Saturday, January 28, 2006

Job Blackmail 101: Michigan Senate Votes To Kill Ergonomics Standards

Job blackmail is as old as capitalism. Put more regulations on us, force us to make the workplace safer, pay a minimum wage, limit the workday to 8 hours, offer vacations -- and your jobs just might disappear.

The Michigan Senate voted 22-14 along party lines last week to pass a bill that would bar the state from adopting an ergonomics standard, advocated by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration. The standard would require employers to assess their workplaces for factors that may be causing back injuries, sprains, strains and overexertion and other painful, disabling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Despite the fact that experts estimate that MSDs cost the economy between $45 and $54 billion every year, business interests claim that the health and safety initiative is a job killer, coming at a particularly bad time in a state where auto makers are announcing tens of thousands of layoffs practically every month. Such tactics worked well to kill ergonomics standards in Washington state and in Washington D.C. Ergonomic injuries lead to more than half of all workers' compensation claims in Michigan.

In a reponse to Granholm's State of the State address, the Michigan Manufacturers Association called for (what else?) more business tax cuts, and...
Our state also needs to oppose any unnecessary regulatory burdens -- like a mandated state-based ergonomics standard -- if we hope to grow jobs. The governor wants to 'continue to slash the red tape that entangles businesses.' A state ergonomics standard would create expensive, unnecessary red tape. Businesses already understand that the health of their workforce is crucially important to their success and do all they can to protect workers.
According to Republican state Representative Rick Jones,
"The mere fact that the state has a committee pondering tighter workplace restrictions is more economic poison."

"We have to realize we're fighting for jobs, and we can't be different from the rest of the country," said Jones, the chief bill sponsor. "People are leaving Michigan to find jobs."
[I love the "we can't be different from the rest of the country" argument: a perfect case for federal regulations.]

Governor Granholm has a more accurate view of the problem.
"They're not moving to Canada for the tax structure," she said of foreign and domestic automakers. "They're not moving to Canada for the wages. They're not moving to Canada because there's less regulation. They're moving there because of health care."

Canada subsidizes much of its citizens' health care costs. The Canadian Auto Workers union estimates the savings amounts to $4 per hour per worker versus the United States.

Granholm said the federal government should work with companies such as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., whose legacy costs for pensions and health care premiums for current and retired workers adds about $1,500 to the price of every vehicle sold.
And the United Auto Workers union thinks that ergonomics standards will be good for the state because automakers are leaders in the field of ergonomics. "It's an asset, a competitive edge," he said. "Why aren't we using it?"


Governor Granholm is expected to veto the legislation.