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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

So We DO need a Federal Government

Feds vow full investigation into mine disaster

Labor secretary expresses sorrow over deaths of 12 miners in W. Va.

WASHINGTON - Federal officials expressed sorrow Wednesday over the deaths of 12 West Virginia coal miners and pledged a full investigation into what happened.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of the 12 miners who perished in this tragedy and our hopes and prayers are with the one miner who survived,” Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement issued before dawn.

I'm not going to play the "Blame Game" as the "lame" conservatives call it. Instead, let me point out what this tragedy should tell us about the role of government in this age of the "free market". Conservative philosophy would have it that these men knew the risks they were taking when they went down in the mines, so no one should be wringing their hands over the fact that this mine company had a history of safety violations but was still allowed to operate "business as usual."

And yet we are justly outraged. We can't understand why this was allowed to go on till this moment. In other words, we need regulations, workplace rules, safety requirements even when they affect the cost of doing business and the cost of our goods and services. Risk of injury on the job cannot be completely eliminated. Some jobs are in and of themselves risky and dangerous: miners, firefighters, oil fielworkerses, police, even teachers. But we have a right to a reasonably safe workplace made free of risks where humanly possible.

And we need a federal government willing to impose those regulations. As we see in this case, local communities, states, and workers are unwilling, unable, or just plaidesperatete enough to allow a business free reign creating whatever work environment it wants. We can't allow the "marketplace" to set work rules in some vague thought that workers will choose other, safer jobs thus forcing employers to make needed changes. These miners were working for $700 a week. Someone will be desperate enough to go down into the mine just to get a paycheck.

Justice and human dignity demand that we create as safe a working environment as we can and for that we must have regulations, workplace rules, and a government strong enough and willing enough to enforce them.

5 comments:

unhyphenatedconservative said...

"so no one should be wringing their hands over the fact that this mine company had a history of safety violations but was still allowed to operate "business as usual."

You neglect to mention that these violations were made by a federal investigative/safety organization. So federal involvement is no panacea.

"As we see in this case, local communities, states, and workers are unwilling, unable, or just plaidesperatete enough to allow a business free reign creating whatever work environment it wants."

How do we see that? Is there any evidnence that local officials did anything untoward? I submit that an argument can be made that federal regulation, which preempts state and local actors, crowded out those closest on the scene.

Personally, I would favor a system in which the union would engage in a contract with management that included safety provisions. This would allow locals who know the situation and individual quirks to set the needed regulations rather than one size fits all solutions. Something like trip or quadruple damages could be set for violations of those solutions upon suit by the union.

Lynn Green said...

I can't dispute your call for union involvement. In fact, before unions gained strength in the coal fields, safety records were much worse.

Federal safety guidelines are needed. They must be stronger and they must be enforced.

We don't know the evidence concerning local officials. We shall see what the investigation reveals. I am simply speaking from past experience here.

ABL said...

But the government already is involved ! They already have people blithering on hither and thither about how the mine had been recently found with saftey violations, but yet, your precious federal government did not shut down the mine. Why ? Because the the best of their ability, they believed it was safe.

Until we know wether the mine explosion was an act of God, or truly unsafe conditions, I think we should check our enthusiasm for having the government jump all over the situaton.

You have clearly decided that "we need regulations, workplace rules, safety requirements even when they affect the cost of doing business and the cost of our goods and services".
However, you then make the point that the entire reason these people mine is for the money. Would it be 700 a week if there were these extra regulations ? No, it would likely be significantly reduced. In addition, imagine all the downtime during which miners would be unable to work, thanks to a mine closing due to saftey regulations. Hell, slap on enough red tape and the company may decide to close the mine altogether. Your well meaning policy may well put these people below the poverty line or out of a job entirely.

These men DID know the risks. And while the accident was certaintly not buisness as usual, its ocurrance does not suprise me, nor should it suprise anyone familar with mining. I believe that the current regulations are likely already strong enough. The federal government's job is not to protect you from yourself. Yes, someone will be willing to go down into the mine for the paycheck. What you want to do, is reduce that paycheck. Hardly seems fair now, does it?

As a wise man once said "Money does not grow on trees". The cost of increased regulation would likely be so high as to negate the very purpose.

Lynn Green said...

The logical extension of your argument is that we should not have any workplace safety rules since they add to the cost of business. So why not just go back to the sweatshops of the 19th Century. Sure you have an occasional "Triangle Shirtwaist Fire", but that's the cost of doing business and the girls working there didn't have to work there. They could have just let their families starve.

For those of you without not knowledge of labor history, and I suspect your numbers of legion. Here is what happened on that day in New York at the turn of the last century.

[T]he Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. . . [was] located 8 blocks south of Union Square. On Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, about five hundred employees were at work making shirtwaists--the high-necked blouses worn by working women of the day. At 4:30 pm there was a muffled explosion. Smoke poured out of eighth-floor windows. Within minutes flames ranged out of control; girls jumped to certain death from windows high above the street; locked exits and a fire escape that buckled under the weight of fleeing workers blocked escape. The fire lasted only eighteen minutes, and killed 146 workers, most of them Jewish and Italian teenaged girls.

So do we go back to the "good old days" when government was hands off in the affairs of business, or do we recognize that all workers have a right to as safe a work place as we can produce. You have to decide.

ABL said...

I believe that a balance is required, as with everything, however, we are certainly more heavily regulated than in the "good old days". I simply believe further regulation is more of a hinderance than a help.