9th April 08:04
Bush's labor play - Solving workplace injuries by weakening OSHA, and other affronts to common sense (right-wing)
Bush's labor play
Solving workplace injuries by weakening OSHA, and other affronts to common sense
AUSTIN -- This poignant Labor Day, when the numbers are bad, the policies are
worse and the jobs are disappearing, it's not so much the economy that riles me
as the disrespect and the gratuitous contempt with which this administration
treats working Americans. The old insult to injury.
If we've had an administration so blinkered by class blinders before, it is not
within my memory. What these people know about working-class Americans would fit
in a gnat's eye. In the summer of 2002, when Ted Kennedy and the late Paul
Wellstone were working to get an emergency extension on unemployment benefits --
something that has been largely pro forma under earlier administrations --
Majority Whip Tom DeLay protested that Democrats want "unlimited unemployment so
people could stay out of work for the rest of their lives." Actually, one
million unemployed workers had already exhausted their benefits before the House
finally acted in January 2003, and were simply left in the streets with nothing
under the too-little, too-late Bush bill.
The idea that workers lead the life of Riley on unemployment compensation and
want to "stay out of work for the rest of the lives" is so blatantly untrue it
would be comical, if one could dredge up a laugh. Anyone who has been through
the mill of unemployment, with the endless rounds of appointments, waiting,
applications, interviews, taking the bus to the job training program -- and
finally walking when you can't afford a bus -- knows precisely how insulting
this hooey is.
In February 2003, one of the most extraordinary sessions ever recorded between
labor and a sitting labor secretary took place. Secretary Elaine Chao, whose
chief qualification for the job seems to be that she is the wife of right-wing
Sen. Mitch McConnell, met with the AFL-CIO's executive council. "Participants
said Chao shocked the group by opposing any increase in the minimum wage,
showing no sympathy for retired steelworkers who lost pension benefits, and
reciting a list of legal actions her department has taken against unions and
their leaders," reported The Washington Post. "We had a pretty unbelievable
session," said John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO. "She was angry at
points, insulting at points. I said that in all my years in labor, I've never
seen a secretary so anti-labor.
"There was a lot of shock and amazement in the room," said Leo Gerard, president
of the Steelworkers. "We were made to feel we were the enemy." Fortunately,
Chao's condescending, insulting and hostile performance quite united labor,
including the building trades and the teamsters, against the Bush
administration. Nothing like a little old-fashioned solidarity.
Another insulting episode came when Bush named Eugene Scalia, son of the Supreme
Court justice, solicitor of the Department of Labor, apparently as a cruel joke.
Scalia's specialty as a K Street lobbyist was fighting ergonomic regulations.
For years he attacked and mocked the very idea of repetitive stress injuries,
calling them "junk science," "exotic and absurd, like a trip through
Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean." "Work less, and you'll feel better! Why
caused by "feeding frenzies." Try doing the same thing hundreds and hundreds of
times an hour, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Neither Mr.
Scalia nor President Bush has ever held a job that involved physical labor.
One of this administration's first actions was to repeal the ergonomic
regulations that prevent repetitive stress. Two years later, the administration
solved the entire problem with characteristic brilliance -- it revoked the
provision requiring employers to report such injuries! This was almost as good
as the time the administration solved global warming by simply editing it out of
an environmental report. Just the other day, Bush said he had been elected to
"solve problems" and, boy, howdy, does he. Even better, he's solving the entire
problem of workplace injuries and deaths by trying to weaken OSHA! A new House
bill would reduce penalties and weaken OSHA's enforcement powers to correct
safety and health standards. About six million American workers are injured on
the job every year, and more die in workplace accidents annually than were
killed during the Sept. 11 attacks. Ha, ha, ha, how funny, let's just have
companies stop reporting these things.
I know as well as you do that many companies make a terrific effort on worker
safety: Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, was justly proud of the
record at Alcoa (he's the one they fired, of course). Perhaps there are a few
people on worker's comp who seem to have no trouble lifting their bass boats off
the trailer. But I happen not to find thousands of dead and millions of injured
workers annually funny. No one doubts that this administration will continue to
screw the workers of America -- but I'd appreciate it if they'd can the sarcasm
in the meantime.