Dan Berman and Bob Fowler discuss death on the job
BROADCAST: Mar. 29, 1979 | DURATION: 00:54:31
Discussing death on the job with Dan Berman and Bob Fowler.
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Studs Terkel You know, back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, we read about the horrendous working conditions in factories, kids, women, men, the accidents, the diseases, the hours, and Charles Dickens, of course, was a master in writing about this, and so, some say Charles Dickens is alive and well and living in the United States right now, because more and more we're becoming conscious of what is happening in the workplace today as far as, particularly with petrochemical plants and asbestos plants, aside from guys working the assembly line and the accidents. And Dan Berman is a member of the Medical Committee for Human Rights and his interest with unions and on his own is in dealing with occupational diseases and the accidents and the hazards. And he's written a book, a powerful one, called Death on the Job, and the battle involved. Monthly Review are the publishers. With him is Bob Fowler, who's worked as a carpenter much of his life, and Bob has become very interested and a scrapper on the subject of safety and what's to be done and the conditions in plants and industries today as far as health and hazards and, and diseases, so they're my guests this morning and the program in just a moment after this message. [pause in recording] Grace Clements is about 40 years, or mid-forties, looks older, 18 grand -- she works in a felting factory, making the luggage, and she describes her work and as she describes the work, she was a farmer's daughter, came from a farm, her father was a farmer and then factory work, and she describes the work she does. "The tank I work is six foot deep, eight foot square, and then in 40 seconds, you take the wet felt out of the felter, put the blanket on and rubber sheeting, draw out the excess moisture, wait two, three seconds, take the blanket off, pick the wet felt up, balance it on your shoulder, know where you're holding without tearing it all to pieces, it's wet and will collapse, reach over, get the hose, spray the inside of the copper screen to keep from plugging, turn around, walk to the hot, dry die behind you, take the hot piece off with your opposite hand, set it on the floor, this wet thing is still balanced on my shoulder. Put the wet piece on the dry die, push this button, let the dry press down, inspect the piece we just took off, the hot piece, stack it, count it, you get a stack of 10, push it over, start another stack. Then go back, put our blanket on the wet piece, coming up in the tank and start all over. Forty seconds." And that's the refrain in the song, 40 seconds. So I was thinking, does that sound familiar to you, Bob or Dan? That kind of work?
Bob Fowler Yeah, there's no question about the speed-up and the, the production procedures during the drive for more and more production in the workplace, and more and more profitability, and it's constant. It never ends.
Studs Terkel She goes on, by the way, Dan, she goes on to talk about what happens: the heat and then going to a cool room, the dangers of colds and pneumonia, and, of course, the dangers to hands and fingers. Your acquain-- your book Death On the Job deals with this and for
Dan Berman Yeah, well, we had, had one thing in there, an interview that I quoted with Stella Nowicki, who was working, trying to organize a union in a meatpacking plant in Chicago in the thirties, and the issue that they got the, the ladies to walk out on first was over an issue of health and safety where a bunch of people making sausages, and what happened was one of the ladies got a f -- got her, the, the, the last two di--I don't know, joints of her finger cut off. And everybody just walked out, and they, they used this as a basis for an organizing drive there, and you know, they -- it's, it's -- it wasn't something that the labor movement as a movement picked up on back in the thirties, I mean, they were just trying to get organized. But it's something it's always been a constant throughout, throughout. If you look at the mine -- the Constitution of the United Mine Workers, when it was -- of America, which was formed back in 1890, the first thing they say is they wanna have decent conditions in the mines, better ventilation, and a whole bunch of things like that, and, and yet we don't have it today. Now I start off the book with the case of a guy named Marcus Vela that we heard about. The guy came over from Mexico about 19-- I don't know, whenever, maybe the 1920s, and brought up here. He doesn't speak English with an accent or anything, but he still tell jokes in Spanish. And he, he went to work for Johns Manville in, in the, really the depths of the Depression in 1935. And he worked there as a machine tender. He said sometimes it was so, it was so -- so much asbestos dust, and asbestos can cause a variety of lung diseases, cancer, and maybe 40 percent of the, 50 percent of the people that work with it on a daily basis will be killed by it, well, he went to work there. Then in 1959, Johns Manville, which is the largest asbestos producer in, in the world outside of maybe the socialist countries, he, they started giving him lung X-rays. In 1951 -- nine, they took a lung X-ray. It was done by a guy named Dr. Wise. In 1960 -- and they found out, according to the medical report, that he had had evidence of developing asbestosis, which is a lung disease. Didn't say a thing to him. Sixty-two, Dr. Wise was working -- well, actually, it was Dr. Wise's son, who was working as a contractor for Johns Manville, took a chest plate again. They found evidence of, you know, like more lung disease. Didn't say nothing to him. Nineteen sixty-five the same thing. In '68, 'cause every three years they were giving him lung X-rays, 'cause what they did, was they, they, if they found someone was getting sick, then they tried