By the Way, Workers Are Still Dying on the Job Daily!

Little Rock       On Wade’s World, I visited recently with Jonathan Karmel about safety on the job for workers.  Karmel is 35-year, Chicago-based, labor side lawyer who after years in the legal trenches for unions, had an epiphany when he realized the continuing dangers faced by workers trying to make a living and sometimes dying while trying.  Karmel has written a book, Dying to Work:  Death and Injury in the American Workplace, that he was hoping would be a wakeup call once again to bring this issue to the forefront.

Karmel is right to take up this cause.  He notes in the introduction, “One hundred and fifty workers die each day because of their work.”  He comes to this figure by adding the daily death numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics of 4836 workers killed annually based on the most recent statistics before he published the book in 2015, adding up to 13 per day, with the federal Center for Disease Control report that estimates that “annually 50,000 deaths attributed to work-related illnesses – an average of 137 each day.”  Add the two figures together, and the tragic math totals 150 per day.  It’s safer to be a soldier.

It’s not getting better either.  It’s getting worse.  President Richard Nixon signed the legislation on the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) almost fifty years ago, but the agency is still underfunded, understaffed, and decidedly unloved by business and their backers in both parties.   For example, Karmel points out there is one inspection officer for every 59,000 workers.  What?  Should we worry?

Of course, Karmel advocates updating the regulations, but that’s not happening under the current administration, so let’s look at some of his other suggestions.  Two areas would seem to offer some hope.  One is more accurate reporting to reduce the under-counting that allows policy makers and business executives to pretend that the “safety first” signs on numerous trucks and industrial gates actually means something.  The other is focusing on the state level.

There might be some opportunities in some places.  Of course, not Texas which allows companies to not bother with workers’ compensation since 1913 and more recently Oklahoma since 2013, so we’re talking about the other forty-eight states.

Karmel argues for reform in several areas.  First, he questions why after accidents workers are given unreliable marijuana tests, even when not driving and in cases where they were clearly not at fault.  Secondly, referral doctors should not be under the employ or contract to the company, giving them a conflict of interest.  Thirdly, workman’s compensation benefits need to be integrated into the rest of the health system, especially if we had single-payer.  Fourthly, the dispute resolution system should be streamlined.  Finally, to make sure there is some other enforcement of fairness, attorney’s fees should be allowed fairly.

These moves wouldn’t necessarily be lifesavers, but they would incentivize companies to act more aggressively to protect their workers if the costs they paid, even for deaths on the job, were not so miserly.  The rationale of employers, including their argument that there is a “risk premium” in pay that allows workers to accept the risk of injury and death for another buck or two an hour, have to be exposed for the falsehoods they are. Employers, insurers, and governments need to finally value protecting workers’ lives, as if their own lives were at stake without seeing their injuries and deaths as just another cost of doing business.

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The Emotional and Immature Defense

Little Rock       Thank goodness for WAMF, WDSV, and KABF, so I had something to listen to on the radio as I drove from New Orleans to Little Rock on the day of the release of the Robert Mueller, Special Counsel report on Trump and his campaign, because that was all there was on the air everywhere else.  Same thing for the daily papers online and in print in the aftermath of Attorney General Barr’s mic drop.  I had to scour the news to keep up with the exciting climate protests of the Extinction Rebellion and their multi-day disruption of the City of London business district over the urgency to act on planetary destruction.  I’m not saying Mueller and the burning of Notre Dame are not important, but it’s a big world out there, and we have to focus, focus, focus on all of the moving balls in the air before they hit the ground.

The Mueller Report seems a classic case of middle-of-the-road, two-handed work, with something for everybody, and nothing that makes anyone truly happy.  Trump can celebrate “no collusion” with the Russians, and everyone else can be horrified at the countless absurdities of the whole White House gang from top to bottom.

Was their obstruction?  Well, does the sun rise in the east?  What prevented Mueller from making a clear call on the “balls and strikes” of an earlier claim: incompetence and ethical relapse, meaning that some of his staff and others couldn’t go where the president demanded.  In the words of the report:

 “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

The takeaway:  Trump couldn’t help himself.  He had to obstruct, but he was essentially saved from himself by his team.

Attorney General Barr’s defense of the obstruction is a classic for the ages:

“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.”

Every child needs to memorize this defense for all the times when their emotions and immaturity lead them to take a punch at a classmate, trip their sister, or whatever.  NBA players need to substitute the right words and make the case whenever accused of a foul by a referee on the hardwood.  It’s so much better than saying, “the devil made me do it,” although it’s really the same thing.

Barr’s defense is simple.  The President is a child.  He is easily provoked.  When agitated he has no rational boundaries, moral compass, or fixed beliefs but is raw emotion and grievance, justifying any and all actions that spring into his head.  With Barr’s rationale, when the bear is slapped, he’s simply a bear.  There is no accountability.  It’s a free ride on the high side.

You can’t impeach a child, and even punishment wouldn’t change him at this point.  Let it go!  Take all of the gifts the report offers in terms of craven ineptness and dangerous infantilism and go forward to the next election and beat him on the issues and on the exhaustively proven evidence of his unsuitability for high office or to have any of his ill-tempered fingers near the nuclear football or at the wheel of the ship of state.

 

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