Business and labor representatives criticized planned sharp increases in federal fines for workplace safety violations Tuesday - but for different reasons.
A corporate consultant said the increases, eyed as part of deficit-reduction efforts, reminded him of "former Georgia speed traps."A representative of the AFL-CIO said the higher fines were being spurred not by a desire to save lives but a desire to cut the deficit.
Under a $500 billion deficit-reduction package unveiled Sunday by White House and congressional budget negotiators, Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines would be raised by five times, with the most serious penalty increasing from $10,000 to $50,000.
Mark Cowan, who heads a consulting firm that represents corporations, said that "it sounds like OSHA's about collecting money to pay the tax man. . . . It's like the former Georgia speed traps, where they used a massive campaign to catch speeders to raise revenues for the state."
Cowan, who served as a Labor Department chief of staff and OSHA aide under President Reagan, said the agency would be "regulating without public involvement" because the plan would not get a thorough hearing in Congress.
While the AFL-CIO has been pushing for years for higher fines against businesses that violate OSHA regulations, federation spokesman Rex Hardesty said officials "won't raise OSHA fines when our brothers' and sisters' lives are in jeopardy, but they'll raise fines for a deficit."
Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole had pushed for a threefold increase, giving the agency the power to levy fines as high as $30,000 for the most flagrant violations, noted department spokeswoman Johanna Schneider.
The department supports the fivefold increase in the budget deal because President Bush supports it, she said.
"It's not a floor, it's a ceiling," she said of the proposal for a $50,000 maximum.
She said OSHA inspectors would still be most concerned with worker safety.
"We're just not interested in cash or the bottom line," she said.
The higher fines would raise an estimated $95 million in the 1991 fiscal year and $1.1 billion more over the next four years, according to the Office of Management and Budget.