Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Riddle 

While I was otherwise engaged in family matters, the world went on without me. And imagine my bemusement when I beheld this:
"With little fanfare and some adept bureaucratic maneuvering, a partnership between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and a select group of Justice Department prosecutors has been forged to identify and single out for prosecution the nation's most flagrant workplace safety violators.
The initiative does not entail new legislation or regulation. Instead, it seeks to marshal a spectrum of existing laws that carry considerably stiffer penalties than those governing workplace safety alone. They include environmental laws, criminal statutes more commonly used in racketeering and white-collar crime cases, and even some provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a corporate reform law."
But nowhere in the article is this mystifying empathy for working people, suddenly bubbling out of an administration notoriously hostile to labor or environment, ever analyzed for its motivation. The feds aren't giving anything away, and nothing I've been able to dredge up anywhere has offered a clue. Even under Clinton the agency was almost useless, though Bush's record has been abysmal.

This article from Occupational Hazards early last year predicted that the series "When Workers Die", written by David Barstow for the NYTimes in December 2003, may have set off tremors that could have substantive repercussions for the agency:
"While the long-term impact of the series is not clear, Congress has clearly taken notice, and legislation has been introduced that would increase the criminal penalties available for willful violations of federal OSHA standards that cause employee fatalities. It also seems likely that in high-profile cases, OSHA may become more reluctant to enter into settlement agreements and may refer more cases to DOJ. Also, even without an OSHA referral, DOJ has the power, so far seldom used, to initiate its own investigation of a workplace fatality, and the Times series may spur DOJ to take this initiative more often. Finally, employee advocacy groups have begun to clamor for criminal investigations where major accidents have occurred."
Barstow also co-wrote a January 2003 NYTimes series expose on McWane, Inc., serial killer of employees--a joint effort that included PBS' Frontline and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Connection? Sure enough, today's article in the Times notes that the DOJ is taking a high profile role in training and assisting OSHA to prep investigations for prosecution, and sure enough:
"The value of that coordination became obvious, he and other officials said, during a recent federal investigation into a New Jersey foundry owned by McWane Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer of cast-iron pipe. The investigation was prompted by articles in The Times and a companion documentary on the PBS television program "Frontline" that described McWane as one of the most dangerous employers in America...
In December 2003, several senior managers at the New Jersey foundry were indicted on charges of conspiring to violate safety and environmental laws and repeatedly obstructing government inquiries by lying and altering accident scenes. The case is pending, but Justice Department officials called it a "pioneering indictment."
But surely this can't be the whole happy story, can it? This is a government that has been almost unequalled in its ability to remain aloof and deaf to public opinion or the needs of the non-business community. I would dearly love to know whether any of you, dear readers, could shed further light on this mystery.

corrente SBL - New Location
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