional Emphasis Program" that is targeting automotive manufacturers and parts suppliers in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The OSHA directive claims that workers in the industry are subject to "serious injuries, including amputations and death," but cites no data to support the claim. It also does not explain why modern, non-union facilities in the South would warrant more scrutiny than the older, unionized counterparts in the Midwest.
In a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who oversees OSHA, Roby questioned how federal authorities could justify this scrutiny for the automotive plants in the south.
"While I recognize that certain aspects of heavy manufacturing are dangerous and accidents do unfortunately sometimes occur, I am not aware of a rash of amputations or deaths in Southeastern facilities," Rep. Roby wrote. "Absent a compelling rationale grounded in fact, OSHA's targeted enforcement tactics become susceptible to charges that they are at best arbitrary, and at worst discriminatory."
Roby also stated that the timing of this initiative is suspect due to the recent rejection of an attempt to unionize a nearby Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN. She also stated that allowing union representatives to accompany OSHA inspectors on visits to non-union facilities is also suspicious.
"It is understandable that many perceive these steps to be part of a coordinated effort to advance a pro-union agenda within the growing Southeastern automotive manufacturing industry, which is thriving due in part to the pro-business environment and skilled workforce found in our region," Rep. Roby wrote. "As you know, employees in Southeastern facilities have repeatedly resisted unionization, most recently in February at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga. It is concerning that a federal government agency may be advancing on Southeastern workers a pro-union agenda that they do not want."
Roby said she looks forward to Secretary Perez's response when he testifies before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. Rep. Roby is a member of the subcommittee.