Group urges OSHA to protect union whistleblowers

Michael P. Tremoglie Jun. 4, 2012, 10:57am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The Heritage Foundation has published a recommendation for one way the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can improve its whistleblower program - extend whistleblower protections to union employees.

The Whistleblower Protection Program enforces statutes protecting employees who report violations of various industries. There are 21 of these statutes, known as "whistleblower" laws.

The rights given by these whistleblower acts include, but are not limited to, worker participation in safety and health activities; reporting a work-related injury, illness or fatality; and reporting a violation of the statutes.

According to the Heritage Foundation's report, "Unions can legally fire their own employees for raising allegations of corruption. This happened to several veteran employees of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700 in Indianapolis. They reported alleged financial impropriety by the local's president to the union's executive board. The president fired them the next day. Extending whistle-blower protections to union officials would discourage corruption and protect honest union employees."

Employers cannot retaliate against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an OSHA investigation.

OSHA announced May 17 it was assembling a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. The committee will make on ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the whistleblower program.

The report added that members of the executive board of the UFCW Local 700 in Indianapolis "suspected the local's president, C. Lewis Piercey, and secretary treasurer, Richard Fitzgerald, of misusing union funds. Concerned about their fiduciary responsibility, they brought their concerns to several senior employees: Rian Wathen, the director of collective bargaining; Peggy Collins, a vice president; and Herman Jackson, the organizing director."

After conducting an internal investigation, they concluded, among other things that Piercey and Fitzgerald had "spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general treasury without executive board authorization and used money from the local's strike fund to pay for personal meals."

When they brought these allegations to the executive board, the president fired them and denied their termination appeals.

Union employees are safe from retaliation for reporting such things as dumping toxic waste or using child labor. But, currently, there is only one law that addresses union corruption - the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. But the act's protections only protects rank-and-file members-not employees-of labor unions.

Heritage recommends that Congress should create whistleblower protections for union employees under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. This would protect honest union officers and encourage them to reveal corruption, helping to root out corruption in the union movement, it feels.

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