Saturday, February 5, 2011

Obama’s Gift to Business—Decreasing Workplace Safety

Obama recently wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for a massive wave of deregulation, supposedly to free up business to create more jobs and make our economy more competitive. Politicians love to claim they are creating jobs, particularly when unemployment is high. But the claim of “job creation” is really just a cover for deregulations, subsidies, bailouts, and other policies that increase profits. Business will hire more people when it is profitable to do so, not necessarily when government gives them a handout, as was seen in the wake of the massive Wall Street bailout and the less massive bailout of Detroit. Indeed, after the auto manufacturers’ were paid off by the government, jobs were cut, in collusion with the UAW.

This week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced it was halting the implementation of ergonomics regulations. According to OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels, ergonomic injuries are the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in the U.S. (They comprise 28% of all workplace injuries). The defeated regulation would have required businesses to count ergonomic injuries and was already considered a compromise (weakening tougher ergonomic rules implemented during the Clinton administration). The move effectively kills all ergonomic workplace regulation.

Obama’s deregulation orgy and his self-lubrication for business are not just indications of Obama’s willingness to capitulate to big business, but of the weakness of organized labor. The ruling elite have been growing cockier, and it’s not just because the Republicans took Congress in the last elections. The number of unionized workers has never been lower (see Impending Demise of Unions), and the union bosses seem uninterested in doing anything about it, like organizing new and existing members to take collective job actions. Until labor is willing to rise up and make life painful for the bosses, the bosses will feel emboldened to take more and more from workers, whether it’s workplace safety, pensions, benefits or compensation or even the right to strike.


  1. In Michigan we teachers lost our right to strike when Engler was governor back before 2000. We have been pretty much powerless since that time. This piece kind of says it all.

    Here is a snippet:
    Governor Engler’s triumph over the teachers’ unions is now virtually complete. He and
    his allies have successfully demonized the MEA as one of the principal obstacles to educational
    reform in Michigan, and the union’s political influence has been significantly diminished.3
    Teachers have lost their right to strike, and with it much of their leverage in negotiations with
    local school boards. Their salaries are effectively frozen, and their benefits are under threat.
    Michigan’s other teacher union has suffered along with the MEA, as an MFT leader
    acknowledges. “He killed us. He went after the MEA and ended up killing us. We were just an
    annoyance, not an enemy.”

    ...and more
    Second, in the event that negotiations between school boards and teachers’ unions
    reach an impasse, the Act allows the school board to unilaterally impose its “last best offer”
    without the agreement of the union. Finally, PA 112 imposed severe penalties on teachers who
    strike, including fines of one day’s pay for each instructional day they are out of the classroom.
    Similarly, stiff fines may be imposed on the unions to which striking teachers belong.

    Most people in Michigan really don't realize just how powerless we really are and how stagnant the pay has remained the last 10 or more years.

  2. Thanks for the interesting history, Katie. The research is well worth reading. I'll repost a snippet.

    Kind of hard to jibe the destruction of unionism in PA with the hysteria over their "endless" teacher strikes.