Our guest blogger is Karla Walter, a Senior Policy Analyst with the American Worker Project at American Progress.
In the wake of the tragedy at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners, the national media finally uncovered Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s long record of safety violations, environmental damages, and unfair labor practices. Massey’s dismal record suggests that the tragedy wasn’t a freak event or an act of God, but the result of a reckless employer that too often put profits before people.
The Department of Labor unveiled a new public enforcement database last week, the Department of Labor Enforcement Data Site, that increases accountability for companies that violate workplace laws, including mine safety laws. This resource — created in response to the President Obama’s Open Government Initiative — shines a light on practices that are unacceptable and gives the public a chance to get them changed. The site, now in beta form:
– Discloses company-specific data on minimum wage and child labor law violations for the first time without a freedom of information request,
– Unifies data on violations of workplace safety and health, diversity, and employee benefits plan reporting laws, and
– Allows the public, advocacy groups, and particularly workers to track enforcement results, exerting pressure on specific scofflaw employers and the federal enforcement agencies
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has dubbed herself “a new sheriff in town,” and one year into her administration has made effective and innovative enforcement of worker protection laws a top priority. The site is another signal that Solis is serious about protecting America’s workers. While some of the data—including the mine safety data—are available in other locations, by unifying it in one location her department is increasing the public’s ease of access. As Massey’s unsafe mines sadly reveal, if there’s one workplace violation at a firm, there may be other kinds of violations at that site.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s American Worker Project has long advocated for a centralized, public website containing workplace enforcement data from all Labor enforcement agencies. The department needs to implement its intended improvements to make the site fully functional, because enforcement of worker protection laws cannot be strengthened fast enough for the safety and well-being of all working Americans. Public oversight and access to enforcement data will be a critical part of increasing accountability and improving oversight in the future.
Politico reports that Glenn Spencer, executive director of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, calls the new site “a trial lawyer’s dream.”