Hightower: Is Death the Price of Having a Job? In Some Corporations It Seems Like It
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Their names probably won't mean mean anything to you, but these people ought to have some modicum of personal recognition: Jason Anderson, Aaron Dale "Bubba" Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl Kleppinger, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, and Adam Weise. These are the 11 workers who were killed when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
For months after the disaster, national media outlets featured extensive coverage of BP's calamitous well -- as they should -- showing us satellite pictures of the spreading plumes of pollution, footage of dead pelicans, estimates of the ecological horror on the ocean floor, analyses of the frantic efforts to stop the oil, commentaries on the astonishing arrogance of corporate executives, feature stories about the slick's impact on Gulf tourism, interviews with lawmakers demanding much tougher environmental protections, etc...
But what about those people? Most of the 11 were in their twenties and thirties. They had families and futures. Yet, aside from an occasional off-handed reference to the general body count, their fate had pretty much been dropped from discussion about the cost of our country's cavalier ethic of "drill, baby, drill." And what about the 17 other rig workers who were injured in the Deepwater explosion, many of them badly burned and maimed. There's barely been any media mention of the price they paid for the corporate rush to complete this well, much less any follow-up on their painful and costly ordeal.
I'm not pleading here for maudlin coverage of victims -- but for ACTION! Just as the Deepwater catastrophe is a screaming wake-up call and a vital teaching moment for environmental protection, so it is for the protection of America's workforce. Eleven people didn't merely perish in the Gulf on April 20; they were killed by a careless cabal of corporate greedheads and ideological boneheads. It's a case of institutional murder -- and it's a shockingly common occurrence in our country.
LITTLE-KNOWN STATISTIC: Each day, on average, 14 American workers are killed on the job. They're killed by explosions, trench cave-ins, electrocutions, falls, suffocations, fires, poisonings, manglings, and so forth. Another 50,000 to 60,000 workers die each year from cancers, black lung, and other diseases caused by their jobs.
This is murder, because nearly all of these deaths are preventable with proper equipment, work rules, and regulatory enforcement.
This is murder, because CEOs, boards of directors, and financiers know the deaths will occur, but continue to take shortcuts on worker safety and health in order to goose up their profits, secure in the knowledge that they can get away with it. Even if caught, they merely pay a minimal fine.
This is murder, because lawmakers and regulators (national, state, and local) turn a blind eye to its pervasiveness and constancy, insisting that each "incident" is an isolated event that should not interfere with the drive for corporate competitiveness. This is murder, because the media establishment only yelps when one occurs, then goes back to sleep as reform is stalled and the system drifts back to business as usual.
Multiple killings at least make the news. This year alone, in addition to the 11 Deepwater deaths, we've had mass funerals for:
- Six workers killed on February 7 in an explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems power plant in Middletown, Connecticut.
- Seven killed in the April 2 explosion of a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington.
- TWENTY-NINE coal miners killed when Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine exploded on April 5 in West Virginia.
Mostly, though, the dead go one at a time, causing little public notice beyond local media reports carrying such anonymous headlines as "Scaffold Collapses, Man Dies," or "Fire Kills Worker at Local Plant." Death ought not be the price of having a job. But corporate deaths are happening every day, and our "leaders" are accepting it. It's a national disgrace.