To commemorate this year’s Labor Day, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Public Affairs published a blog post entitled “Labor Day Q & A: How to Build a Better Future.” In the blog post, several DOL officials from different departments provided answers to questions about workers and the American workforce. In his answer to a question about building an inclusive workforce, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick emphasized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) commitment to improving whistleblower protections.
“What are ways we can build a modern, inclusive workforce — one where all workers can find jobs that are safe, pay fair wages and don’t discriminate — and where workers have a seat at the table and opportunities for advancement?” one of the questions asks department officials. This question includes answers from Lenita Jacobs-Simmons, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training, Jeffrey Freund, Office of Labor – Management Standards Director, and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Jeannette Galanis, along with OSHA head Frederick.
“Our goal is to ensure workers have a voice in health and safety,” Frederick writes in his answer. “To this end, we’re improving OSHA’s whistleblower protections, holding stakeholder meetings with traditionally underserved communities, and working with advocacy groups representing the most vulnerable workers.”
“We are also continuing our Safe + Sound initiative that engages workers in their workplace safety and health programs as well as continuing to move forward important rulemakings on hazards like heat, infectious disease and workplace violence,” Frederick continues.
OSHA aims “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers,” according to its website. OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the whistleblower provisions of 25 whistleblower statutes. In February, DOL announced that OSHA would begin overseeing retaliation complaints that workers filed under the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
So far in 2021, DOL has issued eleven news releases announcing decisions or actions taken regarding employers who have engaged in whistleblower retaliation. In several of the cases that the news releases cover, companies were ordered to pay and reinstate whistleblowers against whom they had taken retaliatory actions. For example, in the most recent case, the DOL ordered transportation company CSX Transportation Inc. “to pay two railroad workers $667,740 for firing them in 2017 after they reported a safety concern.”
Whistleblower advocates used this Labor Day as an opportunity to detail the gains made, and highlight the inadequacies that persist in domestic whistleblowing systems. In a September 6 article for The Hill, Stephen M. Kohn, whistleblower attorney and Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), wrote that as we celebrate another Labor Day, it is also “[a]nother day when there is no justice for thousands of whistleblowers.” He highlighted several legislative measures he urges Congress to undertake in order to better protect whistleblowers, which are in line with nine reforms NWC recently published as their Ethics Agenda.
NWC emphasizes these nine actions as vital reforms Congress should pass to “protect whistleblowers of all stripes.” Individuals can contact their representatives and President Biden through an Action Alert.