So much about the planet’s future will depend on processes that humans today cannot directly observe — because they are occurring hundreds of meters below the sea surface where enormous marine glaciers, in Greenland and Antarctica, simultaneously touch the ocean and the seafloor.
The more we learn about this crucial yet inscrutable place, the more worrying it seems.
The latest exhibit: New research out of Greenland conducted by Dartmouth earth sciences Ph.D. student Kristin Schild and two university colleagues — work that has just been published in the Annals of Glaciology. The study examined the 5.5-kilometer-wide Rink Glacier of West Greenland, with particular focus on how meltwater on the ice sheet’s surface actually finds its way underneath Rink, pours out in the key undersea area described above and speeds up the glacier’s melt.
It’s a feedback process that, if it plays out across many other similarly situated glaciers, could greatly worsen Greenland’s overall ice loss. “These big tidewater outlet glaciers are the ones that are contributing these huge icebergs, they’re the ones that have rapidly, rapidly sped up in the last decade,” Schild said. This makes it critically important to learn “what are the main factors…that are leading to all these fast changes,” she added.
Greenland is an enormous sheet of ice, capable of raising sea levels by some 20 feet if it were somehow to melt entirely and its waters were to pour into the ocean. Fortunately, it can’t just do that all of a sudden — the vast ice sheet only reaches the ocean at relatively narrow, finger-like glaciers that stretch out into fjords, or underwater canyons that lead out to the sea.
Despite it usually being Erik Loomis’ bailiwick, I wanted to wish all of you a happy May Day, and to share three thoughts with you about the slogan that was associated with May Day – “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will” – and what we can learn about the meaning of this day through that slogan.
The history of the day – its links to the Haymarket Affair, the eight-hour day movement, its adoption all over the world, its subversion here at home – is well known enough that I don’t want to repeat it here. Instead, I want to focus on the three parts of the slogan:
Eight Hours for Work
To me, this part of the slogan is significant because it speaks to the eight-hour day as an example of a successful, gradualist, labor reform that was brought forward by a movement determined to limit, if not entirely prevent, the exploitation of labor by capital. Before there was an eight-hour movement, there was a ten-hour movement. The ten-hour movement, fighting against factory work schedules of 12-15 hours a day, made the same arguments about the inhumane nature of long work days, how long hours robbed workers of the fair value of their labor by giving them the same pay for more hours, how it hurt families, hurt people’s health and productivity, and created an entire class of people who lived like drones, able to do nothing more than work, eat, and sleep. They won that fight, and it was a fight that took strikes and protests and legislation and persuation, and then they started organizing for the eight-hour day.
And at a time when the Fight for Fifteen has moved from an impossibility to something to be bargained with (remember $10.10? Remember $12?) and then to be co-opted, and now to be enacted, it’s important to remember that gradualist reform can work as long as you keep moving and keep the pressure up against the inevitable backsliding and push-back. For good and for bad, there’s nothing natural or set in stone about the forty-hour, five day work week, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t fight for better, more predictable, and more humane standards in the face of employers who thrive on a system where workers are simultaneously underemployed and overworked and want to make it even more so.
The thirty-five hour week works in France, the six-hour work day works in Sweden. We deserve no less.
Eight Hours for Sleep
This part of the slogan speaks to how work takes a toll on the human body. Erik Loomis has done sterling work pointing to the history of industrial injuries, diseases, and deaths, but there is also a growing body of research that looks at the subtler ways in which class affects our health. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to get the sleep than you need. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to experience chronic pain. The poorer you are, the more stress you experience and the harder it hits you. The poorer you are, the shorter your lifespan.
The eight-hour day movement was one of the first recognitions of this phenomenon, long before the medical or social scientific community got involved. Having eight hours sleep a night wasn’t just about making workers more productive or lowering the rate of industrial injury – those were rationales largely directed at middle class voters, although they were all true – but about trying to limit the damage that capitalism and inequality was doing to the human body, and to literally save lives.
