Regulation works

September 21, 2011

Jim Weygand writing at the Twin Cities Daily Planet in Minnesota, defends government regulation:

For example there is not an industry today that is not safer than it was prior to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in 1970. Since OSHA was created in 1970, workplace fatalities have decreased 60% despite the more than doubling of the work force. Job related injuries and illness rates have decreased by 40%. And, yes government regulation has increased.

We can also credit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the restrictions on DDT that have brought our eagle and ospreys back from the edge of extinction as well as protecting us from its effects.

It has worked to prevent future Love Canal type environmental disasters. Government controls on nuclear power have prevented a Chernobyl disaster in this country.

Advertisements

Little Hoovers should ask: Are we in a Second Great Depression?

February 23, 2011

Stalking America and haunting the shadows of every capitol building in America today are people who would profess, if asked, that they fashion themselves in the mold of Herbert Hoover.  Little Hoovers, we might call them.  Unlike Hoover, and unlike the friendly “Little Hoover” phrase we might apply to them, the welfare of America is not their concern.  We might worry about that.

President Harry Truman in 1947 appointed former President Herbert Hoover to head a commission on how to reform the federal government.  I do not know of a high school history text that even mentions this effort today.

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Herbert Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine, 1925

Hoover’s commission made 273 recommendations that were taken to heart, then taken to Congress.  Many were enacted into law.

Several states followed the example, as in Utah and famously in California. These groups were often called “Little Hoover” commissions.  In no case that I have found did any of these commissions ever recommend stripping union collective bargaining agreements out of any situation.

But again, this history is mostly lost.  Hoover is remembered today for his failure to stop the Great Depression, for his seeming unwillingness to do what was necessary in great enough effort to relieve the nation’s serious hurts.  That’s too bad, really.

Herbert Hoover was not opposed to government action to fix the depression on most counts.  In his correspondence with Franklin Roosevelt, especially after Roosevelt replaced him in the presidency, Hoover often complained that Roosevelt’s actions were in the right vein, but too much.

We should remember this.

Are we in a Great Depression?  Economically, technically, our nation is in “recovery.”

Realistically, our nation is teetering on the brink of great financial disaster.  Sadly, most people ignore the lessons of history, and consequently, actions of many governmental units today seem driven to push the nation over the brink.  Home prices have not recovered.  Millions are out of work — millions of highly-trained workers cannot find jobs with pay adequate to support a family.

We appear not to have learned these lessons that should not have been forgotten:

  • Stimulus from the government creates demand, which fuels manufacturing recovery, and more jobs.  Tax cuts, such as Hoover’s 1932 tax cut for the wealthy, drive us deeper into recession.
  • Labor unions form vital components of a healthy manufacturing segment; they stand up for worker health and safety, for fair pay and work conditions that spur productivity.  When we ignore or fight unions, we damage economic productivity.  When we work with unions, we make progress.
  • Cracking the whip may get a temporary reaction from workers that looks good.  In the long run, if not immediately, such actions damage productivity and creativity.
  • Unions do not make the big financial decisions that cripple industry.  Unions don’t decide the products to be produced.  Unions cannot gamble a company’s future on ill-advised acquisitions or switches in corporate focus, usually.  Union demands for restrooms improve the sanitation and health of our food supplies.  Union demands for limited work hours lead to productive workers, better safety, and better products.
  • In almost every case where foreign corporations compete successfully with U.S. companies on high-tech and high-skill jobs, and take away U.S. jobs, the government of that foreign nation provides health care for all citizens, so that health care costs are not a cost of business.  In the case of most industrial nations, foreign pension laws are much stiffer than U.S. laws, stiffer in protecting generous benefits for pensioners.
  • All workers benefit when unions gain, traditionally.  It wasn’t Andrew Carnegie who invented the two-week vacation.
  • Workers can do more for consumers when they are treated well and listened to by company management.

I’m depressed at the nasty actions in so many places, in so many ways, designed to thwart progress to good ends, and instead drive our nation into mediocrity.  I find it difficult to post when there is so much disaster looming in so many places.

When political movements from the right go after one group with hammer and tongs, we might do well to remember the old, wise words.  With a full-on awareness of Godwin’s Law, we might do well to remember the words attributed to Martin Niemöller,  and the moral of that story:

“Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.”

What has Scott Walker done for anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year, anyway?  So you should ask:  What has Scott Walker ever done for you, or your family?  If the bargaining rights of any union are removed, anywhere in the U.S., who will speak up for your vacation, pension, health care benefits, and job safety?  OSHA?  Are you sure?

Update: It’s not paranoia when they are coming after you with more ill-will than you can imagine — see this Mother Jones update. It appears some people didn’t learn anything from the Tucson shootings.


More:

Cover of Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism:  How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century

A book you should buy: Gordon Lloyd's Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debates Shape the 21st Century


Trafficking workers’ bodies for profit

May 27, 2008

If a guy beats someone to death, it’s murder, right?  And so the nation’s labor laws hold an employer liable for the death of a worker when unsafe working conditions caused the death.

But what if the worker doesn’t die?  What if the worker only loses his arms, or legs, or arms and legs?

No death, no crime, U.S. law says. 

What if the employer poisons the worker with cyanide that eats away the worker’s brain

No death, no crime, U.S. law says.

My colleagues and I were shocked to learn that an employer who breaks the nation’s worker-safety laws can be charged with a crime only if a worker dies. Even then, the crime is a lowly Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in prison. (About 6,000 workers are killed on the job each year, many in cases where the deaths could have been prevented if their employers followed the law.) Employers who maim their workers face, at worst, a maximum civil penalty of $70,000 for each violation.

Read a plea to change the law, in the New York Times, from David H. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan.


%d bloggers like this: