Working For an Employer is Dangerous for your Health, Part Four

There was an article published in the weekly Star Metro Toronto on September 4, 2019 on a health and safety issue. I will quote the article in full in order to provide the context and details of the incident:

TTC [Toronto Transit Commission] fined more than $330,000 in worker’s death

Dedes suffered major injuries after being crushed between rail car and pickup truck

Ben Spurr (Transportation Reporter)

The TTC has pleaded guilty to one count of violating workplace safety legislation in the 2017 death of track maintenance worker Tom Dedes.

‘At a hearing Tuesday in a small courtroom on the second floor of Old City Hall, prosecutors working on behalf of the Ministry of Labour agreed to drop two other charges laid against the transit agency in /Dedes’ death.

As part of its guilty plea, the TTC agreed to pay a fine of $263,000, which was the amount prosecutors recommended, Including a mandatory 25 percent victim surcharge, the total amount the transit agency will pay is $331, 250.

Each of the charges, which are non-criminal provincial offenses, carried a maximum fine of $500,000 at the time they were laid [emphasis added].

Speaking outside the courtroom, Tom’s brother George Dedes said the TTC plea, which came with a promise to improve worker safety, would give his family some closure after two years of anguish.

“It signals that they are taking steps to address the issues, which is good news,” he said.

“You want some accountability. They’ve done what they had to do. Honestly what else could they do? They can’t bring him back. They can’t change what happened.”

Dedes, an 18-year veteran who was 50 at the time of his death, suffered major injuries in an accident at the TTC’s McCowan Yard in Scarborough at around 2:18 a.m. on October 1, 2017.

According to an agreed-upon statement of facts that was read into the court record, at the time of the accident Dedes and a crew of workers were preparing to head out on a job to replace a section of track on the Scarborough RT.

They were loading equipment from a pickup truck onto a work railcar, but as they were about to leave they discovered a power pack–a hydraulic unit used in track welding–on the flatbed of the car was dead.

They moved the truck closer to the car to try to jump-start the battery pack by attaching it to the truck engine with jumper cables. The cables were too short, however, and they had to lift the pack off the flatbed using a crane.

Once it was successfully boosted, they hoisted the pack back onto the flatbed, and some of the workers got into the pickup truck.

The car operators’ view was obstructed and he couldn’t see the truck. He began advancing the car just as Dedes was walking around the back of the truck to the rear driver’s side door.

Because the rail car was on a curved track, its tail end swung out and struck Dedes, crushing him against the pickup truck. He died in the hospital eight day later.

Last September, nearly a year after his death, the ministry charged the TTC with three offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including violating regulations that require employers to ensure adequate lighting, and to provide markings or barriers to protect workers from vehicles.

Those two charges were withdrawn Tuesday and the TTC pleaded guilty to the third charge: failing to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers–specifically failing to provide a qualified employee to monitor work car movements.

The TTC says Dedes’ death has already prompted it to improve safety at its McCowan Yard and other facilities. Among the steps the agency has taken are upgrading lighting, installing visual markings and a barrier around the railcar track area, and retraining employees.

Contrast this with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113: (

TTC PLEADS GUILTY TO ONTARIO MINISTRY OF LABOUR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT VIOLATION REGARDING THE DEATH OF ATU LOCAL 113 BROTHER TOM DEDES

ATU Local 113 President Carlos Santos today released the following statement to members regarding the TTC pleading guilty to a violation of the Ontario Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Act that resulted in the death of our Brother Tom Dedes who worked as a track maintenance worker:

“This is a sad day for our union as we continue to grieve for Tom Dedes, an ATU Local 113 member who left us too soon. Today, we offer our deepest condolences and support to Tom Dedes’ family, friends and co-workers.

The TTC today finally admitted guilt for violating the Ontario Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Act by ‘failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.’

Today’s guilty plea is further evidence the TTC must do more to protect its workers. ATU Local 113 will continue to support our union representatives on the Joint Health and Safety Committee to ensure the TTC is held accountable and exercises due diligence with implementing all recommended changes to create a safer workplace for all.

The TTC’s admission of guilt and the resulting fine is a somewhat hollow victory for Tom Dedes’ family, friends and co-workers who still deal with the tragic events and will continue to deal with the circumstances of his loss for the rest of their lives.

The TTC should have ended this case much sooner. The TTC legal team had possession of all the reports, statements and Ontario Ministry of Labour documents for a long time, but waited until attending court, one month shy of two years since the incident occurred, to admit guilt and settle. As is usual in these cases, the only people who come out ahead are the TTC’s lawyers as the TTC continues to waste taxpayers’ money fighting cases dealing with important health and safety matters.

For the TTC, the case is over when the fine is paid. However, for those left behind who continue to work day after day at the TTC, the situation is far from over.

For almost two years, family, friends, co-workers and investigators have dealt with trauma. Thoughts of that night, reliving the experience throughout the investigation and anticipating reliving the events in an unfamiliar court environment have caused many sleepless nights and stressful days for those involved. Looking at these experiences, our union’s position is that the TTC failed to provide an adequate support system for the employees who witnessed the incident and experienced trauma, which is unacceptable.