Given what we are now learning about the way that stress affects health, and the historic and growing economic inequality’s effects on the inequality of lived experiences, this task has become all the more pressing. The adage of a new Gilded Age is quite popular today, and it should be, but in this aspect, we are seeing something more similar to the Middle Ages, when descriptions of physical health and beauty went hand-in-hand with descriptions of class.
Eight Hours for What We Will
And this is where we get to the issue of democracy, which is appropriate for May Day of a long primary season in a presidential election year. One of the arguments made for the eight-hour day movement was that a class of drones, people who only had the time to work, eat, and sleep, could not participate in a democratic society – you needed time to read the newspaper and follow the political issues of the day, to be an active participant in the highly-mobilized party politics of the 19th century, to not just vote but get out the vote. And all of that is true, but there is often a kind of po-faced seriousness that sometimes is attached to the idea of free time as necessary for good citizenship. I don’t mean to denigrate the working-class auto-didact – I come from a long line of them – but free time isn’t just about engaging in intellectually cultivating pastimes.
Rather, I think it’s about actually experiencing freedom on a day-to-day basis. As I wrote a long time ago, the workplace is one of the least free places in America. And the people who fought for the eight-hour day and the ten-hour day before that realized that you can’t spend every waking hour of your life in a place where you have no freedom of speech, no privacy, no right to due process, and actually know what freedom feels like, let alone develop the habits of an independent citizen. So eight hours “for what we will” is about the will – whether it’s beer or Shakespeare, the important thing is that you’re deciding how you’re going to spend your time, that for part of every day no one but you is telling you what to do.
So go enjoy your May Day, because no matter what you’re doing with the day, you’re doing it right.
This is the grave of John D. Rockefeller.
I hardly need to explain to you all who Rockefeller was. The wealthiest man in American history in real money, the Standard Oil monopolist took over 90% of the American oil industry using methods both legal and nefarious, as Ida Tarbell famously exposed. A Baptist prig who combined his fundamentalist Protestantism with Social Darwinism to justify his own disgusting actions, we can all take comfort in the fact that Rockefeller suffered from a condition later in life that made him lose all his hair, looking like the shriveled troll on the outside that he was on the inside. Like many of his monopolist contemporaries, Rockefeller loved to combine public statements about morality with private doings that showed no moral compass at all except the insatiable desire for ever-greater profit.
What I really love here though is that beneath the obelisk is the actual resting place of Rockefeller and various family members (though not his famous sons and grandsons). But there is nothing growing out of Rockefeller’s actual resting place.
I am hoping that this lack of growth can be explained by one of two things. First, Rockefeller’s putrescent corpse is so filled with bile and evil that it is the equivalent of salting the Earth and nothing will ever grow above it again. The second option is that the soil is turning acidic from people leaving liquid offerings. At least we can hold on to this dream, whatever the actual circumstances.
John D. Rockefeller is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.
The anti-gay, anti-transgender fearmongering never ends. It might retreat as civil rights and social acceptance is slowly achieved, but there’s always another scare campaign about scary queer people.
Such fear mongering against gays and transgender people is a time-tested strategy, despite plenty of evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. In the battle for marriage equality, the nation was told time and again that marriage itself, along with the American family, would be imperiled if same-sex couples were allowed to marry. “Freedom will be taken away,” said one infamous 2009 ad titled “Gathering Storm.” Religion would be destroyed because the clergy would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, no matter their convictions. Yet none of these doomsday scenarios has come to pass.
The particular terrors that fueled the campaigns in Houston and North Carolina have an even longer history. In the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” opponents of openly gay service spent decades fanning the flames of anxiety about straight recruits sharing quarters — sharing showers! — with known gays and lesbians. At one point, senators held congressional hearings in the bowels of a nuclear submarine to infuse the news cycle with frightening images of the compromised privacy of military life. The message was clear: In such conditions, gay people were not to be trusted, unit cohesion could not be maintained and an inclusive policy would be a clear and present danger to the United States.
Again, none of this was true, as a wealth of research before and after “don’t ask, don’t tell” concluded (some of it was buried by those opposed to change).
