Sunday, August 24, 2003

Workers Under Attack

Good article in the Denver Post about the Bush administration's attack on workers. The article highlights the war against worker health and safety, beginning with a discussion of Bush's refusal to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for their employees' workboots and other personal protective equipment.
President Bush and his administration are quietly implementing an aggressively pro-business labor strategy that focuses on voluntary compliance.

Since Bush's election in 2000, the Labor Department has yanked 41 worker-safety regulations in development off the books, including two addressing hazardous chemical dangers. The administration has frozen action on other rules, including one meant to prevent the spread of airborne diseases in the workplace. Bush has issued legally binding orders that weaken labor unions. The Labor Department now wants to rewrite rules governing who gets overtime pay.
Almost more depressing than the actual actions is the word "quietly" and the following sentence: "Most of the changes have escaped notice outside Washington." This is true even for those who are suffering the effects of these actions don't necessarily know that the Bush administration holds within its hands the ability to fix these problems and has deliberately chosen not to.

Aside: My wife was flying back from California yesterday and observed the new airport baggage procedures. Instead of just sliding (or lifting) the bags onto the conveyor where they are whisked away to be loaded on the plane, they're now taken to a station where they much be hefted onto a bomb exray machine. She observed an older gentleman (older than we are) lifting the heavy suitcases, twisting around and hefting them onto the x-ray machine where another worker reversed the procedure on the other side. She asked whether or not they had had any back injuries. He replied that "You wouldn't believe the number of people who are getting hurt." She told him the sad story of the demise of the OSHA ergonomics standard. It was new news to him. "Well we sure need OSHA in here."
Why this war, you may ask?
"Fundamental to Bush's political future is pleasing business," said Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"The Bush people understand that the stronger labor unions are, the stronger the Democratic Party is," Sabato said.
Of course, even good reporters need a bit of education:
Bush's approach to labor became apparent in his first few months in office. Within two months, working with Congress, he repealed a Labor Department regulation requiring businesses to take specific steps to prevent repetitive stress injuries. A subsequent ergonomics standard released by the Bush administration relies on voluntary compliance by employers.
In fact, as you all know, the Bush administration has released no "standard." They have their "comprehensive approach" which consists of voluntary guidelines, compliance assistance and research on ergonomics issues that tells us nothing important that we don't already know -- In other words "Voodoo Ergonomics." And voluntary voodoo ergonomics doesn't seem to be helping the baggage handlers at the airport. Big surprise.

Read the article. It's good, but it's frustrating, because this is the kind of information that every American worker needs to know -- now and throughout the election process. They need to know why they're getting hurt and how the Republican politicians (and a few Democrats) are screwing them. They need to remember what happened to the ergonomics standard and they need to understand how voting -- in local and national elections -- affects everything in our lives, from health care, to public services, to coming home uninjured from work.

We've got work to do.