The file is closed on the case, but the work is not done. Now, we move forward. We learn from this horrible lesson and do our best to ensure another group of workers does not need to go through this experience.

We remember Tom Dedes and we continue to offer support, kindness and understanding to those still suffering. We look ahead and do our jobs safely. We have the right to work safe and come home safe. Now, more than ever, members need to have an awareness of their work environment and exercise their rights if, at any time, they do not feel safe.

ATU Local 113 will continue to fight for the TTC to provide a safer workplace and proper support for all workers who experience trauma.”

The emphasis of the union is, on the one hand, the emotional aspect of the death and, on the other, the moral irresponsibility of TTC management for ensuring safety and in providing timely closure for family and friends of those who die.

Although the union’s attitude is certainly more humane than the attitude of TTC management, it is debatable whether that is all that can be learned from this situation. To say the following by the ATU union fails to address the issue of the power of management as representative of employers:

We look ahead and do our jobs safely. We have the right to work safe and come home safe. Now, more than ever, members need to have an awareness of their work environment and exercise their rights if, at any time, they do not feel safe.

This fails to take into account the level of fear characteristic of the work environment, whether implicit or explicit. Workers know, even though they rarely explicitly admit it, that they are economically dependent on employers in general and their specific employer in particular. This economic dependence often prevents them from asserting their “rights” out of fear of retaliation by management.

Secondly, the inadequacy of worker rights with regard to safety are not even acknowledged. Yes, workers have the right to refuse to work if they consider the work to be unusually unsafe–but if their work is usually unsafe, they have no right to refuse to work. Thus, when I worked as a teacher, the educational assistants were informed that they could not refuse to work with students who were violent in one way or another because such situations formed part of their normal duties.

Thirdly, the union avoids the issue of the extent to which workers can engage in work that is unsafe no matter how many precautions they take since it is employers and their managerial representatives who generally provide the working context for work and not workers.

Fourthly, the union does not even bring up the issue of the charge(s) not being criminal charges. In the case of deaths caused by individual citizens, charges can have a criminal character. Why are they not here? Why the silence over the issue by the union?

The inadequacy of the union point of view can also be seen in an exchange I recently had the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC) Facebook page with someone concerning safety at work. The following exchange occurred:

Jonathan Horchata Delgado Give the crews the proper training and guidance they need in an environment that encourages it. Your accident rates will plummet. You’re only as good as the training you have.

Fred Harris The view that “accidents” are caused mainly by a lack of training is a myth. Employers control many conditions over which workers have no control–and employers in the private sector are out to obtain as much profit as they can. There is hardly any wonder that people are injured or die.

As I wrote on my blog:

I submitted an article for the popular education journal Our Schools/Our Selves concerning the issue of safety (and the lack of critical thinking skills that is embodied in two Ontario curricula on Equity and Social Justice). In that article, I quote:

More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.

Murders are the focus of the social media and the criminal legal system. Inquiries into murders do occur, and some are very thorough. On the other hand, inquiries into the extent to which the pursuit of profit played a major role in the death of employees (or the extent to which the undemocratic nature of work of public-sector employers) are lacking. There is an implicit assumption that such deaths are acceptable and the cost of living in the modern world. Should not those concerned with social justice query such an assumption? Is there much discussion concerning the facts? Or is there silence over such facts? Should those concerned with social justice inquire into the ‘perspectives and values’ of curriculum designers? Should they attempt to “detect bias” in such documents?

Should not the issue of the relation between the pursuit of profit and needless deaths be a focus for public discussion on an ongoing basis if social justice is to be addressed? Where is the public discussion over the issue? Indeed, if critical thinking is to lead to “issues of power and justice in society,” you would expect to see inquiry into the power of employers and the relation of that power to the death, dismemberment and injury of workers. Is there any reference to such an issue in the two curricula documents?

Are not workers in our society bought and sold on a market called the labour market? As long as they are, they are “costs” to employers, and as costs employers tend to try to reduce such costs in order to obtain more profit (in the private sector). One of the ways in which they can reduce costs is by not spending much money on equipment and training that relates to safety. The temptation will always be there as long as employers exist and have control over workers. See (The Money Circuit of Capital) for an explanation.)”

The view, furthermore, that employers can invade our privacy any way they like because other employers do it is absurd; it assumes that what employers do in the first place is somehow legitimate.

 

Jonathan Horchata Delgado Fred Harris i agree that employers shouldn’t be invading privacy, as it breeds a culture of fear and mistrust, and big gap between managers and crews, and I see your point about training, but, well trained staff with good resources, even if the equipment isn’t top tier, shouldn’t be a deciding factor in safety. Companies are always about profits, true. I still believe that if you’re trained and feel you have access to proper resources, and skill is nurtured, your accident rate would still be low. I’m speaking from experience once working for probably the worst company for equipment, and we had nearly zero accidents. Also, in the military, which many good companies utilize or training matrixes, teach the human factor is the main quotient in accidents. Not disagreeing in total with you, but I wouldn’t blanket accidents and training as a myth completely. 

Fred Harris I did not say that it was “entirely” a myth–but to view training as the deciding factor in accidents is a myth.