A 2003 Palm Center study found that the experience of military and paramilitary organizations that lifted their gay bans showed that “cohesion, morale, recruitment, retention and privacy will be preserved or even enhanced” by ending policies that required gay people to lie about their identities or stay out of uniform. Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them) in fact developed an “etiquette of disregard.” In doctor’s offices, in military barracks, in locker rooms and restrooms, most people simply finished their business and ignored those around them. Those who had predicted disaster were spectacularly wrong.
But no amount of evidence seems capable of stopping the fear strategy. The Rand Corp. has completed a new study on transgender military service concluding, unsurprisingly, that ending discrimination against transgender troops will not harm military readiness. The Pentagon has neither released the study nor met its own deadline for reviewing the policy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who wrongly predicted that openly gay military service would “complicate things” and “make it very difficult for us to take care of the troops,” is now opposing service by transgender troops because — guess what — he can’t understand which bathrooms they would use. And Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who had earlier wrongly predicted that openly gay troops would drive away one-quarter of the military, is now predicting that transgender service will increase sexual assaults.
If there’s one group that it’s not too easy to feel bad for, it’s the business community, but the corporate all-in to maximize profit at the top is now affecting MBAs as the Uberization of the lower and mid-range business workers is now taking place.
In a brick-and-beam former warehouse in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, Rob Biederman and Patrick Petitti are building an online network that could change how white-collar work gets done.
In the same way Uber built a network of drivers, and Craigslist can help you find someone willing to paint your back porch tomorrow, the company that Biederman and Petitti cofounded, HourlyNerd, has attracted 22,000 independent consultants with MBA degrees from 45 top universities, all willing to do projects for clients that range from the corner clothing boutique to conglomerates like General Electric.
Business owners can understand the allure of paying someone a few thousand bucks to analyze three different locations for a new shop. But anyone who sits in front of a computer every day, analyzing data and assembling PowerPoint presentations, is probably justified in fretting about what this could mean for their job.
And these online expert networks could evolve into potent competition for some of the best-known management consulting firms, like McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting Group. The traditional consultants are a bit like the livery companies that were the only game in town before Uber arrived: high-touch and expensive, but don’t try to call them 10 minutes before you need them to show up.
The outsourced, temped, franchised, subcontracted, independent contractor economy is frequently justified and celebrated when it hurts working class people. Getting rid of or disempowering taxi drivers and hotel cleaners and Toyota employees and McDonald’s workers is all good when profit is at stake. But there is no reason that this can’t go far up the corporate ladder. Much of pharmacy work, legal work, and financial workers can be sent overseas. Other work can be temped or contracted in other ways. This is just one example. The emphasis on “disruption” and corporate profit over steady jobs is not only a real threat to the middle class, not to mention the working class, but it is actually destroying it as we speak.
The legendary anti-war priest Father Daniel Berrigan died today at 94. He was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother, Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the anti-war and anti-draft movement during the late 1960s as well as the anti-nuclear movement.
In 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. Later that year he and eight others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, MD. Then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire using homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.
As has observed more than once in this space, that Maureen Dowd not only somehow maintains a sinecure in the nation’s most prominent op-ed space but actually receives industry honors is a classic illustration of the poor taste and judgment of America’s overpaid and underachieving elites. She has yet another abysmal addition to her canon of hot takes:
IT seems odd, in this era of gender fluidity, that we are headed toward the most stark X versus Y battle since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
It’s the perfect MoDo first sentence — a meaningless generalization and dated pop culture reference combined to produce an banal, shallow point. It’s done again and again. Like this, after the inevitable and not actually very appropriate comparison of Trump and his cronies to the Rat pack:
Hillary Clinton’s rallies, by contrast, can seem like a sorority rush reception hosted by Lena Dunham, or an endless episode of “The View,” with a girl-power soundtrack by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato. The ultimate insider is portraying herself as an outsider because she’s a woman, and the candidate who is considered steely is casting herself as cozy because she’s a doting granny.
Sometimes, you hear that even if Dowd’s ideas are lame, you have to admit she can write. No I do not. It’s all cliches and references and phrases that seem to take the form of humor while never, ever being funny. Also, as Charlie Pierce said about Bill Simmons — only it applies much more forcefully here — Dowd’s “vaunted pop-cult knowledge is carved out of a very thin loaf of Wonder Bread.” The one billionth lazy, meaningless reference to Lena Dunham — Dowd sure is on top of the zeitgeist.
