Tuesday, December 16, 2003

McWane a "Model Corporate Citizen?"....God Help Us All!

You may remember the Frontline and NY Times series earlier this year on the McWane corporation whose corporate strategy left a trail of dead and maimed workers in its wake.

Well, they're back in the news, as David Barstow continues the sad story in the NY Times....
Senior managers of a New Jersey foundry owned by McWane Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer of cast-iron pipe, conspired for years to violate workplace safety and environmental laws and then obstructed repeated government inquiries by lying, intimidating workers into silence and systematically altering accident scenes, according to a sweeping federal indictment unsealed here on Monday.

The motive, the indictment said, was to enrich the foundry, Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe in Phillipsburg, N.J., and its managers by maximizing production "without concern to environmental pollution and worker safety risks."

The foundry's managers routinely dumped thousands of gallons of contaminated wastewater into the Delaware River, repeatedly exposed workers to unsafe conditions and regularly deceived environmental and workplace safety regulators, the indictment charges.

When one worker, Alfred E. Coxe, was struck and killed by a forklift with a history of brake problems, the indictment stated, the McWane managers "took steps to conceal facts" and instructed one employee to "provide a misleading account" to hide the plant's faulty forklifts from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The managers took other steps to evade regulators, the indictment asserted. They falsified injury logs, submitted false pollution monitoring reports and burned incriminating evidence in the foundry's cupola, a furnace that turns scrap metal into molten iron.

"To Atlantic States' blue-collar work force, composed in large part of immigrants, some non-English speakers, all working in an area with few jobs that could support a family, these defendants routinely presented a harsh choice," Tara Donn, a special agent for the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote in an affidavit that accompanied the indictment. "Perform an unreasonably dangerous work task or lose your job; work injured or lose your job; lie to OSHA or lose your job; lie to environmental regulators or lose your job; forego filing workers compensation claims or lose your job."

In court on Monday, defense lawyers entered pleas of not guilty for Atlantic States and its managers, who were released on bail but ordered not to return to the plant without permission because of reports of witness intimidation.

Later, at a news conference, a lawyer for McWane, the former Whitewater prosecutor Robert Ray, called the company a "responsible corporate citizen" that has demonstrated a willingness to change its culture. While acknowledging "areas where the company has fallen short" in the past, Mr. Ray said that McWane had spent tens of millions of dollars on new safety equipment and pollution controls and remained committed to making all of its plants "model facilities for the 21st century."
Right, an this just in. Saddam Hussein's lawyers called the former dictator a "responsible world citizen" who has demonstrated a willingness to change his ways. While acknowledging "areas where his regime had fallen short..." Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Comment: As usual, this is a great report that exposes one of the worst corporate actors in America today. But don't let this leave you with the impression that McWane is the only bad one out there. They may be larger than most bad actors, but check out the "Weekly Toll" that I publish every couple of weeks. Many of these companies treat their employees no better than McWane. And remember that generally only fatalities make the news (and not all of those). Many deaths and the vast majority of serious injuries are never known by anyone except witnesses and the families.

Thankfully, we have stories like these in the NY Times to reaveal some of the daily carnage in our workplaces. It's up to all of you to make sure that all of the others aren't forgotten.