And the view that “if you’re trained and feel you have access to proper resources, and skill is nurtured, your accident rates would still be low.” It is not about “feeling you have access to proper resources” but actually having such resources–and that is in the hands of employers, in general–employers whose aim is profit.

Furthermore, workers are “costs” for employers, and as costs, the “cost” for probable accidents is factored into determining whether to cut corners, etc.

Of course, some training can reduce accidents–but the idea that it is mainly the fault of workers that “accidents” occur is a myth.

Further evidence of the limitations of the union point of view is the posts on the TAWC Facebook page about “accidents.” The reference is to a worker killed when a luggage vehicle flipped over, pinned and killed at the North Carolina Charlotte-Douglas International Airport:

https://www.fox46charlotte.com/news/airline-employee-killed-after-luggage-vehicle-flips-pins-worker-at-clt-airport

At the above link, it says: One of the construction workers at the airport said: “It’s like a racetrack out there.” The reporter explains: “He was referring to how busy the tarmac is out there, with so much traffic in the area.”  Why would it be like a “racetrack” out on the tarmac? Perhaps because it was more profitable for the various airlines than a less intensive workplace? One of the ways that employers can obtain more profit is by increasing the level of intensity of work.

The union, however, never mentioned this factor as a social cause in the accident. There will be an investigation, but it is highly doubtful that the accident will be linked to the pursuit of profit. Since, however, workers are mere means for obtaining more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), it is understandable why the tarmack would be like a racetrack.

American Airlines, of course, expressed the following rhetoric:

American Airlines is deeply saddened by the death of one of our team members from Piedmont Airlines late last night. Right now our priority is caring for his family, and for our team in Charlotte.

Let us now listen to the union point of view in relation to safety in general:

TAWC commented on its Facebook page:

Sending love and solidarity from YYZ to the friends, family, and coworkers of the worker that lost his life last night in Charlotte.

Work smart, stay safe, and look out for one another. Airport workers across the globe share the same goal, we all want to go home safely at the end of the day.

On August 14, 2019, the TAWC made a comment about another “accident”–this time a Delta tug operator was killed on the job:

Work Smart!
Work Safe!

Deepest sympathies to yet another fallen airport worker

Solidarity is undoubtedly important. And working as safe as you can is also important. But how can workers really work safe (and smart) when they are subject to pressure to work as fast as possible in order to make as much profit as possible for the employers (or in order to minimize costs in the case of both public sector and private sector employers)? It remains a mystery to me.

The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council had the following on their Facebook site on August 19, 2019:

Another serious accident involving a baggage tractor. This time it’s one of our YYZ colleagues.

We wish a speedy recovery to our YYZ Coworker.

Work Smart! Work Safe!

On a Twitter linked to this, Tom Podeloc posted:

INCIDENT Baggage handler trapped under a tractor. Extricated by Toronto Pearson Fire. Transported to trauma centre by Peel Paramedics with serious injuries. Scene being held for investigation. Occurred on the ramp between T1 & T3.

Of course, union references to such incidents and the call for both solidarity and more training is important. However, is this really enough? Should not union reps recognize that the existence of a class of employers and the existence of social structures that support their existence necessarily contribute to death and injury?  Why do the unions ignore the existence of a class of employers as such, the social structures that support them and the deadly consequences that flow from their continued existence?

It is hardly enough to call for solidarity and to work safely. Workers cannot work safely as long as employers as a class exist and as long as their exist social structures that support the existence of such a class of employers.

Workers deserve better than a call for solidarity on the basis of the continued existence of a class of employers–they deserve to be treated as human beings–an impossibility under the given social structures and relations. Full solidarity demands questioning the power of employers as such. Otherwise, human carnage, injury and suffering will continue needlessly.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three

The attitude of much of the left in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere in Canada and the world) is that working for an employer is not all that bad. Why else would the left not object to references to “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth by union reps, or the coupling of some needed labour-law reforms and an increase in the minimum wage in Ontario with the concept of “fairness”? (All these terms are used by the social-democratic left in Toronto.) This attitude of treating working for an employer as really not that bad is something they share with their bourgeois counterparts.

Personal crime is considered to be real crime–but corporate crime is not really treated as something as bad or worse than personal crime. This can be seen when comparing the attitude of Canadian federal legislation towards personal crime and the attitude of that government and other participants when formulating legislation that was supposed to protect workers from acts deemed criminal in nature by corporations following the Westray mine explosion. The first quotation relates to the government’s attitude towards personal crime. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 2:

Consistent with the cultural obsession over crime control, in the fall of 2003, the
Canadian government introduced stringent new anti-violence legislation aimed at some of Canada’s worst offenders – those with a well documented track record of reckless behaviour and responsibility for multiple and egregious acts of violence. The legislation had all-party support (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 367), signalling a consensus for the need to better protect Canadians from violent crime. The government characterized its legislative initiative as a significant step towards ensuring that offenders are held criminally responsible for their harmful
behaviour (Department of Justice Canada 2003). Legal observers suggested that it represented a fundamental change, perhaps even a revolution, in assigning criminal liability (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 368). News items cautioned would-be criminals that they were in for a wake-up call once the new law took effect (Mann 2004: 29). It thus appeared that if violent crime was the problem, then harsh new penalties were the solution.

