Business owners testify to keep VOSHA

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(Host) A group of business leaders joined with several labor unions on Thursday to urge lawmakers to reject Governor Jim Douglas’ plan to eliminate the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) In his Inaugural Address to the Legislature, Douglas proposed the elimination of VOSHA as a cost saving measure. The governor says the federal government is willing to take over the program and the move could save the state roughly $400,000 a year.

However there was little support for the plan at a joint hearing of the Senate General Affairs and Government Operations Committees. Dale Trombley of Vermont Castings says Vermont safety inspectors are easier to work with than their federal counterparts. And Trombley says VOSHA is also more interested in finding workable solutions to any problems they find:

(Trombley) “Our sister plants deal with OSHA. Our sister plants are always in a conflict mode. Our sister plants are always in a hostile situation with health and safety issues. The Vermont operation isn’t. I consider that a key asset to doing business in Vermont because of the environment that we work in.”

(Kinzel) Bill Carris of Carris Reels testified by phone. Carris strongly opposed the governor’s plan:

(Carris) “We’ve got locations in other states where we have dealt with state agencies like VOSHA and we deal with OSHA. And I can tell you that OSHA as a federal program is very punitive; where as VOSHA as a state program wants to work wants to create a safe workplace. It’s not about being punitive and penalizing a workplace.”

(Kinzel) Despite the testimony, Labor and Industry Commissioner Michael Bertrand urged the committee to support the governor’s proposal:

(Bertrand) “The most compelling argument is the financial argument that here we have a service that is being provided by the state, that is being paid for in part by state taxpayers, and yet at the same time the federal government is willing to provide the service at no charge to Vermont taxpayers. And that’s the way that 29 other states and the District of Columbia approach this issue.”

(Kinzel) The Senate committees plan to hold another hearing on this issue early next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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