The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee began its hearings on the nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be Solicitor of Labor, the third-ranking official at the Department. As Solicitor, Scalia, a labor lawyer from Washington whose clients have mostly been employers not workers, would be responsible for enforcing workers rights and advising the Labor Department on its policy initiatives. The Committee split along party lines on Scalia’s nomination, as Democrats worry about his extreme views on labor rights that are far out of the mainstream, especially his positions on sexual harassment laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and unionization.
The focus at the hearings, however, was on ergonomics and efforts to establish ergonomic standards. Earlier this year, the Senate voted to repeal the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) designed to protect workers from injuries resulting from repetitive motion by requiring employers to redesign workplaces and offer compensation for existing injuries. Repetitive motion injuries primarily affect women, who represent 64 percent of workers whose injuries result in lost work time. These injuries also cost the economy an estimated $50 billion a year. Scalia has called ergonomics “junk science” and “quackery” and has mocked ergonomic regulations. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) commented that, “At a time when many working families face enough insecurity as it is, I believe we need someone who would instill much more confidence that the Department of Labor is on working families’ side.”