Monday, July 17, 2006

Schwarzenegger Saves Pennies At Expense Of Workers' Lives

This article would be funny if the joke wasn't at the expense of workers' lives.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to strike $1.5 million in funding for 15 new workplace safety inspectors, out of a $131.4 billion state budget. The excuse was that CalOSHA already has open positions that it can't fill.
Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Renee Bacchini said the agency was neutral about the state budget allocation for more inspectors.

She acknowledged, however, that the agency is having trouble keeping up the staffing levels it already has money budgeted for, mainly because the private sector offers better salaries.

"Not that we don't want to fill them," she said. "They're up there on the state job site. Please come apply."
Or... maybe we could pay them what they deserve. Right now the pay and benefits of a CalOSHA Industrial hygienist lag almost 40% behind comparable public sector jobs in other agencies in the San Francisco Bay area, and 20% statewide, according to CAPS. I mean, whatever happened to capitalism, supply and demand and all that?

Then there's this: The inspector's union, the California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS), argues that it's the short staffing of CalOSHA that led to the injury underreporting that was recently exposed in Bay Bridge skyway project. An audit by the California state auditor earlier this year revealed the CalOSHA had not monitored the project well enough. The contractor, KFM Joint Venture, had claimed that the project was five times safer than the average heavy construction project. But the Oakland Tribune revealed that the company's amazing safety record was likely due to the $100 to $2,500 bonuses that depended on the number of worker hours logged without reporting a recordable injury, rather than safe working conditions. KFM and it's lead firm, Kiewit Pacific Company, also used the stick: suspending workers without pay for reporting injuries.

CAPS blamed Cal-OSHA's chronic understaffing for the serious enforcement problems detailed in the State Auditor’s office probe and Cal/OSHA officials have admitted that they do not have the resources to monitor the accuracy of those reports. Last month, CalOSHA issued three citations to KFM, A Joint Venture, including a "willful regulatory violation" for the unreported injuries, and fined the company a whopping $5,790.

Now here's the funny part. In an effort to justify it's short-staffed operations, CalOSHA spokesperson Bacchini
disputed that employers might routinely fudge their injury reports.

"If the employers are not reporting those things, then they're in violation of the law," Bacchini said, and subject to penalties and fines.

Asked how effective a $5,790 fine would be on a $1 billion contract, she said that fines "go up and up and up.

"If they have a horrible history, their fines get higher and higher."
Yeah, I'm sure they're all shaking in their boots that CalOSHA might double, or even triple that fine. Up and up and up. If the fines go up and up and up enough, maybe the state can even afford to give CalOSHA inspectors a raise a hire a few more.