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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Neglecting Job Safety

Almost daily, big indus­try’s top executives are de­manding a moratorium or drastic slowdown in the country’s efforts to advance the health and safety of its citizens.

Albert W. Turner was once an executive with Southern California Gas Co. Today, as chairman of the California Occupational Safety and Health Stand­ards Board, he has lashed out at industrial and commercial criticism of the federal Job Health and Safety Standards.

“The reason for the feder­al law,” Turner said, “was that a significant number of employers and state gov­ernments were openly ne­glecting, the safety and health of workers and were extremely reluctant to spend the money necessary to provide a reasonable de­gree of protection.”

COMPANIES are still reluctant. What’s more, led by the callous U.S. Cham­ber of Commerce and other trade associations, industry is trying to link the worker health and safety move­ment to the inflationary-recessionary problems of the economy.

Like auto safety and pollution control standards, job safety and the environ­ment are emerging handy scapegoats for busi­ness mismanagement of the economy.

What easier way is there to focus public attention on the “big bad feds” in Wash­ington and to divert atten­tion from the waste-ridden, oversubsidized, excessively concentrated terrain of big business? Some sharehold­ers or reporters might otherwise get the idea that those un-laid-off corporate executives were incompe­tent and unable to really start competing over who can best serve, instead of gouge, the consumer.

Rather than striving for some old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity; these executive millionaires are spending more and more time in Washington urging bigger amounts of existing corporate welfare (tax credits and other relief) and a safe ty moratorium.

ON DEC. 16, Henry Ford II and Ford President Lee Iacocca were meeting pri­vately with the Michigan congressional delegation in the morning and the Repub­lican House and Senate leaders in the afternoon. GM’s chairman, Thomas Murphy, has been lobbying in Washington also.

In the meantime, Ford ig­nores a large group of its dealers who are asking the company to lower its new-car prices $200 to $400 to stop declining sales.

BUT THE PRICE in­creases continue. When the seatbelt interlock was taken off recently, the auto companies did not reduce the price of their cars by $S0 to $90 which they said was the price increase at­tributed to that system last year. This resulted in a hid­den price increase, despite recent leveling off or declin­ing of metals prices charg ed by the auto industry’s suppliers.

Next year; Congress needs to initiate compre­hensive economic, environ­mental and health pro­grams by showing how beneficially related they can be to one another.

For example, as Environ­mental Protection Agency Chief Russell E. Train de­clared interests converge to put a premium upon greater and greater efficiency in’ the industrial process — a new efficiency which can, at one and the same time, cuts costs, conserve energy and curb pollution — a new efficiency which I am con­vinced can help attack our inflation problem.”

Carl Gerstacher of Dow Chemical has spoken of the profits his company derives from controlling its chemi­cal pollutants. Others have noted that environmental expenditures create jobs, markets, health and a more promising future. The amount of money the econo­my must spend to win the pollution battle over the next 20 years is less than Americans will spend on alcohol.

WHAT MADNESS comes forth from corporate suites which tell the people that they cannot afford less than five percent of pre-tax corporate taxes for tax-subsidized investments to prevent cancer, respiratory diseases, harmful mutations and other destructions of health solidly associated with industrial chemicals, gases, particulates and other injurious emissions? Can anything have a higher priority when so much of their expenditures go to waste, trivia, junk and inef­ficiency?

What, after all, is the purpose of an economic sys­tem, if it is not, first and foremost, to safeguard the health and safety of its people?

The scapegoat strategy of industry and commerce, de­signed to divert attention from the concentrated corporate economy and its management, may get some quick headlines now. But when Congress convenes next month, these same executives may receive in­vitations to come up and publicly testify with disclo­sures of cost, productivity and other data they are not presenting in their private huddles on Capitol Hill.