The proposed legislation for corporate crime expressed a different attitude in various ways, such as the time elapsed between the Westray mine explosion (May 9, 1992) and the proposal for legislation for corporate crime, or the attitude of participants in the legislative process concerning the seriousness of the crime. From Little, page 2:

However, peeling back the veneer of the federal government’s so-called crackdown on violent crime reveals a much different story. To start, it took more than ten years to introduce a new law in response to a single and violent mass killing in which twenty-six Canadians died. What is more, despite widespread political support, many politicians – particularly those with an affinity for law-and-order policies – cautioned against going too far in terms of holding offenders
criminally responsible for their harmful acts (Bittle and Snider 2006). Also curious was that both the media and general public expressed little interest in the new law, hardly the status quo for issues of violent crime. Moreover, since its enactment, there have been only two charges laid; a particularly worrisome trend given that recent research reveals an increase in the forms of violence that the legislation was intended to address (Sharpe and Hardt 2006). In fact, it would
appear that the most significant development associated with the new legislation is the emergence of a crime (un)control industry, one in which lawyers offer for-fee courses that potential offenders can take to learn about the new law and the steps they must follow to avoid criminal responsibility (for example, see Gonzalez 2005; Guthrie 2004).

The focus on violent personal crime that leads to injury or death and the absence of such focus on corporate crime that leads to injury or death is tantamount to a form of silent indoctrination. Such silent indoctrination parallels the silent indoctrination of school history curricula, which do not permit students to come to understand how and why employers (and employees) arose (see previous posts on this silent indoctrination in schools).

This focus on violent personal crime, of course, forms the regular diet of many television programs. Similarly, the silence concerning violent corporate crimes (if indeed they are considered crimes at all) also forms the regular diet of most television programs and documentaries.

Should there not be constant discussion concerning this silent indoctrination within the labour movement? Is there? If not, why not? Or is the macro problem of around one thousand workers dying every year at work and hundreds of thousands of injuries (and diseases) not a problem that is to be immediately addressed but only “in the long run?” For those who die or who are injured, there is no “long run” since the problem which they face is immediate and due to ignoring the macro problem in the past.

Where is the left that is bringing out these issues? Or is the left busy formulating platitudes, such as “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth? ]

Does not the left have an attitude that working for an employer is really not all that bad? Do they not share the same attitude as the politicians, who did not want to go too far in the legislation? Or those on the left who talk of “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth while all the while assuming that decent work, fairness and economic justice can somehow be realized while the class power of employers still exists.

What do you think?

Employers as Dictators, Part One

I find it fascinating how the social-democratic or reformist left fall all over themselves, insisting that they are fighting for fairness and justice–and yet neglect the persistent injustice of having to work for an employer. (The same could be said of many who consider themselves radicals these days).

Elizabeth Anderson, in her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It) questions the assumption of the social-democratic or reformist left by pointing out how the power of employers resembles the power of communist dictators (pages 37-39):

Communist Dictatorships in Our Midst


Imagine a government that assigns almost everyone a superior
whom they must obey. Although superiors give most inferiors a
routine to follow, there is no rule of law. Orders may be arbitrary
and can change at any time, without prior notice or opportunity
to appeal. Superiors are unaccountable to those they order
around. They are neither elected nor removable by their inferiors.
Inferiors have no right to complain in court about how they
are being treated, except in a few narrowly defined cases. They
also have no right to be consulted about the orders they are given.
There are multiple ranks in the society ruled by this government.
The content of the orders people receive varies, depending
on their rank. Higher- ranked individuals may be granted
considerable freedom in deciding how to carry out their orders,
and may issue some orders to some inferiors. The most highly
ranked individual takes no orders but issues many. The lowest-ranked
may have their bodily movements and speech minutely
regulated for most of the day.

This government does not recognize a personal or private
sphere of autonomy free from sanction. It may prescribe a dress
code and forbid certain hairstyles. Everyone lives under surveillance,
to ensure that they are complying with orders. Superiors
may snoop into inferiors’ e- mail and record their phone conversations.
Suspicionless searches of their bodies and personal
effects may be routine. They can be ordered to submit to medical
testing. The government may dictate the language spoken
and forbid communication in any other language. It may forbid
certain topics of discussion. People can be sanctioned for their
consensual sexual activity or for their choice of spouse or life
partner. They can be sanctioned for their political activity and
required to engage in political activity they do not agree with.
The economic system of the society run by this government
is communist. The government owns all the nonlabor means
of production in the society it governs. It organizes production
by means of central planning. The form of the government is
a dictatorship. In some cases, the dictator is appointed by an
oligarchy. In other cases, the dictator is self- appointed.
Although the control that this government exercises over
its members is pervasive, its sanctioning powers are limited. It
cannot execute or imprison anyone for violating orders. It can
demote people to lower ranks. The most common sanction is
exile. Individuals are also free to emigrate, although if they do,
there is usually no going back. Exile or emigration can have
severe collateral consequences. The vast majority have no realistic
option but to try to immigrate to another communist
dictatorship, although there are many to choose from. A few
manage to escape into anarchic hinterlands, or set up their own
dictatorships.

