If Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s nominee for U.S. Supreme Court Justice, is confirmed, what will that mean for working people, particularly those in dangerous jobs?
If his dissent in the case of a fatal attack by a killer whale at SeaWorld is any indication, it’s not good.
“A lot of our members work in dangerous jobs, and they know that, but that doesn’t mean they’re signing their lives away when they clock in,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.
As a D.C. Circuit Court judge at the time, Kavanaugh sided with the employer, a well-worn path over the course of his judicial career. This particular case involved Dawn Brancheau, an experienced trainer at SeaWorld who was yanked under water and killed by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound orca whale, during a live performance. The same whale had killed another trainer in 1991. The attack, in which it took 45 minutes to retrieve Brancheau’s body, followed a series of other serious incidents at the theme park, according to the National Employment Law Project.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident and found that SeaWorld was at fault, determining that the company knew of the hazards associated with captive orcas. OSHA cited SeaWorld, issued a $70,000 fine and called on the business to implement procedures to prevent future accidents.
SeaWorld challenged the citation, but it was upheld in court, no thanks to Kavanaugh.
“When should we as a society paternalistically decide [that employees should be protected from] the risk of significant physical injury?” President Trump’s nominee wrote in his dissent.
Despite Kavanaugh’s stated commitment to Supreme Court precedent, his SeaWorld dissent stands in contrast to a 1977 decision that upheld the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established OSHA, the federal agency that oversees safety standards including exposure to hazardous materials, safety equipment and workplace injuries.
“Nominees always say they will respect precedent, but that only seems to last until it’s a law they don’t like,” Stephenson said. “Working people deserve to know what Kavanaugh really thinks about an employer’s responsibility to their employees and a person’s right to come home safe and sound every day, regardless of where they work.”
Supreme Court justices serve lifetime appointments, meaning that Kavanaugh could be a deciding vote in countless worker-related cases for decades to come.
“Kavanaugh’s dissent should send a shiver down the spines of all workers who face serious hazards at work,” workplace safety expert Deborah Berkowitz wrote for NELP.
As previously reported by the IBEW, Kavanaugh’s record on workers’ rights in a number of areas is dismal. In one case involving the IBEW, he sided against Springfield, Mass., Local 2324 members, overruling a decision by the National Labor Relations Board on whether members could display stickers in their own cars that called for a fair contract with their employer, Verizon.
Trump nominated Kavanaugh in July to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The Senate has not yet voted on his confirmation.
IBEW members are encouraged to contact their senators at 202-224-3121 to voice their concerns over Kavanaugh’s anti-worker record.