Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Of Blow Jobs and Lung Disease: Welders "Flu" Sends Ex Clinton/Gore/Kerry Operative Over To The Dark Side

As the latest Star Wars prequel heads into its third record-breaking week, it seems that the Dark Side has captured yet another victim.

California Bay Bridge welders, victims of the KFM flu, have sued "a joint venture led by Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., alleging that they developed serious illnesses from exposure to toxins while working on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco."

The welders, as you will remember, were overexposed to manganese and other welding fumes and then many were fired for complaining about health and safety conditions on the bridge.

While this is a story in itself, a small paragraph in the article caused me to do a double-take:

Kiewit spokesman Chris Lehane said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation. He said the company is committed to the safety of the public and its workers.
Chris Lehane? Could this be the same Chris Lehane, well known to us political junkies?

Sure enough:

Bridge builder's new flack a true PR virtuoso

KFM hires ex-Clinton spinmeister, Gray Davis energy crisis adviser

Chris Lehane, 37, helped the Clinton White House spin the Whitewater investigation, spoke for Vice President Al Gore on the 2000 presidential campaign trail and advised former Gov. Gray Davis during the 2001 energy crisis and 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Now he's working for KFM Joint Venture, the contractor building the Bay Bridge's new eastern span. The Oakland Tribune has reported welders' accusations that many of the project's welds are defective and that unsafe working conditions existed on the job site. An FBI investigation is under way, and lawmakers are calling for probes of their own.

"Chris is the best in the business. If you have damage that needs to be controlled, he's the guy to bring in," said veteran Republican campaign and public affairs consultant Dan Schnur. "And if any damage-control challenge is tougher than what he faced with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, it might be this one."

Yeah, I'd say it's tougher than Monica Lewinsky. On one hand you have a blow job, on the other hand you've got workers who have been knowingly exposed to welding fumes, including manganese, in violation of OSHA standards. On one hand you have a company covering up injuries and punishing workers who are hurt on the job, and on the other hand you have someone covering up....a blow job.

Now, I'm the first to admit that everyone's got to make a living, and from personal experience, I'll admit that it's not easy for former political operatives and appointees to find challenging jobs (that pay decently) in a Republican world. I'll also admit to being a bit judgmental on occasion, but after decades in the health and safety business, to me there is almost no creature lower than the pond scum corporate P.R. flacks who cover up the fact that their clients are hurting or killing workers, and then insisting over it all that the company is "committed to safety."
Democratic consultant Roger Salazar worked with Lehane in Gore's office and on the 2000 presidential campaign. He called Lehane and his partner, Mark Fabiani, also formerly of the White House, "the masters of crisis communications — they know how to manage an issue and look at it from every conceivable angle, find all of the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities."
All well and fine. But it makes me sick to think that this talent is now being used to stomp abused and poisoned workers further into the ground for a company that is rapidly rising to the top of the corporate outlaws list.

What's next Chris, Bill Frist's communications director?

Yech!



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