Some candidates– whether incumbents or challengers– are faring better than others during this pandemic. Candidates who have grown proficient on social media have vibrant campaigns up and running. Others don’t. One candidate who has adapted well is Austin-based progressive Mike Siegel. Not only has he been successful in online organizing and reaching out to small donors, he has continued his work as an advocate for his Texas base.
The latest project– pandemic-era workplace protections– has attracted attention in DC as well. This is what Mike wrote for us about it today. If you like it, please chip into his campaign fund at the Take Back Texas Act Blue thermometer below.
Fighting for OSHA Expansion in a #Hashtag Age
-by Mike Siegel
Let’s make OSHA cool again.
OSHA emerged from the Civil Rights Movement– part of a national demand for a “Safety Bill of Rights” and it took the lead in fighting asbestos exposure and other carcinogens.
Four decades of Goldwater-Reagan-Norquist attacks (the people who want to shrink government down to size and “drown it in a bathtub”) have left us with an agency that is a shell of what it was– a shadow of its original vision.
Last week I was making calls to labor organizations across Texas, to thank them for their support and to see how we can work together in the days and weeks to come. As I spoke to organizers from United Steelworkers, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, from the American Federation of School, County and Municipal Employes, I heard a common theme: job safety. A patchwork of regulations. A lot of fancy words on paper about social distancing and PPE– from the CDC, from the State of Texas, from counties and cities– but no enforcement.
In other words, every day, across Texas and this country, our workers are making a terrible choice: earn a paycheck or protect your health. You can’t do both.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government’s role in protecting worker safety was limited. As one steelworker told me, even when a facility like a chemical plant had a major accident or release of toxic chemicals, OSHA wasn’t likely to show up. If a worker filed an anonymous complaint, OSHA would send a fax to the company and ask for a remediation plan. The company would fax back its remediation plan. Case closed.
In response to COVID-19, OSHA has issued Guidelines on Preparing Workplaces, but takes pains to say how they are recommendations only. Here in Texas, the state has not developed its own occupational safety agency, so we are stuck with what the federal government offers. Cities and counties have code enforcement departments, and places like Austin have made efforts to respond to COVID-19 concerns at work places, but there is no agency that is equipped to make sure workers have the PPE they need, or the space necessary to avoid spreading the virus.
For the last week, I’ve been working with unions to raise awareness of the lack of workplace safety, at the same time that Texas Governor Greg Abbott publicizes his plans to “re-open” the state.
Building on the efforts of Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin and over 50 House Democrats, who filed a “Reopen America Act of 2020” to ensure testing and PPE before the country attempts to return to normal, I joined with Texas unions, labor councils and regional federations to propose expanded OSHA compliance and investigative capacity to ensure safe workplaces in the COVID era.
The current representative in the Texas 10th could care less about work-place safety; this is a guy who can’t even be bothered to wear a mask in the House of Representatives during the session this past Thursday.
But this is an opportunity for me to show what representation looks like for workers in a right-to-work state who face state leadership that wants us to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the economy.
The unions I am working with– a powerful mix including building and construction trades, teachers, city workers and theatrical stage employees– very much appreciated my willingness to put the work in on their behalf.
And multiple sponsors of the bill, including Rep. Raskin, responded enthusiastically to our proposal, and are considering an amendment to the Reopen America Act.
The press? Not so interested. And I get it. Just saying the phrase, “Occupational Safety and Health Administration” is enough to put voters to sleep.
But this is what government is supposed to do: take care of the most vulnerable, and perform the functions that the private market is not equipped or willing to do.
So let’s make OSHA cool again. And make sure that, when we do restart our country, our government will be ready to make workplaces safe.
Mike is exactly the kind of representative Texas– and the rest of America– needs in Congress. This morning Rep. Raskin, author of the Reopen America Act, told us that “In 2020, Mike Siegel is a first responder for American democracy, fighting on the front lines to stop the lethal ignorance and authoritarianism of Donald Trump and his enablers.”
Last cycle, with no help from the DCCC at all– in fact, the opposite– Mike held Trump enabler Michael McCaul to a slim 51.1% tally. This time Mike has the name recognition with voters to finish the job in started in 2018. While the DCCC lavishes millions of dollars on conservative campaigns, they rarely give a dime to anyone running on progressive issues. Can you help?