Labor Relations (Unions), Wage and Hour Laws, OSHA
Persistent violators of OSHA regulations are of major concern to government regulators, the general public and employees themselves. What should be done when a company repeatedly ignores safety violations?
For your case assignment, you will read about an employment situation that might seem unreal.
Read the following article, available in ProQuest:
David Barstow and Lowell Bergman. (2003, March 11). OSHA to address persistent violators of job safety rules. New York Times (Late Edition (east Coast)), p. A.1. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from National Newspapers (27) database. (Document ID: 304103091).
Then read The McWane Story. Read about its philosophy, its record, and the people killed in its plants. Plus, examine company and government documents -- and more of McWane's response to FRONTLINE, The New York Times and the CBC's reporting at PBS' Front Line web site.
Be sure that you understand the various nuances of the case by reading--The McWane Way, The Victims, OSHA Rejects, and McWane's Response. For an update, please read http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/mcwane/way/. Also look into OSHA, by reading www.osha.gov/doc/outreachtraining/htmlfiles/introsha.html. Conduct a search looking for more recent information on both McWane and on OSHA.
After you have read the various items from the websites above and the New York Times article, be sure to look for recent articles on the McWane company and on OSHA to see if any recent developments/changes have occurred.
Please answer the following:
--Before the PBS investigation, why was OSHA ineffective in bringing about change in McWane's unsafe work practices?
--Consider the role of the labor union at McWane. What were the union's activities as they regarded safety? Was there more that they could/should have done? What should be a labor union's role in employee safety?
--Did change finally take place? Did OSHA bring about changes? Did the union? Be specific. Look for another company's large scale unsafe practices that have gained OSHA's attention recently. How do those practices/violations compare to McWane's?
--Were there changes made to OSHA's handling of unsafe practices under the Bush administration (beyond changes to OSHA Standards)? Please discuss.
--Have there been changes to OSHA under the Obama administration? What changes are expected? Discuss.
--Summarize your Fed Ex's practices/programs as they relate to safety. What advice might Fed Ex make to the McWane Company today concerning workplace safety?
The solution is in the attached document.
Investigating Workplace Safety
Why OSHA was Ineffective
Prior to the PBS investigation, OSHA was unable to bring about changes in the
unsafe work practices at McWane's various plants. The agency was aware of the problems
and had issued 30 citations for operating machines being operated without guards. OSHA
was aware of the high rate of injuries among maintenance workers in the Tyler, Texas plant
and the loss of limbs and deaths that had occurred. One OSHA worker has been quoted
making a comment about the obvious disfigurement of many workers in the plant.
However, at the time, there was no legislation that allowed the agency to take stronger
legal action against the company.
A PBS reporter learned of the unsafe conditions by running into an investigator from
the Justice Department, who intended to investigate a death at the plant. One of the
problems in enforcing regulations was that prosecuting a specific individual from the
company would be nearly impossible. Wrongful death at that time was classified as a
misdemeanor, rather than a felony. It would be impossible for the Justice Department to
prosecute anyone specific from McWane for the deaths of workers. McWane did get the
attention of Federal regulators, for its EPA violations, which is quickly addressed. To
address the high rate of employee injuries, McWane executives issued a memorandum that
held workers at fault for their own injuries, regardless of the situation (Barstow and
Bergman, 2003). Many Workers Compensation claims were denied and the company hired
an outside Occupational Healthcare provider to make determinations about injuries, laying
blame on employees most often. McWane was eventually prosecuted by the Justice
Department, owing several millions in fines for repeated OSHA safety violations in its
Birmingham, Alabama and Tyler, Texas plants.
Why the Union was Ineffective
The Union at the McWane Tyler Pipe facility was very weak. With the high turnover of
workers and reduction in more than half its number of workers, it became difficult for the
Union to maintain a strong presence. "The contract barred strikes, permitted 16-hour days and let
breaks be canceled" (Barstow & Bergman, 2003). There was no real representation for worker safety.
However, the purpose of a Union is among other things, to help ensure the safe and
proper working conditions of workers. Labor unions were established to help ensure safety
and proper working conditions for employees, from the beginning, when the first labor union
was formed. The labor union perspective is that most unsafe working conditions are caused
by management lack of willingness to address an unsafe condition, rather than from
employees behaving in an unsafe manner(O'Connor). Workers are often held responsible
for safety, even when measures to physically improve safety could be adopted by the
Though unions throughout history have taken great strides in making the workplace
safer, the trend today, in downsizing and cutting production worker jobs, has led to an
increase in safety hazards for workers. "The AFL-CIO released a report on April 26 that highlights
the increase in worker deaths from 2005 to 2006 and the inefficiencies of the OSH Act" (Torres, 2008).
Union safety representatives believe that they can do more for workers by educating them on safety
Issues, so they can more easily identify safety measures in the workplace that the organization should
address. Torres (2008) suggests that unions can do a better job of representing workers, when they
know what the issues are.
Most unions have an appointed safety officer though, who is familiar with or should be familiar
with OSHA standards, among other safety requirements. The safety officer should be working with the
The expert examines the OSHA's handling of unsafe practices under administrations.