In her May 1 letter, “The struggle for safety,” Loren Sweatt, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, defended OSHA against criticisms that it had not adequately protected workers who protested the lack of protection at their workplaces. Ms. Sweatt quoted the labor secretary as saying, “We will not tolerate retaliation.” Ms. Sweatt insisted the agency has “addressed thousands of complaints, published five guidance documents . . . and conducted targeted outreach to high-risk industries.” Tellingly, Ms. Sweatt did not discuss OSHA’s record for protecting workers from retaliation.

In fact, OSHA’s statistics tell a troubling story. In fiscal 2019, OSHA reported receiving 2,084 complaints of retaliation under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. § 660(c). Of those, 545 complaints were settled, OSHA dismissed 1,067, and only 14 resulted in a finding of merit. As a labor lawyer, I know that record simply is not good enough to encourage workers to speak up about the lack of protection in their workplaces. The 1,067 employees in 2019 who did not get a merit finding from OSHA have no right to a hearing and no right to go to court. If the meat and poultry industries’ response to the novel coronavirus has told us anything, with employees dying from the virus and the survivors concealing their identities when telling their stories for fear of losing their jobs, it is that Congress needs to modernize this antiquated whistleblower protection.

Richard R. Renner, Silver Spring