As Texas Politicians Brag About Unregulated Texas, Workers Die and Families Suffer as a Result

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September 2015 - We are fortunate to be living and working in California!

As you’ve surely noticed in recent months and years, politicians from Texas love to brag about how much better their state is for big business than anyplace else, because of no annoying regulations or standards to protect the environment, consumers, and workers. For example, companies are not required to provide workers’ compensation insurance, and they don’t.

The Governor of Texas actually has a web page called “Texas Brags,” in which he does exactly that; brag about his state’s weak regulations and oversight.

They usually also throw in a sarcastic jab against California, falsely claiming that our elected government that requires oversight is killing business and jobs.

Here is what they don’t brag about. Texas, because of its lack of regulations, protections, and inspections, is getting its workers, especially construction workers, killed at a terribly alarming rate.

In 2014, The Dallas Morning News conducted an in-depth analysis of Texas’ rates of on-the-job fatalities, compared with other states and national averages. You can find and read that story here: http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/2014_workplace/

The clear results were that deregulated Texas is a singularly, terribly dangerous place to do building and construction work. The newspaper found that during a 10-year period, 580 more workers were killed on the job in Texas than would be expected on the basis of nationwide rates. That’s 580 Texas families that were devastated and lost their breadwinner.

The article continued: “Government and industry have invested relatively little in safety equipment, training and inspections, researchers say. And Texas is one of the toughest places to organize unions, which can promote safety.”

The newspaper pointed out how Texas’ terrible record contrasts with more strongly regulated and more union-dense California, which compared to national averages, had 1,200 fewer workplace deaths than expected.

Yes, in deregulated Texas, nearly 600 more workers are dead. In more common-sense California, with our standards and oversight, 1,200 more workers are still alive. Where would you rather work?

In fact, throughout the country, because of the lack of adequate training and safety measures, “states with weaker unions tended to have a higher fatality rate,” the Morning News reported.

Former Republican Governor Rick Perry was quoted in the story boasting of Texas’ lack of workplace regulations. “Let free enterprise reign, and be wary of overregulation. All that regulation adds to your overhead and you can’t operate at a profit.”  Of course, Perry didn’t boast about those hundreds of workers who have been killed by that philosophy.

The newspaper also noted that Texas, unlike California, has no occupational safety inspection agency, and so leaves that work to the underfunded and vastly overburdened federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

That’s why the fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas that exploded in 2013, killing 15 people and injuring 200, because of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, had not been inspected since 1985. Texas politicians don’t believe in burdensome things like safety regulations and inspections, and those victims and their families, including several firefighters, paid the ultimate price. Similar facilities in California are regularly inspected, and dangerous conditions ordered to be corrected.

Following a year-long investigation of that tragedy, Rafael Moure-Eraso, the chairman of the United States Chemical Safety Board, concluded that the explosion could have easily been prevented by adequate safety requirements. “It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

Apparently most Texas politicians think the deaths of hundreds of workers is a fair price to pay to preserve weak regulations that please big businesses.

In fairness, there are some representatives in Texas with good records on worker safety issues, but unfortunately, they are a minority. One of them is State Representative Armando Walle, who wrote in an opinion column that in addition to its dreadful record on worker safety, Texas further harms workers by denying them workers’ compensation.

He wrote in the Houston Chronicle: “Texas is currently the only state in the country that does not require workers’ compensation for private employers.” And, he adds, very few employers do so voluntarily. Therefore, Representative Walle adds, injured workers are forced to simultaneously deal with medical bills and rehabilitative services, and hire legal representation to seek compensation in court.

He tells of a worker who on a commercial construction project, working without fall-protection equipment or a secure scaffold, fell from a roof and was left paralyzed. “Because his employer did not have workers’ compensation or other benefits, the lost income and nearly $900,000 in medical bills devastated his family’s livelihood,” Walle explained. Much of these costs were absorbed by taxpayers.

You can find Representative Walle’s column here: http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Texas-is-No-1-in-a-grim-statistic-4400677.php

Here in California, we have a workplace safety agency and we require workers’ compensation. We have elected leaders who actually care about the health and safety of working people, and their families and communities.  We enforce requirements on all employers that creates an even playing field and actually sets standards that all shall be insured with workers’ compensation, insulating both the company and the taxpayer, protecting the worker and seeking justice for all.

Without a doubt, we are much safer as a result.

 

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