03.23.18

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Worker Protections

“We need to provide greater protections for workers and their families so no one gets hurt.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced legislation targeting unsafe working conditions to enhance workplace protections for employees. The Protecting America’s Workers Act increases penalties for high gravity violations in the workplace and provides rights for workers and their family members.

“We need to provide greater protections for workers and their families so no one gets hurt. Everyone should be able to go to work knowing they will come home at the end of the day in the same condition and without experiencing any threat to their health and safety,” said Senator Baldwin. “It is unacceptable that workers face unsafe working conditions or risk losing their job if they file a complaint. This legislation will improve the rights of employees, foster the safety of their workplaces and hold accountable the bad actors who break the law and do harm to American workers.”

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in December 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported two violations at Mid-America Steel Drum Company in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The company’s Milwaukee facility was cited with 15 serious violations in April 2017 for exposing workers to hazardous materials.

Under current law, an employer may be charged with a misdemeanor —at most—when a willful violation of OSHA leads to a worker’s death. The Protecting America’s Workers Act authorizes felony penalties against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury and extend such penalties to corporate officers and directors. 

Too many workers are being injured and even killed on the job. In 2016 alone, 5,190 workers were killed on the job, with Wisconsin witnessing 105 of those fatal work injuries and about 3.7 million worker injuries and illnesses being reported throughout the nation. The Protecting America’s Workers Act improves reporting, inspection and enforcement of hazardous work conditions. This legislation also updates current OSHA civil penalties – which have remained too low to deter bad actors and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by willful violation.

In addition, the legislation enhances protections for whistleblowers like Will Kramer, a safety consulting subcontractor who has alleged safety and environmental violations at the Mid-America Steel Drum Company facility in Milwaukee. Under the Protecting America’s Workers Act, workers like Kramer would have more rights in filing claims through expanding protections to public employees including contract workers and first responders. The legislation creates stronger penalties to deter repeated violations by providing authority for increased civil monetary penalties for willful and serious violations resulting in death or serious bodily injury. It also requires employers to correct serious, willful and repeat violations while they are contesting citations for OSHA violations. This aims to protect workers from potential hazards as soon as they are reported, rather than having to wait for OSHA and the cited workplace to settle a case and leave workers exposed to dangerous work environments for a longer period of time.

For over a year, Senator Baldwin has been working to hold Mid-America Steel Drum accountable, protect worker safety and keep neighborhoods safe. In February 2017, Senator Baldwin requested that Attorney General Jeff Sessions provide an update on the status of the Department’s investigation of whistleblower reports and urged swift movement on appropriate actions. She also called for investigations by OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

As a result of Senator Baldwin’s efforts, investigations have been opened by OSHA, EPA and DOT at each of the three Mid-America Steel Drum facilities in Wisconsin (St. Francis, Oak Creek and Milwaukee). In addition, the Department of Transportation has expanded its investigation to Greif facilities across the country and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is investigating as well.

The Protecting America’s Workers Act is cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

More information on the Protecting America’s Workers Act is available here.