This week has started out loudly, again. Cruz and Kasich seemingly have agreed to “split up” the remaining primaries in an attempt to “stop Trump”. I guess they each think that if they do this, they each will be able to win the nomination at a contested convention. I don’t really understand their logic, but then, I haven’t understood their lack of logic for a very long time.
Of course, the media is all abuzz about this “agreement”. It is all they want to talk about. Which is a very big problem for the American people. During election cycles, Republicans use the shadow cast by the nomination process to abolish and destroy American lives. It is during these times that Republicans come up with their most disgusting ideas and try to pass them into law.
There is one attempt that you probably have never heard of. It involves workplace safety. And, naturally, it involves the Department of Labor and OSHA, two agencies the Republican Party would love to just go away.
On March 25 this year, the Department of Labor announced new stricter regulations to limit exposure of silica dust in the workplace. This decision has been decades in the making. The silica dust regulations are over 40 years old, and are not sufficient to protect workers from such horrible diseases such as silicosis.
The new regulations could save over 600 lives and over 900 new cases of silicosis annually. That sounds like a very sound idea, right? Nope. Not according to our Republican friends in Congress. They think saving those lives and new cases of silicosis is a bad idea, apparently.
Last week, Republicans in the House held hearings about the new regulations in an attempt to roll them back. Just to make sure labor understood who Republicans back, they held their hearings just days before “Workers Memorial Day”, April 28. That is a day when organized labor renews its solemn pledge to strive for workplace safety rules and formally commemorates those who have died on the job in the previous year.
The last year totals that are available for is 2014. In that year 4,679 workers died on the job. That’s nearly 90 a week, 13 a day, seven days a week. When you think about that, that is a really horrible number of people dying on the job.
In case this is something new to you, Silica, which is in sand and rocks, is released during industrial processes that involve cutting and blasting and cleaning silica-containing materials, such as concrete, tile and brick. It is estimated that about 2 million American workers inhale the tiny crystalline particles in levels high enough to threaten their health, almost always without knowing it. The dust causes workers’ lung tissue to swell and become inflamed. Over time, that causes scarring, and the lungs stiffen, making it hard to breathe.
That condition, called silicosis, increases the worker’s risk of bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer. Often times resulting in death. At the very least, it makes it very difficult for people with this condition to even walk around the block without having coughing fits or making it so hard to breathe they get the feeling of being water-boarded.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calculated that the previous exposure limits, which were set more than 40 years ago, were so inadequate that thousands of workers died every year even though their employers were complying with the law.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is intent on sending the silica standard back 40 years. He noted in a press release that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concedes that 30 percent of the job sites it tested did not comply with the previous silica standard.
So, Walberg said, the Labor Department’s first priority should be enforcing that old standard, not creating new, tougher standards that would protect workers better. “If OSHA is unable – or unwilling – to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?” he asked.
Of course, that statement also doesn’t take into consideration that 70 percent of job sites do comply with the previous silica standard, but the problem still exists at their sites as well. Walberg also blames the safety police, OSHA, for not enforcing the safety laws. He deliberately ignores the fact that the same safety police, OSHA, has had their budget drastically cut by Republicans in Congress year after year.
It is very difficult to conduct inspections and bring violators to justice if you don’t have the money to conduct such activities. Besides, Walberg is basically arguing that if part of a problem is that one piece of something is broken, you cannot fix the whole thing.
That is like saying that if your car won’t run, you cannot fix the engine until you first fix the flat tire that also exists. If everyone followed Walberg’s example, you could never fix your car if you get a flat tire first.
What this really boils down to is this. Republicans will do whatever it takes to ensure that corporations can sicken and kill workers with impunity. If the argument is that workers’ lives and lungs must be sacrificed to ensure that foundries and fracking operations and construction companies can make bigger profits by releasing silica particles under 40-year-old standards now considered dangerous, then the GOP will take the side of CEOs who value workers as trivial.
Or, you can also look at it this way. Many companies need material like copper, zinc, and tin. They purchase it in bulk. Copper is a couple of dollars a pound, tin is a few dollars a pound.
If someone tries to take that out of the plant and to a scrap yard to make a few dollars they get fired. Yet, companies are more likely to protect their raw materials more than they do their workers. Why don’t they treat the people who do the work to make that raw material into a finished product with the same importance and protection as the materials?
These are the kinds of evil processes that almost always take place during election cycles. There is a good reason election cycles are chosen to conduct such activities. No one pays attention until it is too late.
We often hear Republicans claim they believe in the American Dream. How do you live the American Dream if you are too sick to even walk up a flight of stairs. Or, if you are killed on the job because safety rules are considered as “too expensive” and will hurt the bottom line of the company?
In 2014, over 4600 people died on the job. Yet, when the Department of Labor announces a rule that will make the workplace safer for over 2 million American workers, the Republicans throw another one of their infamous hissy-fits.
The only conclusion is that your safety on the job is less important to Republicans than that roll of tin or copper. Those materials are far more valuable to Republicans and their donor class than you are.