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By Stephen Lee
Nov. 3 — With less than a week before the presidential election, a consensus is forming that, should Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton win on Nov. 8, the AFL-CIO’s Peg Seminario will be the frontrunner to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Both management and labor representatives contacted by Bloomberg BNA said a nomination of Seminario, arguably the nation’s most influential worker safety advocate, would send a clear sign to the labor community that the Clinton administration is taking their concerns seriously. Seminario is currently the safety and health director of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
“If there’s a Democratic Senate, you’d have to think Peg would be a logical choice of a Democratic administration,” Dave Heidorn, manager of government affairs and policy at the American Society of Safety Engineers, told Bloomberg BNA. “The job would be a capstone on a distinguished career fighting for labor’s interest in safe workplaces.”
An OSHA chief of staff under President George W. Bush agreed, telling Bloomberg BNA that Seminario would be “the logical and credible first choice” for Clinton.
Seminario would almost certainly bring with her a muscular approach to enforcement and rulemaking, a prospect that excites labor advocates like Kathy Kirkland, executive director of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics.
“I think at this point we probably need more of a rabble-rouser,” Kirkland told Bloomberg BNA. "[Current OSHA head] David Michaels set the stage, so now there’s all these rulemakings ready to go, but need to be pushed. And Peg might be the face of the people who could really push it.”
Seminario was eliminated from consideration in 2009, after being tapped as President Barack Obama’s first choice to lead the agency because she was deemed to have spent more than 20 percent of her time on work that qualified as lobbying.
But few sources consider that incident to be disqualifying now, unless Clinton decides to impose her own strictures on lobbying.
“The AFL-CIO is working hard to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States,” Seminario told Bloomberg BNA when asked about her interest in the job. “We will focus on the transition and appointments in the next administration after the election.”
No clear frontrunner to lead OSHA has emerged in the event of Republican nominee Donald Trump winning the presidency. Given Trump’s oft-stated antipathy to regulation, however, the job would presumably be a low-profile, low-influence post.
Not everyone is convinced, however, that Seminario could be confirmed, even by a Democratic Senate.
Baruch Fellner, a management attorney with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said he considers Seminario—as a standard-bearer for organized labor—to be too unpalatable for Senate Republicans in any confirmation fight.
“Clinton doesn’t need to nominate Peg in order to mollify the unions,” Fellner told Bloomberg BNA. “There are enough other people out there who have her expertise and share her views, and would be considerably more successful before the Senate.”
If Seminario isn’t Clinton’s nominee, Jordan Barab, OSHA’s current second in command, could be another pick to lead the agency, according to Heidorn.
“He and [OSHA chief] David Michaels have patiently waited out the political wars to accomplish a great deal from the worker perspective at OSHA in a relatively short time,” ASSE’s Heidorn said. “I can’t imagine that’s gone unnoticed.”
Alternatively, AOEC’s Kirkland surmised that Barab as deputy could play the role of helping Seminario navigate the federal bureaucracy, something she’s never done.
But Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, dismissed the guessing game as premature.
“I don’t think we know the name of the nominee at this point,” Freedman told Bloomberg BNA. “In previous administrations, the eventual Assistant Secretary was not someone who was being talked about before the election—both for Democrats and Republicans—so speculating at this point is likely a futile exercise.”
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