This government mostly secures compliance with carrots.
Because it controls all the income in the society, it pays more to people who follow orders particularly well and promotes them
to higher rank. Because it controls communication, it also has
a propaganda apparatus that often persuades many to support
the regime. This need not amount to brainwashing. In many
cases, people willingly support the regime and comply with
its orders because they identify with and profit from it. Others
support the regime because, although they are subordinate to
some superior, they get to exercise dominion over inferiors. It
should not be surprising that support for the regime for these
reasons tends to increase, the more highly ranked a person is.
Would people subject to such a government be free? I expect
that most people in the United States would think not.
Yet most work under just such a government: it is the modern
workplace, as it exists for most establishments in the United
States. The dictator is the chief executive officer (CEO), superiors
are managers, subordinates are workers. The oligarchy that
appoints the CEO exists for publicly owned corporations: it is
the board of directors. The punishment of exile is being fired.
The economic system of the modern workplace is communist,
because the government— that is, the establishment— owns all
the assets,1 and the top of the establishment hierarchy designs
the production plan, which subordinates execute. There are no
internal markets in the modern workplace. Indeed, the boundary
of the firm is defined as the point at which markets end and
authoritarian centralized planning and direction begin.2
Most workers in the United States are governed by communist
dictatorships in their work lives.

This parallel of the power of communist (or fascist) dictators and the power of employers to dictate to workers is simply neglected by social-democratic reformers. They ignore the issue altogether, minimize it or, when some try to bring up the issue, engage in insults. Their own conception of what is fair is so limited that they have little to say about the daily experiences of billions of workers worldwide.

They remind me of something which Karl Marx wrote long ago. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital (page 91):

Perseus wore a magic cap so that the
monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic
cap down over our own eyes and ears so as to deny that there are
any monsters.


The social-democratic left seek to hide the reality of our own lives from us–lives characterized by dictatorship in various ways (with some freedoms, to be sure, such as limited freedom of speech–depending on where you are located on this planet and your status within that locality).

Let us listen to the social-democratic left for a moment as they characterize modern social relations and “draw the magic cap down over our eyes so as to deny that there are any monsters. As I wrote in another post:


As already mentioned, the left does not generally criticize management rights as such. Quite to the contrary. It uses rhetoric and euphemisms, such as “decent work,” “fair wages,” (Tracy McMaster), “a fair contract” (Wayne Dealy). It fails to criticize the pairing of the Fight for $15 with the concept of “fairness,” implying that fairness can be achieved within the employer-employee relation. It fails to criticize the rhetoric of “Fair Labour Laws Save Lives.” It fails to criticize the rhetoric of “economic justice” (John Cartwright).

At the Toronto Pearson airport (the largest in Canada, with between 40,000 and 50,000 employees), at the May Day rally, there was a banner being carried by some with the message: ‘Airport Workers Fighting for Decent Work.’ The banner also had the following: ‘$15/Fairness YYZ’ (YYZ is the airport code for Toronto Pearson International airport). If working for an employer is essentially working for a dictator, then the demand for decent work and fairness under such conditions is illogical. It is certainly necessary to fight for better working conditions and increases in wages and salaries, but better working conditions and an increased salary do not change the fundamentally dictatorial nature of employer power. To think otherwise–and the slogans express such thought–is to engage in delusions–which is hardly what the labour movement requires.

Organizations need to arise that express openly the reality of our lives so that we can begin to address the problems associated with that reality.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part One

The title is a variation of one of the subsections in chapter two of Jeremy Reiman’s The Rich Get Richer … and the Poor Get Prison.

In a couple of earlier posts, I pointed out that working for an employer involves needless deaths and injuries (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law). I have decided to start writing a series of posts on the issue of health and safety in the workplace since it is a key issue for workers.

Consider the following on the Fight for $15 and “Fairness” website (Fight for $15):

We NEED fair labour laws to save lives

On Tuesday, October 23, the Doug Ford government introduced Bill 47. This legislation seeks to impose a real dollar cut in the minimum wage and eliminate most of our new workplace rights, including paid sick days, equal pay for equal work, and more. If passed, this outrageous legislation will force millions into poverty, while putting workers’ health and safety at risk.

The introduction of Bill 47 by the conservative Ford government in Ontario, Canada (and the repeal of Bill 148, which introduced an increase in the minimum wage and a number of needed reforms of employment law) is presented as preventing the institution of “workers’ health and safety.” If Bill 148 had not been repealed and if Bill 47 were not passed (it was), then “workers’ health and safety” would not be “at risk.”  This is the unconscious or implicit assumption and message of the author of the article on that website. It is also the stated or unstated assumption of the social-reformist left.

The social-reformist left must absolutize the reforms which they seek. By absolutize, I mean that they must claim that there is somehow a fair situation that results if what they seek is realized. It is not, for them, a question of something fairer be realized but rather something that is fair.

The article mentions the community and union opposition that emerged against Bill 147, as well it should.

A little further down in the article, the recent death of a temporary worker at Fiera Foods is mentioned, and a vigil is called for. The vigil is to be lauded, and the article emphasizes that this is the fourth temporary worker killed working for the same food-processing plant.

