Bush signs repeal of ergonomic rules into law
WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed into law Tuesday a repeal of Clinton administration regulations that set new workplace ergonomic rules to combat repetitive stress injuries.
In a statement, Bush said the rules signed by former president Bill Clinton were "unduly burdensome and overly broad."
The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. trade union federation, immediately denounced the action.
"It's a sad day for injured workers," AFL-CIO spokeswoman Deborah Dion said.
Organized labor and many congressional Democrats criticized the Republican-controlled Congress for repealing the Clinton regulations. Congress passed the repeal two weeks ago largely along party lines.
It was the first time Congress invoked the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allows the body to overturn executive branch regulations, and Bush said the act was properly applied.
A bipartisan group of pro-abortion rights members of Congress on Tuesday said they will employ the Congressional Review Act to try to reverse an executive order by Bush withholding federal funds from international organizations that engage in abortion-related activities. (More on efforts to reverse Bush's order)
"There needs to be a balance between and an understanding of the costs and benefits associated with federal regulations," Bush said. "In this instance, though, in exchange for uncertain benefits, the ergonomics rule would have cost both large and small employers billions of dollars and presented employers with overwhelming compliance challenges.
"Also, the rule would have applied a bureaucratic one-size-fits-all solution to a broad range of employers and workers -- not good government at work."
Bush said that "the safety and health of our nation's workforce is a priority for my administration," and promised to look for other ways to address worker and union concerns about ergonomics and related workplace issues.
The Occupation Safety and Health Administration had estimated that the new rules would have generated benefits of $9.1 billion a year for each of its first 10 years, and would have prevented 460,000 musculoskelatal disorders a year. It said employers pay $15 billion to $18 billion a year in workers' compensation costs as a result of such disorders.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush had directed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to find ways to protect workers' health and safety without hurting businesses. Chao has said she would consider issuing a different ergonomics rule.
A weakening economy also made Bush's approval of the repeal timely, Fleischer said.
"He believes that we can protect the health and safety of workers without passing a regulation that is terribly burdensome to the economy and to the small businesses on which their growth depends," he said.
"Particularly, in this time of fragile economic circumstances, he does not want to take any action that would hurt economic growth and cost small businesses and other businesses billions of dollars," he said.
Clinton signed the new regulations into law in mid-November and they were implemented four days before he left office.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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