Appeals court supports whistleblower; state senator asks for fed’s help

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In a huge victory for two former Minnesota OSHA inspectors, the Minnesota Court of Appeals Tuesday overturned a District Court ruling that had dismissed one of the cases.

Terry Swanson will now have his day in court. Doug Crosby’s case will be heard by the Appeals Court March 23.

Swanson and Crosby filed whistleblower lawsuits that say supervisors changed their signed reports, documents were removed from inspection files, and inspectors were pressured to not find violations against MNSTAR companies. Those companies have been recognized by MNOSHA for having labor/management safety committees that go beyond MNOSHA compliance standards.

The Appeals Court agreed with Swanson, who like Crosby, had “adverse employment action” taken against him that was protected under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. § 181.932 (2006). Both men had their offices relocated far from their homes following their disclosure of MNOSHA practices that they found questionable.

Those practices saw the light of day when the two men testified before Sen. David Tomassoni’s Economic Development and Housing Finance Division Committee Feb. 27. Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, sent a letter on March 5 to Michael Connors, Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for clarification on the testimony.

Tomassoni wrote that the “testimony was rather alarming and raised numerous questions about how OSHA is being run. Many of my Division members expressed the need for a further investigation into these allegations.” As of Tuesday Tomassoni had not heard back from Connors.

He asked Connors to answer these questions:

1) What is the policy for changing files, specifically against the wishes of the investigators?
2) Are investigators being forced or pressured to make changes to files?
3) What is the policy for closing investigations?
4) How are differing opinions on files documented and preserved in an investigative file?
5) What is the policy for destroying or removing investigators’ field notes?
6) How many files have been removed from the federal system or destroyed?
7) Are MNSTAR companies receiving unwarranted protection from investigations and citations?
8) Are there minimum training requirements for individuals that are allowed to make changes to investigation files?

“If these allegations prove correct, it will severely undermine the credibility of the MNOSHA and cause great concern for both employers and employees throughout Minnesota. I believe the testimony heard in the Division raises serious questions and merits a legislative audit.”

The letter was copied to Jim Nobles, Minnesota Legislative Auditor; Steve Sviggum, commissioner of the state Department of Labor & Industry; Richard E Fairfax, Director-DEP, US OSHA; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Congressmen Jim Oberstar and Collin Peterson, among others.

Nobles was to meet with Tomassoni Tuesday afternoon to discuss how to proceed.

Sviggum told KSTP News in a March 13 story that it’s not uncommon for OSHA reports to be changed or destroyed.

“It is true that when an investigator has findings, they may or may not go through the entire review process before a citation is given,” Sviggum told the television reporter.

Larry Sillanpa is editor of the Labor World, the official publication of the Duluth Central Labor Body. Visit the Labor World website, www.laborworld.org

Related article
Former MNOSHA inspectors testify that Minnesota DOLI alters reports, citations.

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