Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Ergonomics and Democracy, American Style

Sometimes I have to wonder what kind of democracy we live in. The answer seems to be "the best that money can buy." We all know about the fiasco of campaign finance reform. And of course there's Ari Fleischer's almost famous statement (when asked about the obscene amounts of money that President W is raising) that the amount of money a political party raises is reflective of their support amoung the American people. (cough)

Californians are soon to be faced with a recall of their governor, elected less than a year ago, because of a recall campaign financed by millionaire conservative Congressman and former car thief Darryl Issa.

Now, the good citizens of Washington State are soon to be faced with a referendum on their ergonomics standard, thanks to a well funded campaign by the Building Industry Association of Washington, which represents home builders. Other supporters are the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Farm Bureau.

On July 1, the BIA submitted initiative petitions with about 260,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office in Olympia. Initiative organizers turned in even more signatures by the July 3 deadline.

"We can't afford what it's going to cost business in the state," said Randy Gold, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington. "This will be a job-killer."

Gold said his association is prepared to spend more than $1 million to get Initiative 841 passed. Already, initiative backers have spent $347,000 to gather signatures.

But money isn't the BIA's only weapon. They may not steal cars, but they make good use of lies to help them along. I wrote over a month ago about the outrageous lies he business associations admitted making in order to collect signatures for the referendum. The BIA's webpage actually implied that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle supported Bush's repeal of the ergonomics standard (although this statement seems to have been taken off of their web page.)

The regulation was adopted in 2000 in response to the over 50,000 Washington workers who suffer ergonomics injuries every year. Washington business interests have been waging a non-stop -- and unsuccessful -- battle to have the standard repealed by the legislature and overturned by the courts.

Although the business associations are ideologically opposed to the standard, actual Washington businesses don't seem to think the sky is falling. The Associated General Contractors are remaining neutral in the campaign. One of Washington's largest commercial contractors, GLY Construction Inc., "last year tried out the new ergonomics rules in a demonstration project with the state Department of Labor and Industries." Although Tim Gottberg, the company's risk manager, complained about paperwork,
nonetheless, Gottberg said GLY would keep its ergonomics program even if Washington voters repeal the rules, chiefly because the company wants to reduce workplace injuries and help carpenters finish out their careers in an industry with physical demands.
Fighting this effort to overturn these workplace protections has national significance. If Washington's ergonomic standard is overturned, it will doom similar state efforts as well as efforts to convince federal OSHA that a standard is the only way to reduce ergonomics hazards that continue to be the biggest cause of injuries in American workplaces. Check out the Washington State AFL-CIO webpage for information about the campaign to defeat the standard.