Protecting workers, the constitution and our judicial process

While many of his critics are quick to describe President Trump’s nascent administration as authoritarian in nature, his predecessor authored dozens of rules that directly contradicted statutory limitations and disregarded judicial mandates.  One such example is a somewhat obscure and innocuous-sounding Labor Department rule commonly referred to as the “Volks Rule.” 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires all construction firms to maintain a detailed log of all jobsite injuries and illnesses.  The same act set a six month statute of limitations for citing firms who failed to properly record such incidents.  Yet Labor Department officials decided to arbitrarily change the statute of limitations from six months to five years.

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Volks, a construction company, successfully challenged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in court when the agency cited the firm for a recordkeeping violation that occurred more than six months prior.  As part of its ruling in favor of Volks, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that “we do not believe Congress expressly established a statute of limitations only to implicitly encourage the (Labor) Secretary to ignore it.”

Instead of heeding the Court’s instruction to follow the law, the Obama administration chose to double down.  In their last weeks in office, Obama appointees finalized a federal regulation, known as the “Volks Rule,” that once again attempted to change the statute of limitations for recordkeeping violations from six months to five years.

The Senate is now considering a measure to repeal this blatant attempt to circumvent the law and disregard a court ruling via the Congressional Review Act.  Earlier this month, the House passed a measure to repeal this misguided effort to legislate via regulatory fiat.  The Senate is likely to act on this measure as early as this week and if it passes it would head to the president’s Desk.

Given that this rule represents an unvarnished effort to usurp Congressional authority and ignore court rulings, repealing this measure should be an easy lift for senators wishing to preserve Congress’ constitutional role as the author of the nation’s laws.  Their vote in favor of repealing this regulation should be even easier considering the fact the “Volks Rule” does nothing to improve workplace safety.

Repealing the Obama-era regulation will have no impact on the length of time construction firms are required to maintain detailed safety logs.  Those logs must be maintained for at least five years.  And repealing the rule will have no impact on OSHA’s ability to access those safety logs, since those logs have always been available for review by safety inspectors. 

The only thing that will change with the repeal of the “Volks Rule” is that OSHA will have to abide by the six month statute of limitations established in the OSH Act for fining firms for recordkeeping violations.  Even better, repealing this needless new regulatory burden will allow construction safety professionals to continue spending the majority of their time on project jobsites, making sure workers are safe, instead of in offices reviewing years-old records and cutting checks to OSHA.

That is why the Associated General Contractors of America is urging all senators to vote in favor of the Congressional Review Act to repeal President Obama’s “Volks Rule.”  Voting in favor of repeal will protect Congressional authority, respect judicial decisions and preserve workplace safety.

Stephen E. Sandherr is the Chief Executive Officer of the Associated General Contractors of America.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.