Clinton and Trump have moved on to their mano a womano fight, leaving behind “the leftovers,” as Trump labels deflated rivals.
“Mano a womano” is witless, and what this sentence — like the entirety of the column to this point — is telling us is that each major party will field a candidate in the upcoming general election, one of them a man and one a woman. Maureen Dowd makes a six figure salary.
Now we reach the point where the column stops becoming merely something too banal to be worthy of publishing alongside the onion dip recipes and profiles of B-list celebrities in the Sunday supplement in the local paper and becomes actively offensive:
“It’s going to be nasty, isn’t it?” says Obama Pygmalion David Axelrod. “Put the small children away until November.”
It sure is great that “Barry” Obama knew a white guy who could teach the former president of the Harvard Law Review how to act in polite society.
A peeved Jane Sanders called on the F.B.I. to hurry up with the Hillary classified email investigation.
We can only hope that Cruz, who croons Broadway show tunes, and Carly, who breaks into song at the lectern, will start doing duets from “Hamilton.”
I have to give her this: she never misses the opportunity to include the most obvious pop culture reference in a way that doesn’t say anything. It’s impressive in its own way. You’d think one of them would be funny one time if only my accident, but nope.
Longtime Dowd watchers will note, however, that she’s been playing against type here, unprecedentedly arguing that Hillary Clinton is a woman. So you already know the twist that’s coming: in fact, all Democratic men are women and all Democratic women are men:
On some foreign policy issues, the roles are reversed for the candidates and their parties. It’s Hillary the Hawk against Donald the Quasi-Dove.
Just as Barack Obama seemed the more feminized candidate in 2008 because of his talk-it-out management style, his antiwar platform and his delicate eating habits, always watching his figure, so now, in some ways, Trump seems less macho than Hillary.
He has a tender ego, pouty tweets, needy temperament and obsession with hand sanitizer, whereas she is so tough and combat-hardened, she’s known by her staff as “the Warrior.”
The idea that a “tender ego” and “needy temperament” (or, for that matter, “obsession with hand sanitizer”) are inconsistent with masculine bluster is hilarious. One amazing thing about Dowd is how inept the Judy Miller of love is even on the only subject she actually cares about, gender stereotypes.
And finally, what would a Maureen Down column be without a massive factual howler that benefits the Republican candidate:
The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like Obama, he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea.
Trump’s assertion that he opposed the Iraq War ex ante is an utter lie, and since it’s the sole basis for asserting that Trump is any kind of “dove” that’s kind of a problem. But it’s a lie that fits the narrative, and that’s all the Pulitzer winner has ever needed.
Seems as if young people are starting to realize that Teach for America is a scam that puts them in educational settings for which they have no preparation in order to bust teachers’ unions, a position that might not make sense to some who want to become full-time teachers.
Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.
Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive, announced the figures in an online letter to supporters Tuesday morning, describing the steps that the organization is taking to stoke interest and reverse the trend.
“Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades,” she wrote. “And they call on us all to reconsider and strengthen our efforts to attract the best and most diverse leaders our country has to offer.”
TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.
Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.
But as Teach for America’s influence has grown, so has resistance to it. The organization — which trains prospective teachers for five weeks and demands just a two-year commitment — has drawn criticism for creating instability in troubled schools that could benefit from sustained efforts with more experienced educators.
She blamed the decline on a number of factors that are driving enrollment drops in many teacher-preparation programs, including the improving economy, which offers young college graduates more options than they had during the recession. In addition, she wrote, the public debate about education is polarized and “toxic,” driving away talented people from a profession that needs them.
“Anyone concerned with the future of our nation should be alarmed by the staggering decline in enrollment we’re seeing across the country in teacher preparation programs,” she wrote.
She tacitly acknowledged that some of the recruitment problems are due to increasingly vocal critics of TFA, including some alumni. “The toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact,” she wrote.