However, the following is then claimed:

We know this heartbreaking death is not an isolated event…. It is what happens – and what will happen in the future – if workers are treated as disposable and if the laws meant to protect us are weakened, or not enforced at all.

Labour laws, like collective agreements, can certainly contribute to the improvement of workers’ lives, but can labour laws really prevent workers from being “treated as disposable?” It is the very nature of a society dominated by a class of employers that workers are disposable; to think otherwise is to not understand the basic nature of such a society (see   The Money Circuit of Capital)  for a characterization of workers as means or things for ends defined by employers).

The article then provides some probable consequences of instituting Bill 47, but it fails to consider whether, even if Bill 47 were withdrawn (it was not, and it passed), whether this would be sufficient to protect workers in an economy structured on the basis of the control of billions of workers throughout the world by a class of employers:

Let’s be clear about the serious implications of Bill 47:

  • When the government says freeze the minimum wage for 33 months, it means a real dollar cut in earnings for the lowest-paid workers in the province. After that wage cut, the minimum wage would only be adjusted in accordance with the previous year’s price increases (Consumer Price Index). It could be 2025 by the time the minimum wage reaches $15, and by then, a $15 wage will, once again, fall below the poverty line. This government wants to reimpose poverty on millions of workers in this province.

  • When the government says it wants to cut paid sick days, it is saying it has no problem forcing workers to work while they are sick or injured. It is saying they have no problem with parents having to send their sick child to school where they might spread illness to other children and education workers. It says this government has a complete disregard for the health and well-being of the people who keep this province functioning.

  • When the government says it wants to re-impose a requirement for Doctors’ notes, it is saying it has no problem forcing sick workers into hospital waiting rooms and risk spreading disease to others. It has no problem clogging up our health care system for visits that the Ontario Medical Association has said are unnecessary, wasteful, and costly. It says this government has no problem imposing red tape on workers and health providers.

  • When this government reduces penalties for employers who openly disregard the law – as Bill 47 seeks to do – this government is telling Ontario’s most unscrupulous employers that it is open season on the most vulnerable workers in this province. Especially those who work in temp agencies.

It is good to expose the extreme business-oriented position of the Conservative government, and the article is to be lauded for that. However, the following undermines this by implying that fair labour laws can somehow be achieved in the context of the present structure of the economy:

We need your help to deliver a message to Premier Doug Ford and his government: Fair labour laws, save lives. Bill 47 has not been passed, and it needs to be withdrawn immediately. Our elected officials must ensure our safety and well-being on the job, not jeopardize it.

Labour laws may increase the workers’ power by limiting further the power of employers as a class, but unless the labour law somehow challenges the principle of the power of employers as a class, it cannot be the sole basis for protecting workers from being used as disposable means for the benefit of employers. Workers should fight for labour laws that can serve as means to protect them from some of the ravages of employer-dominated establishments, but they should also organize initially at the local level on the shop floor as a fighting force that can oppose the power of management to treat them  as things to be used for goals not of their own making. Furthermore, they should realize that no labour law and no local level organization can protect them from the ravages of an economy in which they are economically dependent on employers; labour laws and local organizations can only reduce the likelihood of injury and accident but not eliminate it. The very nature of their economic dependence and their treatment as things includes the very real possibility of workplace injury and accident.

Should we not take seriously the following (from Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 2):

Perspectives on workplace injury

How you react to the vast number of workers injured and killed each year reflects your values and beliefs. Are these injures inevitable? Are they just the cost of doing business? One way to look at workplace injuries is from an economic perspective. This view sees the risk of injury as minimal, unavoidable and, ultimately, acceptable. Is it the price we (or at least workers) must pay for a “healthy” economy? If we are going to lower the risk of injury, we need to ensure the cost is less than the benefit we’ll receive. And the people best positioned to decide that are employers.

This economic perspective dominates the debate about workplace health and safety. It is the lingua franca of employers, bureaucrats, politicians, and most academics. There are, of course, alternative perspectives. An alternative advanced by workers views workplace injuries as the result of choices employers make in order to maximize profitability. Contrary to the slogan “safety pays,” it is usually cheaper for employers to organize work unsafely. This is especially true if employers can (with the tacit consent of government) pass along the cost of occupational injuries and disease to workers.

Should any leftist claim that any possible reform in the context of an economy dominated by a class of employers is fair? We certainly need to fight for reforms, but why bullshit the workers by calling such reforms fair? They are fairer or less fair, to be sure. To have labour laws that enable workers to protect themselves more is better than no labour laws or less effective labour laws. But how does this translate into fairness?

Why does the social-reformist left find it necessary to claim that such reforms express “decent work,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “fairness,” or “economic justice”?

What do you think?

Management Rights, Part Five: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario

There are some among the left who idealize the public sector. They fail to address how the public sector magically treats workers in the public sector, who are employees, as human beings rather than as things. They have no solution to the problem of the employer-employee relation in general except–nationalization. Such nationalization hardly implies democratization and humanization of the workplace, and yet the left continue to idealize the public sector.

