The Union of Southern Service Workers has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging that the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration has engaged in discrimination by excluding black workers from the protection of programmed workplace inspections.
Lawyers for the union wrote Tuesday that South Carolina OSHA exposed black workers to an “unacceptable and unfair risk of injury and illness” by conducting few or no scheduled inspections in the food service, general merchandise and warehouse industries, which employ large numbers of black South Carolina workers .
“While neglecting these industries, SC OSHA has devoted its enforcement resources to industries that employ far fewer black workers,”; the complaint reads. “There is no legitimate justification for this serious racial disparity.”
The union said it conducted an analysis of South Carolina’s OSHA inspections of the industry from 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 — leaving out 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint says South Carolina OSHA conducts a large majority of its scheduled inspections in the construction and specialty trade contractor industries, which employ “far fewer” black state residents than the service sectors.
“SC OSHA neglects key industries whose workforces are 42% Black employees, while focusing the vast majority of its programmed inspections on industries comprised of only 18% Black workers,” the complaint states.
The union claims that the inspection differences cannot be explained by differences in the dangers to workers in the various industries.
South Carolina is one of 22 states that have state-level OSHA plans covering the public and private sectors.