Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Public Sector Ceremony
Illinois State Plan
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Illinois Labor Director Shannon; my fellow speakers, representatives from the office of the governor, the mayor, and the state legislature; union leaders; and Illinois state, municipal and education employees
Too much of my job entails tragedy. Authorizing citations and fines when workers are killed on the job, signing condolence letters to family members, reviewing hazardous materials reports and worker fatality statistics too often, it's grim work.
So, with great pleasure, I am joining you today to recognize, congratulate, and celebrate OSHA's approval and funding of the Illinois State Plan to protect public employees. Thank you for inviting me and thank you for giving us an opportunity to celebrate this accomplishment.
This day has been many years in development, and you are right to be proud of this achievement.
For the corrections officers, police officers, firefighters, and other public safety workers
For the sanitation workers, highway construction workers, building and road inspectors and other transportation workers
For mental health attendants, hospital workers and social service workers
For teachers, school employees, housing inspectors and parks and rec managers
And, yes, for the unappreciated tax collectors who make sure there is funding for these vital government services
For all the other Illinois public employees at the state, county and local government levels, one million strong:
This day and this state plan recognizes your value, respects your work, and says "The State of Illinois, your fellow citizens of Illinois, and the federal government in Washington will protect you and look after you to ensure that, at the end of every work day, you may return home to your families, safe and healthy."
Public employees do many of the same jobs and face many of the same hazards that private sector employees face.
According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total recordable case injury and illness incidence rate for state government employees was 21 percent higher than the private sector rate. The rate for local government employees was 79 percent higher than the private sector. Clearly, some public sector jobs are extremely dangerous.
This plan signifies your recognition of the important and dangerous work that public employees do, work that is often unnoticed but is crucial to what makes life in this country livable.
Today, almost 40 years after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, there are still 25 states that do not provide federally approved protection for public employees,
In these states, public employers are not required to comply with the most basic health and safety standards, and when there is a tragedy, there is no investigation that might provide lessons for other public employers or closure for the families.
Public employees in most of these states have no one to call when they face a life-threatening hazard on the job. There is no one to inspect their workplaces and no citations. Public employees, despite the dangerous and important work they do, are treated as expendable second-class citizens.
Well, in Illinois, that day has passed. We congratulate you for setting an example that other states will hopefully follow.
To support this state plan, Federal OSHA is joining Illinois' investment in your safety and health with a matching grant of one and a half million dollars. These funds will help your state government to
- develop and administer this program effectively
- hire additional compliance officers
- increase the frequency and number of inspections, which will be conducted in a manner that parallels Federal OSHA inspections of private sector worksites here in Illinois
- help reduce the number of work-related injuries and fatalities through expanded coverage of public sector workers
- establish a separate consultation program to assist public sector employers and their workers
The ultimate goal of this program is to provide enhanced protection so that public workers may do their jobs with knowledge and without fear.
This state public sector plan will enhance Illinois' ability to ensure that state and local government workers and employers work together to assess and address hazards in the workplace before they come to harm.
I want to express my sincere thanks to Governor Quinn and the state legislature for their leadership in developing this public sector plan. I also sincerely thank Catherine Shannon, the Director of the Illinois Department of Labor, and her staff for their diligence in shepherding this program to approval.
Thanks, as well, to the AFL-CIO, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Building and Construction Trades, AFSCME, SEIU, AFT and all the other unions that worked hard gaining support for this program.
There is still a lot of work to be done to move this new plan into full operation. I pledge the continued support of Federal OSHA. Our regional office is just up the street and our District and Area offices throughout the state are just a phone call away.
So, let's stay in touch, let's meet regularly to exchange knowledge and expertise, and let's continue to collaborate on behalf of the safety and health of all workers in Illinois.
We have a saying in OSHA: "Workplace safety is no accident." We also say: "No one should have to fear getting hurt on the job just to earn a paycheck."
So I salute the State of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Labor, and everyone involved for passing this milestone. Knowing that public workers will be better protected is very good news for the families of these workers who will no longer have to see their loved ones get injured or killed in situations that would clearly have been illegal for private sector employees.
This should be seen as good news for all the citizens of this state and an important message for the rest of this country that here, now, in the 21st century, the days of treating public employees as second class citizens must come finally to an end.
Congratulations and thank you.