A shouting match erupted between Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) yesterday over the nomination of a Texas corporate lawyer to the three-member panel that oversees health and safety law enforcement in most of the nation's 6 million workplaces.
The exchange over the Reagan administration's nomination of Robert E. Rader Jr. to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission came after Metzenbaum and Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) suggested Rader was unfit for the job because he has sought to undermine the ability of federal inspectors to gain entry to workplaces and enforce safety laws.
Rader in 1982 represented a Kentucky printing firm at which two employes lost fingers and other parts of their hands in machinery. The company refused to allow inspectors on the premises for nearly a year, even after they obtained a search warrant, according to a report by the Kentucky Labor Department.
Rader also sought the help of former representative George Hansen (R-Idaho), the founder of a "Stop OSHA" group, to pressure the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to drop a $12,000 fine for alleged violations by a Kansas construction firm, according to testimony yesterday.
"Here were people losing fingers and parts of their hands, and you were using delaying tactics to prevent an inspection from taking place," Metzenbaum said during nearly two hours of questioning by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, " . . . You have spent a good deal of your legal activities fighting inspections."
Rader, 41, said his record was being misrepresented by critics and said his legal advice has been aimed only at stopping "abusive law enforcement" by OSHA in cases where the agency had not used proper procedures to obtain search warrants.
Committee chairman Hatch interrupted Metzenbaum's questioning, saying "I get tired of these inquisitions," and and accused the senator of "unfair" criticism of Rader's role in advising clients of their legal options in challenging OSHA warrants.
Raising his voice and calling Metzenbaum's questioning a "star chamber" proceeding, Hatch said, "Every Reagan nominee goes through this, and it's crazy. I don't think it's right . . . . We are so evenly divided on this committee, we can't get people approved."
Metzenbaum shouted back that Hatch wants senators to be "apologists" for unworthy nominees. He urged Hatch to "calm down . . . take a sedative."
The committee has nine Republicans and seven Democrats, but staff members of both parties say Democrats are hoping to defeat Rader's nomination on an 8-to-8 tie by winning the vote of Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), who did not attend the hearing.
The three-member review commission, created along with OSHA in 1970, hears company appeals of OSHA citations, setting precedents for how the agency enforces the law. Rader, who began serving on the commission last year as a recess appointment, has participated in 10 cases. He ruled in favor of businesses six times and in OSHA's favor four times, he testified.
Rader said he wants to protect employers from overzealous OSHA enforcement, but said he fully supports OSHA's goal of protecting workers. "I have seen squashed bodies and blood on the ground, and you don't walk away from that and say 'I don't care,' " he told Metzenbaum.
In response to a question, he said he believes that when OSHA inspects a machine after an accident, inspectors should not be allowed to inspect the rest of a factory unless the owner agrees. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) described Rader as a "brilliant and well-respected attorney who represents a viewpoint that is held by the president" about minimizing government intrusion. " . . . If he is competent and represents the president's philosophy, he ought to be confirmed."
Rader said he was paid $3,000 to $5,000 by the American Conservative Union for writing a 1978 Supreme Court brief that helped establish employers' rights to demand that OSHA obtain search warrants. Rader said he received no money from Hansen's group, which led the court fight. Rader asked Hansen in a 1981 letter to persuade former OSHA chief Thorne Auchter to drop citations against Rader's client, B.B. Andersen Co. of Kansas. Auchter dropped the case and later became president of the Andersen firm, a move that prompted an FBI investigation but no charges.
Metzenbaum asked Rader whether OSHA's action in the case was "rather strange," and Rader responded, "You can't blame me for that."