Why, it’s old white men! Younger people accept climate science at rates far higher than older people and both African-Americans and Latinos at rates far higher than whites. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t specifically break it down by gender as well, but it definitely places the blame on what it calls “the white male effect.”
The ethnicity gap (and the age gap) can likely be explained in part by certain groups’ general preferences for maintaining the status quo. Social scientists have identified what they’ve termed the “white male effect,” describing the fact that white males tend to be less concerned about various sources of risk than minorities and women. Scientists have speculated that this effect largely stems from the fact that mitigating these risks could result in restrictions on markets, commerce, and industry that have historically tended to disproportionately benefit white males. In other words, if you are already doing well from the system, you’re less inclined to change it—no matter how much the ice melts and the oceans rise. In their 2011 paper “Cool Dudes,” Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap concluded: “The unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.” And climate change denialism is largely—but not exclusively—a US phenomenon.
In fact, their research found that conservative white males who express the highest confidence in their opinions about climate science and risks are the most wrong, and in the most severe denial. McCright and Dunlap concluded that “climate change denial is a form of identity-protective cognition, reflecting a system-justifying tendency.” This may also contribute to the age gap, since younger Americans have not yet benefitted from the societal status quo to the same degree as older Americans.
Minorities also tend to be disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change, and realize the benefits of addressing it. For example, minorities are more likely to live in close proximity to coal power plants and their associated air pollution. Cutting carbon pollution would result in fewer coal power plants, and hence cleaner air for these populations. Many minorities have also recently emigrated from countries that are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. In other words, some minority groups (particularly Latinos) are more likely to have “transnational ties,” and an awareness of how people in other countries think about and are affected by climate change.
It’s almost like old white men may not be the cause of many of this nation’s intractable problems!
Stone Mountain, Georgia is an abhorrent place, one of the single most reprehensible spots in the United States. A beautiful geological formation, unfortunately it has served as a center of American white nationalist ideology for over a century. It was the meeting point for the founders of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. In 1916, the owner deeded the north side of the mountain to the United Daughters of the Confederacy so that figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis could be blasted into the side, the largest and most ambitious of the new monuments to white power erected in the South during the late 19th and early 20th century. It didn’t really go anywhere for a long time, with various architects, including Gutzon Borglum, failing to make much progress. The KKK took over fundraising for it and in 1923, the owner granted the KKK an easement to hold rallies there at any time. But it still stalled out until the civil rights movement led to a new spasm of white nationalism in the South. In 1958, the Georgia legislature passed a law to buy the mountain and in 1964, the carving of the slaver heroes started. It was completed in 1972, shortly after Jimmy Carter, who won the Democratic primary against someone to his left in part by criticizing his opponent for supporting Martin Luther King, replaced the arch-segregationist Lester Maddox as Georgia’s governor.
It’s now surrounded by a theme park and a cheesy light show shines on our Treason in Defense of Slavery leaders nightly, but that doesn’t mean that the tackiness means it shines less brightly in the meth-addled eyes of current white supremacists. In fact, there was a racist rally just last weekend, which of course led to the counter-rally and then the real horror, the canceling of the evening’s laser light show.
Remember Mudcat Saunders, the “Democratic strategist” who was once very briefly a thing among the kind of Democrats who fret about the party abandoning the SCOTS-IRISH faction who properly own the party in perpetuity? The Daily Tucker wishes to share his Deep Thoughts about the forthcoming elections:
“I know a ton of Democrats — male, female, black and white — here [in southern Virginia] who are going to vote for Trump. It’s all because of economic reasons. It’s because of his populist message,” Mudcat told The Daily Caller Wednesday.
Yeah, I totally believe that Mudcat has lots of African-American Democratic friends who are voting for Trump. Their front lawns all have unicorns that gently prance around statues of Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. And then they go to sleep under a Rebel flag quilt, just like Mudcat.
Saunders has experience working with Jim Webb, helping getting him elected to the U.S Senate in 2006 and advised his failed bid for the presidency in 2016. Saunders was also an advisor to John Edwards in his 2008 presidential bid. The Democrat strategist is renowned for connecting politicians to “Bubbas” — white, working class Southerners.