From page 1, Collective Agreement:

THIS AGREEMENT made this 16th day of September, 2016
BETWEEN:
UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR, hereinafter called the ‘Employer
OF THE FIRST PART
and
UNIFOR LOCAL 2458 –
(FULL TIME OFFICE & CLERICAL UNIT) hereinafter call the “
Union”
OF THE SECOND PART:

ARTICLE 2 -MANAGEMENT RIGHTS

2:01 The Union acknowledges that all managerial rights of the Employer hitherto exercised by the Employer shall be reserved to it, except to the extent herein limited; and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Union acknowledges that it is the right of the Employer to:

(a) Manage, conduct and operate the University of Windsor;

(b) Maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

(c) Establish and enforce rules and regulations consistent with the provisions of this Agreement, governing the conduct of the employees;

(d) Hire, classify, direct, transfer, lay off, promote, demote, suspend, discipline or discharge employees for just cause provided that a claim of direction, transfer, promotion, demotion, lay off, suspension, discipline or discharge without just cause may be the subject of a grievance under the orderly procedure as outlined in this Agreement.

2:02 The Employer agrees that such rights shall be exercised in a fair manner consistent with the terms and provisions of this Agreement.

2:03 The Employer will inform the Union and the Chairperson, in writing, with at least one (1) month notice, prior to any changes concerning rules and regulations as referred to in 2:01 (c) above.

Should the radical left not develop a more critical approach to the public sector? Should it not also develop a more thoroughgoing critical analysis of this sector (as Marx did for the private sector)? What of public financing? What is the left’s analysis of such financing? In relation to the employer-employee relation and the power structure at work in the public sector?

Should the left engage in self-criticism–including its own theoretical, empirical and practical limitations?

 

Unions and Safety on Jobs Controlled by Employers

The following tries to explain why unions do not adequately address the safety concerns of rank-and-file workers who work for an employer. Of course, safety conditions in non-unionized settings may be even worse, but we should not idealize unionized settings either. They are better than non-unionized settings, generally, but they remain inadequate since workers’ safety and well-being are sacrificed for the benefit of the particular employer as well as for the benefit of the class of employers.

From Tom Dwyer (1991), Life and Death at Work: Industrial Accidents as a Case of Socially Produced Error. (New York: Springer Science+Business Media), page 77:

Continue reading “Unions and Safety on Jobs Controlled by Employers”

Getting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law

Steven Bittle, in his doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster (Kingston, Ontario: Queen’s University argues the following (from page ii):

Overall, the dissertation suggests that the assumptions that animated Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation and the meanings inscribed in its provisions throw serious doubt on its ability to hold corporations legally accountable for their harmful, anti-social acts. There is little reason to believe that the Westray bill will produce a crackdown on safety crimes, or seriously challenge corporations to address workplace injuries and death. While it will hold some corporations and corporate actors accountable – and thus far it has been the smallest and weakest – the primary causes of workplace injury and death (e.g., the tension between profit maximization and the costs of safety and the relative worth of workers/employees versus owners and investors) will continue.

The typical presentation of what is dangerous in our society is–crime. You merely have to look at the different tv shows (or Netflix shows) that have as their theme murder (one person or serial) compared to the number of shows that show how serious corporate actions lead to death and injury.

However, this focus on individual crime and violence goes hand in hand with a lack of focus on social crime and social violence–the violence of a class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class.

This lack of focus on the violence of the class of employers and the violence of the social structure is reflected in the social democratic left’s general attitude towards “accidents” at work. Undoubtedly, at particular work sites, and with particular union representatives, there is a sustained effort to reduce the possibility of injury and death. However, such efforts are inadequate because they do not address the systemic impact of the pursuit of profit on shifting the burden of danger towards workers (and, it should be said, consumers).

If the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular took seriously the violence perpetrated by the class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class, would they not begin a movement for the abolition of the class of employers and the social structure that supports that class? Is there any such movement in Canada? Perhaps there is, but I am unaware of such a movement.

In a previous post, it was pointed out that about double the number of workers die each year on the job when compared to the number of murders in Canada (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers) . Should this fact not be a constant topic of discussion for workers, for citizens, for permanent residents and for non-status immigrants?

What do you think of the health and safety of workers who work for an employer? Should it be a topic for constant discussion?

 

 

 

 

 

Management (Employer) Rights, Part Three: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Manitoba

I worked on a library project at the Dafoe Library at the University of Manitoba (Canada) around 1993.  The union to which I belonged was AESES (The Association of  Employees Supporting Educational Services). I wrote to the editor of the union newsletter, criticizing the limitations of unions. The business agent of the union responded by assuming that I was criticizing the existence of unions. He defended the union. I wrote  back, indicating the limitations of unions in relation to the power of employers. He then responded by implicitly defending the principles of collective agreements; he also misinterpreted some of my views. In another post, I will include the contents of what I wrote and his response.

The working situation was very hierarchical (top-down). This, undoubtedly for the social-democratic left, is inevitable. Democratic work relations for them, implicitly, are impossible. They refuse to confront the reality of dictatorship  at work and, by ignoring the issue, they consider it inevitable. How else could they talk about good contracts, fair contracts, decent work or economic justice?

