What Will You Do?

Did you see the story in October about a little 2-year old girl in China, who wandered alone into the street and was struck by a truck? She was seen on a surveillance camera near traffic and nobody did anything to help protect her from harm. She was actually run over by two different trucks and more than 18 people walked by, leaving the injured child lying in the street. Finally someone picked her up and tried to find her parents. Little Wang Yue, an innocent child, died because nobody would get involved.

In 1886, workers fighting for the eight-hour workday rallied in support of striking McCormick Harvesting Machine workers in Chicago. The striking McCormick workers had been attacked by police on May 3rd and a number of them were killed. The rally was called for at Haymarket Square. A number of speakers had addressed the peaceful crowd when the police descended upon them. Some unknown person threw a bomb towards the police and when it exploded, the police fired wildly into the crowd. Eight policemen were killed, many by “friendly fire”, and four workers were said to have perished and many more were thought to have died, but their families were afraid to report the deaths.

In our own time, the Occupy movement is gaining support in cities and amongst people across the globe.  These citizens are taking their demands for change out of the shadows and into the light. You only need to watch a few interviews to realize that the sentiment motivating the movement is frustration: while the wealth of the plutocrats multiplies, more and more people feel left behind, walled off from the means to achieve a better life for their families.

The members of the Occupy groups come from all walks of life and are protesting for a variety of reasons, but every single person is giving their time and their money, facing discomfort, ridicule, arrest, and even violence to make sure their voices are heard.  It's not hard to see echoes of the Haymarket massacre as Oakland police in riot gear attack the protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas.  Have you ever felt that kind of passion for a cause you believe in?  What would you have done?

This year, at the annual UAW/CAT Health and Safety Training, one of our business units reported that they had experienced a 93% reduction in reported injuries over the past five years. If true, that is an incredible achievement. However, the veracity of the claim is jeopardized when you becomes aware that this particular business unit not only refuses to hold regular safety committee meetings, as it has in the past, but also does not conduct the minimum monthly safety inspections with the UAW Safety Committeeman.

One of the reasons given for the cessation of safety meetings was that management was tired of having the UAW Safety Representatives bring up safety issues in the meetings. Oh the nerve of them! I can’t imagine why one would bring up safety issues at the safety meeting, can you?

The required joint safety inspections are scheduled and then canceled without informing the Safety Committeeman. The Company could e-mail the Safety Rep, but can’t because the rep’s e-mail account was discontinued after he brought a safety issue to light in an e-mail. Again, imagine the testicular fortitude of that Safety Rep, trying to bring a safety issue to the attention of management.  What was he thinking? How dare he speak of safety hazards to management in a building with such a sterling record?

Additionally, you’d think that a business unit with the bravado to brag of such accomplishments would do so without omitting a few nagging details. A fire and resulting explosion left two security personnel in the hospital for the Christmas holiday a few short years ago. If memory serves me correctly, a contractor was severely injured in this same facility when the door to a heat treat oven came down on him. Finally, there was the tragedy this past April when another contractor lost his life performing maintenance on a piece of equipment-again in this same building.

I recently spoke with one of our members from this high-performing business unit who was distraught because of an amputation that occurred after specific safety concerns were ignored by the area supervisor. I’m also told that co-workers are very unhappy about the incident and the subsequent “investigation”. It appears that if a full-time employee is injured or made ill, an inquisition is held, union representation is denied, threats are made and blame is assigned to the injured worker. It’s amazing that anyone reports any injuries in this oasis of safety.

To further burnish this business unit’s gaudy safety metrics, a reign of terror has been waged on many of our supplemental members who dutifully fulfill their obligation to report injuries or illnesses. Oftentimes these workers are summarily dismissed shortly after returning from medical. Officially, the justification for the dismissal is never for reporting the injury or illness, it always something else. That’s sure one way to keep people from reporting. If an injury is not reported because of fear of dismissal, it doesn’t soil the business unit safety record and, as an added bonus, there is no cost whatsoever incurred by CAT for a work-related injury! Mission accomplished

A recent National Safety Council survey found that of the top 9 reasons for people not to report a Near Miss incident at work, fear was the first one listeddoes that a surprise to you? Embarrassment was the second reason listed, but probably not for the reasons you suspect. It appears that being labeled a “frequent flyer” or “accident prone” and the risk of humiliation at the hands of a supervisor or peers is a deterring factor. Isn’t being involved in a Near Miss bad enough?

When the subject of safety awards or safety performance is lauded, it’s helpful to put statistics and awards into perspective.

        The Anacortes, WA Tesoro refinery received recognition for reducing “recordable injury rates”, but on April 2, 2010, an explosion at Tesoro in killed seven workers.

        BP, a company admired by CAT for their behavioral safety program killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon right after having a big safety award celebration on April 20, 2010. BP’s got a little history with explosions because in 2005, the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas blew up killing 15 workers and injuring 170.

        Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded, said in SEC filings on Friday, April 1, 2011, that 2010 was “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history”.

        Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia received safety awards for low levels of lost-time injuries. On April 5, 2010, 29 miners lost their lives in the award-winning min.

Statistics really don’t tell the whole story, do they? Does this whole scenario make you mad? It does me! If it doesn’t make you mad, what will it take? If this situation makes you angry, is it angry enough to do something about it? We should be filing safety complaints when the boss doesn’t take our safety concerns seriously. If a supplemental worker has a safety issue, filing a Safety Complaint is protected activity through the contract and OSHA. If the supplemental is still too scared, somebody else, a co-worker, the steward or the UAW safety rep should file the complaint for them.  There is no language in the contract about repetitive safety complaints, so everyone in the work area can ask for their UAW Safety rep if they wish or they can file a group complaint.

In the examples at the beginning, people stood idly by and failed to get involved or they have stood up and spoke truth to power and fought back, using words, actions and ideas to affect change.  What would you want someone to do to help you? To help someone you care for? What is it going to take? What will you do?

If the stories I've told you make you angry, well, they should.  Every single one is an example of tragedy and human suffering.  But they have something else in common - in every case, the tragedies could have been avoided if people like you and me had taken action.  Standing up for what's right always requires sacrifice. That sacrifice might be as trivial as a few hours of your leisure time and it might be as monumental as imprisonment or death, but every good thing we enjoy in life exists because those who came before us had the courage to fight for it.  Go to rallies.  Write your Congressman.  File safety complaints and grievances.  Run for office in your union.  It's easy to stand on the sidelines, reaping the benefits while others bear the cost of struggling for progress, but until we get up and get involved, we're no different from all those people who walked by Wang Yue as she died in the street from her injuries.  What will you do? 


Steve Mitchell