Early this morning, after a floor session that lasted for many hours, the Washington State House of Representatives voted 50–48 to adopt a bill sponsored by Representative Dan Bronoske (D‑28th District: Pierce County) that would repeal a right wing initiative from 2003 that barred the Department of Labor & Industries from adopting ergonomic rules intended to protect workers.
That initiative, I‑841, was the first measure that the Northwest Progressive Institute opposed following its formation in August of 2003. (NPI’s Permanent Defense project, now part of NPI, predates NPI’s founding by a year and a half; it turns twenty years old today, and we’re celebrating the occasion tonight.)
In an October 30th, 2003 guest column for The News Tribune of Tacoma (I‑841 ergonomics initiative is well-funded flimflam) Civic Ventures’ David Goldstein explained what Initiative 841 was really about:
Initiative sponsors like to glorify their efforts as exercises in “direct democracy,” but the campaign for I‑841 is neither democratic nor direct. Perhaps the least populist piece of private legislation ever to reach the ballot, I‑841 seeks to ban state ergonomic rules aimed at preventing many common workplace injuries.
Fronted by the Orwellian-sounding “Workers Against Job Killing Rules,” the initiative is really the brainchild of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), a powerful business group that exploits a loophole in state workers compensation laws to funnel millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes.
According to a state analysis, the rules would save businesses $340 million a year due to fewer injuries, more than offsetting the $80 million cost of complying (not to mention the pain and suffering of injured employees). Yet with workers’ compensation insurance rates rising a stunning 19.4 percent, the BIAW — whose members’ claim rates are twice the state average — would still rather spend its millions fighting regulators than reducing preventable workplace injuries.
Initiative 841 went on to pass in the November 2003 general election — a low turnout election in which most Washington voters did not participate.
House Bill 1837 is simple: it gets rid of the restriction on the regulation of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics. The bill is so simple that it fits on two pages (with margins removed). Most of the bill is a statement of findings:
The legislature finds that musculoskeletal injuries are a leading cause of disability, accounting for more than 130,000,000 patient visits to health care providers annually. These injuries cover a range of conditions related to overexertion and repetitive motion, such as pinched nerves, sprains, hernias, and connective tissue diseases.
Musculoskeletal conditions are the number one reason for visits to a physician, affecting nearly half of all Americans above eighteen years of age.
The legislature finds that work-related musculoskeletal injuries account for at least one-third of all nonfatal work injuries, are more severe than the average nonfatal injury or illness, and are the most frequently reported cause of lost or restricted work time. Work-related musculoskeletal injuries occur from ergonomically incorrect and unregulated working practices.
The legislature finds that many of Washington state’s critical industries, including agriculture and health care, are described by the federal bureau of labor statistics as high-risk industries for musculoskeletal injuries. These are also industries that are currently experiencing significant staffing shortages.
Further, these injuries lead to high employer costs including absenteeism, decreased productivity, and increased costs for healthcare, disability, and workers’ compensation, among other costs.
Initiative Measure No. 841, approved by the voters in 2003, repealed existing ergonomic regulations and barred the department of labor and industries from regulating working practices to address musculoskeletal injuries. The legislature finds that the absence of regulatory authority in this important area has contributed to increases in workplace injuries and costs.
The legislature therefore intends to repeal the prohibition on regulating working practices related to musculoskeletal injuries, thereby allowing targeted safety efforts to more effectively and efficiently prevent these needless workplace injuries. By removing this outdated barrier, the legislature will restore the state’s ability to more comprehensively address important workplace safety issues.
Although the bill repeals I‑841, it does not allow L&I to adopt regulations concerning employee home offices for the time being.
As stated in the bill’s final clause:
For employee home offices, the director shall not have the authority to adopt any new or amended rules dealing with musculoskeletal disorders, or that deal with the same or similar activities as these rules being repealed, until and to the extent comparable rules applying to employee home offices are required by congress or the federal occupational safety and health administration.
Any day that the Washington State Legislature votes to rescind a poorly conceived right wing initiative is a good day. We congratulate the House on this action.
Seven Democrats voted against the bill, but since the House Democratic caucus can afford to lose seven votes and still pass a bill, it got a constitutional majority.
The roll call was as follows:
3rd Reading & Final Passage
Yeas: 50; Nays: 48
Voting Yea: Representatives Bateman, Berg, Bergquist, Berry, Bronoske, Callan, Chopp, Cody, Davis, Dolan, Donaghy, Duerr, Entenman, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Goodman, Gregerson, Hackney, Hansen, Harris-Talley, Johnson, Kirby, Kloba, Lekanoff, Macri, Morgan, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Peterson, Pollet, Ramel, Ramos, Riccelli, Ryu, Santos, Sells, Senn, Simmons, Slatter, Stonier, Sullivan, Taylor, Thai, Valdez, Wicks, Wylie, Jinkins
Voting Nay: Representatives Abbarno, Barkis, Boehnke, Caldier, Chambers, Chandler, Chapman, Chase, Corry, Dent, Dufault, Dye, Eslick, Gilday, Goehner, Graham, Griffey, Harris, Hoff, Jacobsen, Klicker, Klippert, Kraft, Kretz, Leavitt, MacEwen, Maycumber, McCaslin, McEntire, Mosbrucker, Orcutt, Robertson, Rude, Rule, Schmick, Shewmake, Springer, Steele, Stokesbary, Sutherland, Tharinger, Vick, Volz, Walen, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybarra, Young
The seven Democrats voting nay were Representatives Larry Springer, Sharon Shewmake, Alicia Rule, Amy Walen, Steve Tharinger, Mike Chapman, and Mari Leavitt. Most of them are frontline members from swing or lean Democratic districts, including Bronoske’s seatmate (Leavitt). Amy Walen and Larry Springer, however, are from safe districts located on the Eastside of King County.
All forty-one Republicans voted against passage of the bill.
EHB 1837 is a simple bill, so it probably won’t need to be amended in the Senate. If the Senate passes it, it’ll probably go to Governor Jay Inslee for signature.