Thursday, November 27, 2008

Letter: Worker safety is still an important concern

Letter: Worker safety is still an important concern

Ed Slavin
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 10/09/06

Editor: As Saint Augustine wrote, "an unjust law is no law at all." unjust laws and unjust stewards in our governments are causing preventable deaths (not just in Iraq), while wasting your money on junkets and flubdubs. Callous governments kill.

Gov. Jeb Bush abolished Florida's worker safety division in 2000, abrogating all of its rules and closing its doors. Now city, county and state government employees (including first responders) are unprotected. They can "hang from roofs from a string," says a federal OSHA inspector.

For millennia, roof fall deaths have been prevented with lifelines/barriers.

On September 8th, a county employee died, falling through an FCTI skylight. No Florida laws protected him.

On August 28, roofers were working at the Visitor Information Center (VIC), unadorned by harnesses, hardhats or other safety gear ñ clambering quickly around the VIC's pitched, plywood-covered roof, at risk of falling, 14 feet to a debris field, while risking nail gun deaths to workers in harm's way below. Videographer J.D. Pleasant e-mailed photos to OSHA, which is investigating city contractors. Several years ago, the Public Works Department promised to protect employees, who were unprotected roofing the Lighthouse Restaurant (now a community center).

Our city government actually annexed and platted homes on an arsenic-contaminated golf course without proper testing/remediation first. Geologist Dr. Alfred Hirsch told commissioners on Oct. 13, 2003 their actions were unprecedented. Uncaring city commissioners claimed arsenic was not the city's concern.

Last year, Mayor George Gardner and Commissioner Donald Crichlow told Folio Weekly our city has "no oar in the water" when Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison slashed tour train and Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum employees' pay/benefits. They refused to call Mr. Pattison (whom I got on the telephone in 30 seconds).

In 2006, FDEP found city managers violated environmental laws, even refusing training to workers before putting them in harm's way, sorting through 20,000 cubic yards of old landfill waste, high in arsenic and other toxic contaminants ñ a cubic yard for every Lightner Museum treasure. Will our city's official-dumpers be indicted, as in Clay County?

Federal officials kill workers by neglecting safety, even on the roof of the U.S. Department of Labor. On July 19, 1989, a roofer driving an ATV died in a 47-foot fall from DOL's roof in Washington, D.C., overlooking the Capitol ñ nearly killing Alan C. McMillan, OSHA's Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor (now head of the National Safety Council). It took hours for investigators to arrive ñ OSHA had exiled Washington construction inspectors to Baltimore. OSHA managers could see reckless roofing practices on DOL's roof for weeks before the fatality.

It's wrong for governments to shred rights to safe, nonretaliatory workplaces.

As in 1776, Americans today confront brazen-faced authoritarians, symbolized by the Tennessee state environmental manager who told "his" employees, "You're the state's for 7 1/2 hours per day and if I tell you to jump off the roof, you jump off the roof."

Nobody should be expected to die or surrender human rights for a thoughtless, reckless employer. Nobody should be taxed to support waste and mismanagement.

Our city's bloated budget is now $50 million, with a 22 percent general fund increase. Our City's underutilized $22 million parking garage is too big (like one in Spokane, which was misled by the same organization our city consulted, leading to Spokane's out-of-court-settlements). St. Augustine commissioners ignored warnings from financial expert Peter Romano on the parking garage, with only Commissioner Donald Crichlow curtly responding by e-mail ("That's not happening here").

Governments are captive to special interests, unconcerned for people. Locally, "reformers" reformed nothing, betraying supporters.

On Sept. 11, 2006, Mayor Gardner fondly remembered "developers" were once called "city fathers," saying we must "cooperate."

In response to public questions since my June 25 Record column, "St. Augustine: We can make it much better," our mayor and vice mayor admit, "There's no dialogue here." The city won't answer questions on unsafe practices, illegal dumping, junkets, Sunshine and First Amendment violations. See Vote to put people first, treasuring the lives of living, breathing people, protecting them from preventable deaths, venerating the culture of life. As County Commissioners Karen Stern and Bruce Maguire learned on Sept. 5, we're disgusted with developer-coddling. We support honest government and reject what CNN's Lou Dobbs calls "the race to the bottom."

I support Lincolnville's Peter Romano for St. Augustine mayor/commissioner, Justice Department retiree Ken Bryan for county commissioner and Rep. Jim Davis for governor. On Nov. 7, let's celebrate independence and restore competence, compassion and decency, from St. Augustine to Tallahassee to Washington.

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