By Ralph Nader
Dear President Bush:
I was listening to your address before the self-described Conservative Political Action Committee gathering in Washington, D.C. last week, while reviewing materials on occupational hazards in the workplace. The contrast between your declarations and the ongoing annual tragedy of 58,000 Americans losing their lives due to workplace diseases and traumas (OSHA figures) was astonishing and deplorable.
Your remarks included such phrases as "You and I believe in accountability;" "People should be responsible for their actions;" "Maintaining a culture of life;" and that "My number one priority is to protect you;" "All human life is precious and deserves to be protected."
These are words and phrases that you have been using year after year in your capacity as a judicially-selected President who has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land.
Therefore, let us apply your verbal sensitivities about accountability, responsibility and the safety of working Americans, to your sworn duty to uphold the job safety laws of your Administration.
Having been deeply involved in the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970-during the Nixon Administration, I know that its principal mission was regulatory: to establish federal workplace safety standards, enforce them and upgrade them to avoid obsolescence.
Although in its 37 year history, OSHA regulations and inspections saved many lives, the latter two-thirds of its history has witnessed a serious deterioration in its performance. It is now a captive of industry, under budgeted, understaffed with a consulting attitude rather than a law-and-order, live-saving determination.
Under the Clinton Administration, not one chemical control regulation was initiated and issued in eight years. Under your regime, OSHA is dormant. Your Secretary of Labor ignores it where she does not actually operate to keep it asleep. Yet, on average, every week over 1000 Americans die from the workplace exposures.
Under the Reagan Administration, the White House rejected an urgent request by the physicians at the Centers for Disease Control for a three million dollar budget to send certified letters to 250,000 workers found in a lengthy field study to be exposed to significant hazards-chemical and particulate-in their factories, foundries and mines. The letters were to urge the workers to have their doctors check them out for actual or incipient diseases. Instead, the workers were left defenseless.
Last week, an explosive fireball imploded the century-old Dixie Crystal sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia, taking, at latest count, seven lives and causing many serious injuries. This is only the latest of a steady series of explosions, mine collapses, cave-ins at construction sites and other fatally traumatic occurrences.
And who can forget the gripping, prize-winning series in The New York Times in January, 2003 that began with these words:
"Tyler, Texas-It is said that only the desperate seek work at Tyler Pipe, a sprawling, rusting pipe foundry out on Route 69, just past the flea market. Behind a high metal fence lies a workplace that is part Dickens and part Darwin, a dim, dirty, hellishly hot place where men are regularly disfigured by amputations and burns, where turnover is so high that convicts are recruited from local prisons"
Tyler Pipe is owned by McWane, Inc. of Burmingham, Alabama, which is a very large manufacturer of cast-iron sewer and water pipe. Since 1995, according to a nine-month investigation by the Times, PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "at least 4,600 injuries have been recorded in McWane foundries, many hundreds of them serious ones." They included fatalities.
Numerous coal companies were finally caught a few years ago faking their coal dust samples to avoid federal regulations designed to diminish coal miners’ Pneumoconiosis. Fines for these deliberate violations were, as usual, slaps on the companies’ wrists. Since 1900, more coal miners have lost their lives from coal dust and mine collapses than all the Americans lost in World War II. And that is just one industry!
So, where is George W. Bush? The man who says his Job One is to protect the safety of Americans. Has he visited any of their disasters caused by corporate wrongdoing, not by natural disasters? Has he ever made a major speech or proposed a decent budget and stronger enforcement and authority for the federal worker safety and health agencies?
Has he been maintaining "a culture of life" under an "accountability" framework? Does he believe that he and his top appointees have "been responsible for their actions." Not at all.
Perhaps you are not worried about this lonely epidemic of death, disease and injury day after day, since it is not caused by terrorists. Even if every three weeks, workplace conditions lead to a fatality toll greater than 9/11. Imagine, every three weeks, on average.
Remember Mr. Bush, you said "all human life is precious and deserves to be protected." This is especially so when the perils are so preventable by timely regulatory inspections and enforcement of up-to-date life-saving standards.
It comes back, in the final analysis, to that oath of office you took, doesn’t it, to enforce the laws under our Constitution whose preamble starts with "We the People." Not "We the Corporations."
-Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions