I will get to the main topic of this column in a minute, the Trump administration’s gutting of workers’ health and safety protection. But there is something else I need to say right now.
Sometime this week, Donald Trump is supposed to come to Miami and reverse another important legacy of the Obama era: the historic opening to Cuba. It’s one more Trump attempt to turn the clock to the bad old days.
This is the time for Americans, Cubans, and Cuban Americans to loudly express their rejection of any such policy change. To show that most Americans would oppose and resist the move. And that, although there are still pockets of bitterness left in the exile population, most Cubans here don’t agree with faux Cubans like the U.S.-born Marco Rubio who has never set foot on the island and now wants to guide the Cuba policy of his new buddy Donald Trump.
Let’s fire a shot across the bow at Donald Trump—with our voices and our bodies—and express our contempt and disgust with the likes of Rubio and the Diaz-Balarts.
I would be remiss if I didn’t urge people to rally to oppose whatever is coming our way. On the other hand, I would be misleading readers if I attempted a full-blown analysis of the unknown. A warning shot that there will be resistance is needed. Jumping the gun is not.
Let me turn then my attention to something awful this administration is already doing, namely peeling away Obama-era protections for worker safety and health. We may not yet know even the rough outlines of the new Cuba policy, but we can be certain that under Donald Trump, more workers will die for business.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was founded decades ago to address the high toll of injuries, illnesses, and deaths resulting from work. From the beginning, business loathed OSHA even though the agency was never staffed or funded at the necessary level to seriously challenge industry. Democratic administrations usually gave OSHA a transfusion while Republicans tried to weaken the agency. That is what the Trump administration is already doing, and it is just getting started.
Just a handful of numbers make clear the perversity of a policy of crippling OSHA. In 1970, 38 workers died daily at work. By 2015, that number had dropped to 13, a decrease of almost two-thirds. Deaths form illnesses and injuries dropped from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.0 in 2015, a more than a two-thirds decrease.
OSHA, despite of all of the resistance and lack of resources, has clearly been doing its job of protecting workers’ lives and limbs. Black lung (coal mining), brown lung (textiles), and myriad other illnesses, while still afflicting many workers, are not the scourge they once were. What could be wrong with that?
Plenty. It costs industry money to safeguard the work force, to deal with pesky inspectors, and to pay even the puny fines OSHA can assess. It hates that more than cleaning up the bodies.
This relentlessly pro-business administration is thus targeting OSHA not for bureaucratic bungling but for working too well. It’s not that businesses deliberately set out to kill, injure and sicken workers. Instead, they consider all that collateral damage, the cost of working and doing business, and they prefer risking workers’ lives than setting in place safeguards that might cut into their profits. Moreover, this administration has added incentive for gutting OSHA. More deaths result from construction than from any other industry. Trump’s main business his whole life? Building. And this administration has shown a special proclivity for using its power to further the family’s businesses.
The administration already is taking action to skimp on worker protection. Restrictions on beryllium and silica exposure, which cause serious lung disease and cancer, scheduled to go into effect earlier this year, have been put off. These actions are part of larger pro-business, anti-worker offensive. The headlines tell the tale:
- “Under Trump, Worker Protection Viewed with New Skepticism.” (New York Times)
- “Trump Proposes $2.5B Cut to Dept. of Labor’s Budget and Elimination of Chemical Safety Board.” (OSHA Defense Report)
- “Trump Signs Measure to Quash OSHA Record-Keeping Rule” (Multiple sources)
It goes on and on in depressing detail.
The Trump administration is a damnable disaster on every front. But its effects on health will be especially savage. Abolishing Obamacare. Unleashing coal, the burning of which kills more people than car accidents. Cutting Medicaid and food stamps. Withdrawing from Paris….
Writing in the face of the Nazi war of aggression and the Holocaust, Albert Einstein wrote that the forces driving these atrocities would not endure. Trump won’t do nearly as much damage as Hitler, and the collective insanity that brought him to power won’t last as long as Hitler’s twelve-year reign of murder and mayhem. Thank the universe for small favors.