Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Busting the Myth of Ron Paul, Part Two

Part Two in a series.

It was January 28, 2000. Ron Paul was hellbent on killing "any expansion of OSHAs regulatory authority". [1] Giving his speech to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which falls under the House Education and Workforce Committee, he went on a tirade that might shock his more left-leaning supporters today. What was it, you might ask, that he stated?

Modern technology, such as e-mail and the Internet, allows employees to be productive members of the workforce without leaving their homes! The option of "telecommuting" is particularly valuable for women with young children or those caring for elderly parents. Using technology to work at home gives these Americans the chance to earn a living and have a fulfilling career while remaining at home with their children or elderly parents. Telecommuting also makes it easier for citizens with disabilities to become productive members of the job market. Any federal requirements holding employers liable for the conditions of a home office may well cause some employers to forbid their employees from telecommuting, thus shutting millions of mothers, persons caring for elderly parents, and disabled citizens out of the workforce!

It was a lie, of course, that last statement. To date, no one has been prevented from working out of his or her home because of OSHA requirements.

Paul was railing for the "Home Office Protection Enhancement (HOPE) Act, amending the Occupational Safety and Health Act to clarify that OSHA has no authority over worksites located in an employee's residence." In other words, a bill that denied home-based employees the same OSHA protections afforded to employees who work outside the home. Fortunately the bill, which Paul co-sponsored, never passed. Nor did two similar bills from that session of Congress, both designed to strip OSHA protections from home-based workers. [2] [3]

On the surface, Paul's objection to extending OSHA protections to home-based employees might seem valid. After all, employers cannot control conditions in an employee's home that might lead to sickness or injury on the job. But OSHA's web site explains the need thusly:

Even when the workplace is in a designated area in an employee's home, the employer retains some degree of control over the conditions of the "work at home" agreement. An important factor in the development of these arrangements is to ensure that employees are not exposed to reasonably foreseeable hazards created by their at-home employment. Ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for the employee should be a precondition for any home-based work assignments. Employers should exercise reasonable diligence to identify in advance the possible hazards associated with particular home work assignments, and should provide the necessary protection through training, personal protective equipment, or other controls appropriate to reduce or eliminate the hazard. In some circumstances the exercise of reasonable diligence may necessitate an on-site examination of the working environment by the employer. Employers must take steps to reduce or eliminate any work-related safety or health problems they become aware of through on-site visits or other means.

Certainly, where the employer provides work materials for use in the employee's home, the employer should ensure that employer-provided tools or supplies pose no hazard under reasonably foreseeable conditions of storage or use by employees. An employer must also take appropriate steps when the employer knows or has reason to know that employee-provided tools or supplies could create a safety or health risk.

An employer is responsible for ensuring that its employees have a safe and healthful workplace, not a safe and healthful home. The employer is responsible only for preventing or correcting hazards to which employees may be exposed in the course of their work. For example: if work is performed in the basement space of a residence and the stairs leading to the space are unsafe, the employer could be liable if the employer knows or reasonably should have known of the dangerous condition.

Paul, of course, dismissed this eminently reasonable logic. Why? Because his friends in the telecommunications industry were pressuring Congress to do away with even the minimal safety requirements OSHA had in place for home-based employees. (His contributors include AT&T, and between 1999 and 2001 he had received $2,500 in contributions from telecommunications companies.) Ron Paul is ever the champion of unregulated business. But that's not the only example of Ron Paul coming down on the side of business. Far from it. He has opposed increases to the minimum wage, despite there being no evidence that such increases have harmed the economies of states in which minimum wage increases have been passed.

Economic principles dictate that when government imposes a minimum wage rate above the market wage rate, it creates a surplus `wedge' between the supply of labor and the demand for labor, leading to an increase in unemployment. Employers cannot simply begin paying more to workers whose marginal productivity does not meet or exceed the law-imposed wage. The only course of action available to the employer is to mechanize operations or employ a higher-skilled worker whose output meets or exceeds the `minimum wage.' This, of course, has the advantage of giving the skilled worker an additional (and government-enforced) advantage over the unskilled worker. For example, where formerly an employer had the option of hiring three unskilled workers at $5 per hour or one skilled worker at $16 per hour, a minimum wage of $6 suddenly leaves the employer only the choice of the skilled worker at an additional cost of $1 per hour. I would ask my colleagues, if the minimum wage is the means to prosperity, why stop at $6.65--why not $50, $75, or $100 per hour?

Such nonsensical claims aside, there simply is no evidence to support claims that increasing the minimum wage would have any significant negative impact on jobs. Indeed, just the opposite. [4] [5] [6] [7]

These are but a few examples of Ron Paul's deference to corporate interests. Look past his rhetoric of favoring property rights and dig deeper into his sermonizing on the "virtues" of the free market.

Sources for Ron Paul's speeches:

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