President Bush’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Edwin Foulke, is drawing scrutiny from some union and workplace safety and health activists.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Foulke worked closely with OSHA for many years and is very familiar with the agency, its mission, its standards and its enforcement practice” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “That experience could make him an effective OSHA administrator. However, Foulke is also a partner at Jackson-Lewis, a law firm with a strong anti-union reputation. As the Senate reviews and votes on his nomination, he should be questioned about his attitude toward unions and his association with the anti-union activities of his law firm.”

Jackson-Lewis, a South Carolina firm, has several areas of practice, and Foulke is not directly part of its Labor Relations area. Rather, he belongs to the Workplace Safety Compliance and Management Training sections. “Union avoidance,” however, is prominently listed on the Jackson-Lewis website as one of the services that a corporation might secure through the firm, and the firm has been involved in campaigns against unions at Borders Bookstores, Berlin (VT) Health & Rehabilitation Center, Episcopal Church Home (Rochester), Patient Care (New York City) and many other places. Because union organizing often springs from health and safety concerns, one workplace safety blogger suggested that Senators should ask Foulke, “Are union organizing campaigns that focus on health and safety issues a healthy sign of worker involvement or a sign of trouble?”

From 1990 to 1994, Foulke served on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an administrative court that reviews appeals from employers of citations received as the result of OSHA field inspections. The OSHRC can affirm, reduce or dismiss issued citations and fines. Foulke had a hand in hundreds of OSHRC decisions.

Foulke also served on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s (USCC) Labor Policy Committee. The USCC is among the nation’s premier business associations. As a member of this committee, Foulke sometimes testified before Congress on safety and health issues. He supported efforts to update permissible exposure limits (PELs).

Foulke, who has been endorsed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association, would assume the agency’s helm at a time when OSHA’s mission, while unchanged in words, is evolving in practice in a way that is generally to the disadvantage of working men and women. Under John Henshaw, who resigned last January after almost four years on the job, the agency virtually abandoned rule-making and reduced emphasis on enforcement. Alternatively, it placed increasing emphasis on voluntary partnerships with businesses which, it says, facilitates much more attention to safety and health for the resources invested.

A date for Foulke’s confirmation hearing has not been set.

[Steve Clark]