Unions Call for More Attention to Workplace Safety

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, chaired by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., looked at federal workplace safety and administration of the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, the law that provides workers’ compensation coverage for federal employees.

Milly Rodriguez, an occupational health and safety specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees, testified about concerns raised by Transportation Security Administration baggage screeners over workplace exposure to ionizing radiation from TSA X-ray machines. Rodriguez said TSA refuses to allow AFGE to conduct an independent study of radiation emissions or to purchase dosimeters (which measure exposure to radiation) for baggage screeners. TSA also refuses to allow screeners to wear dosimeters not issued by TSA, she said.

“While TSA may have done the testing necessary to show that the levels of radiation emitted from the screening equipment are below action levels, their lack of response and their failure to address employee concerns beg the question, what are they hiding?” Rodriguez said.

Obtaining sick leave is another problem area for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), a National Treasury Employees Union representative testified. For example, TSA managers at Los Angeles International Airport attempted to institute a restrictive leave policy until congressional pressure forced them to abandon it, NTEU said.

Inefficient Safety Net—Often, valid claims of sick or injured feds can be buried by the system tasked with processing them, one witness said.

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, testified about the experiences of Secret Service Special Agent Mike Vaiani, who ran into the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 attacks attempting to rescue those inside. He seriously injured his neck, shoulders and back in the process.

After the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs lost his file, Vaiani started receiving collection notices for unpaid medical bills. “After enduring this miserable process,” Adler told the panel, “Vaiani stated, ‘I would rather run back into the tower while it’s on fire than have to deal with the Department of Labor.’”

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