Party politics and big money interests often work in the shadows to defeat good public policy. An intersection of these two challenges in Washington state may have played a role in the failure of an erstwhile popular resolution to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
Public Citizen is a key part of the nationwide movement to pass state resolutions calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases. The 2010 Citizens United ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections independent of parties or candidates. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already have called for an amendment to overturn the unpopular decision.
Poll after poll shows that large majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike disapprove of Citizens United and want to see limits on election spending by corporations, unions and individuals. Yet too often, party labels block passage of popular and desperately needed laws.
Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature was moving a resolution calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Thousands of Washingtonians called, emailed and visited their legislators to ask them to support the resolution. More than 15 Washington towns passed resolutions calling for an amendment, from the conservative Walla Walla to the more liberal Seattle.
Each year, thousands of working men and women die on the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,609 workers in 2011 did not return home from a day’s work (2012 data will be available later this year). On April 28, we observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues as members of Congress have jeopardized Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) funding with the so-called “sequester” budget cuts.
The resources that have been appropriated to OSHA are not only to enforce rules and regulations, but also to provide training for workers and returning military personnel, fund research and create new regulations. Sadly, OSHA’s tight budget inhibits its ability to carry out its mission.
The latest economic reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that more than 143 million workers are employed in the United States. Yet, OSHA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012 was $583 million — a paltry 4 dollars per American worker to ensure safety and health on the job.
What’s even more shocking is OSHA’s inability to levy significant fines on employers who have broken the law. The Occupational Safety and Health Act limits the fines that OSHA can charge negligent employers to a maximum of $7,000 per safety violation deemed “serious,” even if the violations resulted in a worker death. The threshold for fines is in dire need of modernization.
It’s time for our country to fulfill the promise of safe jobs for all and to hold employers accountable for their actions.