Woolsey Bill Covers Private Sector, State and Municipal Employees

(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) applauds Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and a group of 13 co-sponsors, for introducing the “Private Sector Whistleblower Protection Streamlining Act of 2007” yesterday, November 1. The legislation, H.R. 4047, would for the first time establish a uniform, coherent system of legal protections for all private sector, state and municipal employees who are retaliated against for disclosing threats to public safety or violations of federal law.

“This is a ‘Good Housekeeping,’ good government measure more than 30 years overdue,” said GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “Whistleblowers are the life blood for the government to enforce consumer protection laws. But the legal system is hopelessly dysfunctional. For too long, whistleblower law at the non-federal government and corporate levels has been a crazy quilt of contradictory, hit or – usually – miss protections tucked into specific public health and safety laws.”

The list of 13 original co-sponsors includes Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL), Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Rep. Don Payne (D-NJ), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Rep. John Tierney (D-MA).

The legislation uniformly adopts “best practices” whistleblower protection models Congress already has passed, or has been considering, on an issue-by-issue basis since last November’s election. To illustrate, in August President Bush signed into law enhanced whistleblower protections for ground transportation employees in the rail, bus, trucking, and public transit industries. The Senate Commerce Committee this week advanced similar protections for employees who blow the whistle on violations of product safety standards. The Senate approved modern, “best practices” whistleblower protections for employees of defense contractors as part of its FY2007 defense bill.

H.R. 4047 applies the modern “best practices” throughout the private sector and for non-federal government employees for enforcement of consumer protection laws in areas including health and health care, environmental protection, food and drug safety, transportation safety, building and construction-related requirements, energy, homeland, and community security, and financial transactions or reporting requirements, including banking, insurance, and securities laws.

“It will benefit labor, management and the public to streamline the 32 disparate federal whistleblower statutes, while filling arbitrary coverage gaps,” GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles explained. “Currently almost everyone is flying blind about whistleblower rights. Nobody knows what the rules are without a legal specialist.”

To illustrate, an employee at a meat packing plant has whistleblower rights when challenging the release of fecal-contaminated water flowing into a river. But the same employee has no rights when disclosing the shipment of fecal-contaminated meat and poultry to a supermarket’s butcher case. A truck driver is protected for challenging bad tires, but not illegal cargo in his haul. An employee of a pharmaceutical company has protection for disclosing false statements in financial reports to shareholders. But there is no protection for challenging false statements to the government or the public about potentially lethal drug safety hazards.

Watch Tom Devine deliver a segment of this testimony on YouTube.

To read the legislation, click here.

To read a summary and section-by-section analysis of the legislation from the Education and Workforce Subcommittee, click here.