The War on the Worker Continues

It’s nothing new. The kid gloves came off long ago but it’s been getting more open and prevalent. Workplace safety and health standards have been on the chopping block for the past seven years. But that is nothing new either. A worker’s guaranteed right to a safe and healthy workplace has been picked at and chipped away at and defunded since we first managed to secure it nearly 40 years ago. Now in the quickly fading last days these kings of business – which have been in charge of agencies that guard worker’s health, safety and rights – which have been tearing apart the progress that workers have fought and died to attain have now put an all out full rush to remove any remaining vestiges of worker rights or justice.

PBS recently ran an excellent expose on the issue of OSHA’s allowing employers to under report workplace injury and illness rates. [Watch it here] Workers are increasingly being forced to work in ways that are crippling and killing them just to put dinner on the table. It’s not just meat cutters and packers either. Every job has been sped up. Regulations have been weakened or dropped and enforcement has been mostly ignored. Workers are doing more, faster with less help. Most workplaces are understaffed. Workers are told everyday that they need to “just step up and make due”. With less. For less. For longer due to many workplaces having mandatory overtime. With or without prior notice. Some family values.

Manufacturing has been “lean and mean” for a long time now. While they still have the power these agency heads decided to lose the lean and concentrate on the mean. And it’s been spreading to all sectors of the economy. Deaths in the mining industry are becoming all too common once again, although you’d be hard pressed to find (m)any deaths related to the mining industry according to the MSHA posted revision of what constitutes a fatal injury which is chargable to the mining industry. [Fatal Alert Bulletins, Fatalgrams and Fatal Investigation Reports] And every day seems to bring another report of construction workers killed on the job. [NIOSH Construction Safety Topics page] “Construction has increasingly become a deadly business – especially in New York, where laborers routinely dangle from skyscrapers, all part of a building boom that has defied the national slowdown.”

Well the usual suspects are at it again. After hours. Behind closed doors. Secret doors. And you’re not only not aware of the the discussions taking place you’re not welcome either. Earlier this month the Department of Labor sent a new draft proposed rule on occupational health risk assessment to OMB for review. This stealth rule came out of nowhere. It had never been listed on the OSHA or MSHA regulatory agenda and DOL has refused to make public what it is about.

This is an attempt by the DOL to change by regulation the policy and assumptions used in risk assessments on health hazards that would have the effect of reducing estimates of risk and therefore require less stringent regulation. The rule was developed by the Secretary’s Office and Assistant Secretary for Policy, not OSHA or MSHA at the behest of industry.

They want to get this rule finalized before the end of the administration, even though their action falls outside the deadlines set forth by the White House for concluding rules before the end of this Administration. (Rules were supposed to have been proposed by June 1.)

Rep. Miller and Senator Kennedy have written to Secretary Chao demanding a briefing on what this is all about and will be taking the necessary action to get to the bottom of this.

This, unfortunately, is nothing new. It’s been a full on assault on the working men and women in America’s workplaces for a long time now. Under the guise of ‘keeping competitive’ with other workers in other countries. Many of whom are working for the same corporate overlords as Americans and being told the same lies about us waiting to steal their jobs as are force fed on us. Bill Moyers Journal Expose also had a good overview of what deregulation, free market enterprise and the de-education of the working class has wrought for workers and the nation as a whole. [Read the transcript here]

They’ve barely finished with their revamping of the Toxic Release Inventory and telling cities and states that the actually don’t have the right to know about any plans that manufacturers may have for notifying the public should there be any type of ‘incident’ at a facility. No right to know about evacuation plans. No right to know about containment or clean-up plans. We really don’t actually have the right to know about what chemicals may be stored, produced or byproducts of any of their processes. Now they want to tell you you weren’t injured at work. Or if you were it wasn’t work related.

Workers cannot afford to wait another 6 months to hope for a turn around in the direction this country is headed in. Who every you are planning to vote for this November make sure that they have your health and safety interests at heart, not the corporate lobbyists and big campaign contributors. Workers cannot assume that a candidate, whether for President or a Congressional seat, from any particular party will work in your best interest. You need to ask them and make them answer. Then hold them accountable for what they tell you. Before and after the election.

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