Yes, there are few people with a better line on the pulse of the Democratic electorate than “strategists” involved with the Jim Webb ’16 juggernaut.
“I know less than half a dozen white male Democrats in my part of the world who are going to vote for Hillary,” Saunders told TheDC.
Yes, I’m really terrified that the many southern white men who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama will now defect and support Trump.
He added, “Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have very similar messages; they’re just dressed in different clothes. I think you’re going to see a lot of Sanders people jump to Trump.”
Yes, the overlap in their platforms is remarkable. Mudcat should expand this to 600 words and submit it to Salon under the name “Brogan W. Bragman IV” and it will be online before the end of the afternoon.*
He thinks Trump will win the general election and said, “he’s going to knock her around like a baby seal.”
A metaphor as tasteful as it is politically astute! That is one BLISTERING take.
*Incidentally, Young Master Bragman has thoughtfully curated the comments to his latest Salon entry and has uncovered what he believes to be the smartest comment:
I actually do read the comments sections of my articles. Often find them enlightening. This is my favorite so far. pic.twitter.com/BX7vkN8rEy
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) April 29, 2016
So, to be clear, the fact that a Republican House would not pass progressive legislation under a Democratic president means that it would also refuse to pass conservative legislation under a Republican president. Hard to argue with that logic! I’d hate to see what Bragman considers the dumb comments. I should also commend you to Rebecca Schoenkopf’s post, which inter alia observes that Bragman argues that Democrats should want Trump to win in 2016 because there might be a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020. The sheer density of derp in these things is truly remarkable.
Latino workers remain among the most vulnerable, with a job fatality rate about 9 percent higher than the national rate, partially reflecting Latinos’ prevalence in high-risk, low-wage manual labor jobs. The total number of Latinos killed at work is up slightly, from 707 in 2010 to 804 in 2014; nearly two-thirds of those killed were immigrants.
Among industries, the oil and gas trade seems deadlier than ever: Workers perished at a devastating rate of “15.6 per 100,000 workers, nearly 5 times the national average,” resulting in an unprecedented 144 deaths in 2014. Despite the global decline of the natural-gas market in recent months, Rebecca Reindel of AFL-CIO’s Safety and Health Department says via e-mail that even if the fracking sector sheds jobs, the occupational dangers might not decline, but instead, rise as bosses tighten budgets: “While there might be fewer workers in the industry due to those changes, experience in safety and health tells us that when businesses need to cut corners for cost, safety and health is often the first and hardest hit. So even with lower employment, safety and health hazards could get worse for workers.”
Why? Because legal and regulatory enforcement is so lax that there’s no good reason for employers to care about worker safety.
Yet, even when regulators respond swiftly, employers have little to fear: In fiscal year 2015, the average penalty for a federal OSHA violation was $2,148, and just $1,317 for a state-level violation. A dead worker doesn’t cost much more: The median penalty for a lethal federal violation was $7,000. And while tens of millions have been injured or killed at work since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970, the study notes that “only 89 cases have been prosecuted under the act, with defendants serving a total of 110 months in jail. During this time, there were more than 395,000 workplace fatalities…about 20% of which were investigated by federal OSHA.” Meanwhile, the report notes, under another beleaguered federal regulatory protection, the Environmental Protection Act, fiscal year 2015 alone saw “185 defendants charged, resulting in 129 years of jail time and $200 million in fines and restitution.”
Although there have been a few high-profile criminal prosecutions for worker deaths, sometimes under other federal or state statutes, generally corporate impunity shields even the most scandalized bosses (see Massey Coal executive Don Blankenship’s tiny misdemeanor conviction last year for his role in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster). Workers’ lives are cheap, so the ultimate economic burden of unsafe jobs is drastically socialized onto the public, as occupational injury and illness costs the country an estimated “$250 billion to $370 billion a year.”
It is true that workplace fatalities have declined over the years. But this is more about the offshoring of dangerous labor to the world’s poor as it is employers caring about workplace safety. In fact, a far more telling statistic would be workplace deaths in products made by and for American companies than the number of workers specifically who die in the United States. In a fully globalized economy, that really matters more.