Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Workers: The Secret Weapon In The Fight For Real Homeland Security

It is ironic -- no, tragic -- that the Bush administration banned and harrassed unions in certain "sensitive" government agencies because unions and homeland security are somehow incompatible, yet it is chemical plant workers -- union workers -- who are best able to help prevent destruction by home-made weapons of mass destruction -- in our chemical plants.

A column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer by Rick Engler, director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) and WEC President and Teamsters Local 877 member John Pajak, explain the benefits to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's new policy that requires chemical companies using extremely hazardous chemicals to include workers during DEP inspections of their facilities. It's the first policy of its kind in the country and will allow workers to "help identify hazards, including those that might lead to catastrophic chemical incidents, whether from industrial accidents or terrorist acts."
Because of their daily work, training and experience, chemical workers know the risks - and the gaps in addressing them - better than anyone. A 2004 national survey of unions at 125 facilities using high volumes of extremely hazardous materials revealed that few companies involved their hourly workforces or local union leaders in assessing vulnerabilities, incident prevention, or planning for emergencies.

The DEP's worker-involvement policy has national implications because New Jersey is the first state to comply with the federal Clean Air Act mandate stating that "employees and their representatives shall have the same rights to participate in... inspections as provided in the Occupational Safety and Health Act." This little-known language makes it clear that the Environmental Protection Agency, along with states such as New Jersey that have assumed Clean Air Act enforcement responsibilities, must ensure worker/union participation in inspections.