I guess workers who find working for an employer–even when there exists a collective agreement–to be oppressive and exploitative should be taken to task and criticized. Indeed, about a year and a half ago I was explicitly called a condescending prick by a representative of a public union in Toronto, Canada.

Of course, this blog site is meant to criticize the views of the social-reformist left in various ways.

From

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
BETWEEN:
THE UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA
– and –
THE ASSOCIATION OF EMPLOYEES
SUPPORTING EDUCATION SERVICES
APRIL 4, 2015 to APRIL 4, 2019

page 10:

ARTICLE 4 EMPLOYER’S RIGHTS
4.1 Nothing in this Collective Agreement is intended nor shall it be construed as
denying or in any manner limiting the right of the Employer to control and
supervise all operations and direct all working forces, including the right to
determine the employee’s ability, skill, competence, and qualifications for the
job, and to hire, discharge, lay-off, suspend, discipline, promote, demote or
transfer an employee, and to control and regulate the use of all equipment and
property and promote efficiency in all operations, provided, however, that in the
exercise of the foregoing Employer’s rights the Employer shall not contravene
the provisions of this Collective Agreement.

4.2 The Parties also agree that the foregoing enumeration of Employer’s rights
shall not be deemed to exclude other functions not specifically set forth,
therefore, the Employer retains all of its other inherent rights.

Unions frequently use the term “fair contracts” in order to “sell” a tentative agreement to their members. They rarely address the legitimacy of the power of employers to direct the lives of its members. In the post following my letter to the editor to the AESES union newsletter,, we will see how one union representative did try to legitimize collective agreements and the power of management.

Do you think that the above employer’s rights clause expresses a democratic way of life at work? Or a dictatorial way of life at work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers

I submitted an article for the popular education journal Our Schools/Our Selves concerning the issue of safety (and the lack of critical thinking skills that is embodied in two Ontario curricula on Equity and Social Justice). In that article, I quote:

More than 1000 employees die every year in Canada on the job, and about 630,000 are injured every year (Bob Barnetson, 2010, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, p. 2). The same year as the publication of that work saw 554 homicides (Tina Mahonny, 2011, Homicide in Canada, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p. 1) —the number of employee deaths at work under the power of employers was around double the number of murders.

Murders are the focus of the social media and the criminal legal system. Inquiries into murders do occur, and some are very thorough. On the other hand, inquiries into the extent to which the pursuit of profit played a major role in the death of employees (or the extent to which the undemocratic nature of work of public-sector employers) are lacking. There is an implicit assumption that such deaths are acceptable and the cost of living in the modern world. Should not those concerned with social justice query such an assumption? Is there much discussion concerning the facts? Or is there silence over such facts? Should those concerned with social justice inquire into the ‘perspectives and values’ of curriculum designers? Should they attempt to “detect bias” in such documents?

Should not the issue of the relation between the pursuit of profit and needless deaths be a focus for public discussion on an ongoing basis if social justice is to be addressed? Where is the public discussion over the issue? Indeed, if critical thinking is to lead to “issues of power and justice in society,” you would expect to see inquiry into the power of employers and the relation of that power to the death, dismemberment and injury of workers. Is there any reference to such an issue in the two curricula documents?

Are not workers in our society bought and sold on a market called the labour market? As long as they are, they are “costs” to employers, and as costs employers tend to try to reduce such costs in order to obtain more profit (in the private sector). One of the ways in which they can reduce costs is by not spending much money on equipment and training that relates to safety. The temptation will always be there as long as employers exist and have control over workers. See (The Money Circuit of Capital) for an explanation.

What of public-sector workers? When I worked as a library technician for School District 57 in Prince George, B.C., we had a clause in the contract that indicated that we could do alternative work for 10 minutes per hour if we worked on a computer. I did this, but no one else did. Why not? It undoubtedly bothered my immediate supervisor (I performed work for those 10 minutes that clerks could do. I was being “inefficient” from an employer’s representative’s point of view). My hypothesis is that it was due to fear of reprisal. (I was also the union steward.)

This hypothesis receives some support from a study from a skills and employment survey in Britain (Fear at Work in Britain. Gallie, Feldstead, Green, & Inanc, 2013) found that workers’ feared job loss, unfair treatment and loss of job status; available historical statistics for the first two categories show that such fears have increased. In addition, when I took a health and safety course at the University of Manitoba in the early 1990s, the instructors (both government employees and trained in the science of occupational health and safety and inspectors themselves) implied that workers often would not complain because of the economic climate of high unemployment.

Should we not be discussing the issue of how a market for workers impacts on the health, safety and welfare of workers?

Should we not discuss such issues? Should not the class issue form a central element in any such discussion? Or is the class issue just a minor issue, one element among the many “identities” that we have?

The unions are not really addressing the class issue. Their reference to “economic justice,” “decent work,” “fairness”–without any justification whatsoever for the use of such terms, indicates that they wish to paper over and hide the real experiences of workers at work on a daily basis–an experience of economic dictatorship and economic coercion. How problems can be solved by hiding from them is beyond me. I guess the wise union representatives are far superior to us lowly workers.