to edge him out so they wouldn't have to pay him compensation. In '68 he started feeling bad, real bad, and he thought he had arthritis, was having trouble breathing. So he goes to his own doctor in San Francisco, and this is a guy lived in Pittsburg, California, which is maybe a, an hour from San Francisco. The guy takes a lung [sign?] says, "Hey, you, what are you, a miner? You ever do any mining?" He said, "No. I work in asbest-- I work for Johns Man." He says, "Oh." He said, "You go right in the hospital." They did a biopsy, which means they stick a kind of a, they open him up and they get a little piece of lung tissue, and they said, "Hey, man, you're real -- you're in bad shape." And the reason -- what happened finally was, he sued the, the doctor, who was not an employee of Johns Manville, for medical malpractice, for not telling him that this was happening to him, and after years and years of trial, and this is a guy that's lost three quarters of his lu -- of his lung capacity, he got this big settlement for over a quarter of
Studs Terkel The big thing, though, in the story that you haven't told is that, the company never told him for a long time that they knew it was dangerous and never told him that, that he was in danger. This is what we're talking about, aren't we? Aren't we talking now the Marcus Vela case can be multiplied by thousands of
Bob Fowler The Western Institute for Occupational Environmental Sciences in Berkeley, California just finished a screening project on 2300 former shipyard or longshore workers, and in excess of 60 percent of the people we screened have evidence of asbestos-related lung disorders. If you channel that or, or project that over the approximately 11 million workers that have been exposed to asbestos since World War Two, the, it, it's's easy to estimate as, as Califano did that about five million people are potentially
Studs Terkel The thing that's interesting to me, you see, people are aware, not as much as should be, of miners and black lung. We know of that. And yet, even not -- see, very few know what the battle was all about. The recent mine strike. It's about health and the media as we know it hardly comes through in this respect, you know. They're talking about, we know about that, we know about accidents in plants generally speaking. We don't know to what extent it happening, but we don't know about the new kind of illnesses coming about because of the petrochemical industries. Isn't this what's part of it's about, too?
Bob Fowler Absolutely. The, the emphasis on health and safety historically has been on safety, and it's been kept there on hard hat, safety glasses, hard-toed shoes, any way to cover up a worker, and the whole issue of occupational health, or health-related problems out of the occupation have not been addressed until very recently, in the last 10 years have they been looked at, and it shows up dramatically in the statistics. The National Safety Council statistics clearly discuss safety problems. The best government estimates right now are that between 100,000 depending upon who you talk to, between 100 and 300,000 workers die every year from occupational disease.
Dan Berman Well, not a real doctor. I'm a, I got a PhD in political science, which is a lot of talk, I guess. But I, I -- okay, what happened was, I was, I was going to, I was going to graduate school in St. Louis in 1969 and Barry Commoner works there, he's a, a pretty well -- well, you might have read some of his books.
Dan Berman Right, so I, I, I got to be friends, it was really nothing happening on the campus in the political science department, so I, I got to be best friends with one of his grad students, and he was, he was telling me how, you know, smoke is bad for you and pollution, that's -- I didn't believe it. Well, anyway, I figured maybe I'll do a paper on the politics of it, because politics was my field. So I go out -- someone took me to a union meeting where they were talking about pollution, and it was at a, a meeting of Teamsters Local 688 in, in, in, in Pevely Missouri, about 20 miles south of St. Louis, and all the guys there worked in this giant lead smelter at the St. Joe Minerals Corporation. It was, it's the biggest lead smelter in the country, and the guys were talking about, not conditions of air pollution in the community at large, in the plant. And they were worried, some of the guys were saying, well, they, they couldn't -- they were becoming impotent. They couldn't, they couldn't make love. They, they were was saying that they had that lead colic, and I sa -- and then they're talking about a lot of sulfur fumes, right? Because they take that, that, that lead ore, they roast it and the sulfurous dioxide gets blown up. So I said, "Wait a minute. Isn't this something that they had some laws back a long time ago to deal with?" And, you know, I started looking into it more and more and I tried to find out, you know, is it true that these people are getting sick? What about those medical records? What can we find out? And it just got into a, like a bigger and bigger thing, and I've just been in-involved with the thing ever since.
Bob Fowler Well, clearly with asbestos there's been a cover-up, and, and there's no question about it. I have documents in my file in, in Berkeley that were written by, on John Mansville stationary, board of directors' meetings where they compensated people in 1932, and yet they still never took any measures to clean up the workplace. There was a gross cover-up in a, in a complete area from '32 to about 1956, when there just, for some reason or other nothing was done.
Bob Fowler Right.
Bob Fowler I became involved because of my just complete lack of understanding in why people were allowed to be maimed. I, I wasn't -- my initial act, action, activity in safety and health was strictly safety. I was a carpenter. The first major problem I saw or accident I saw as a carpenter was on a roofing job in Valencia, California when, for speed-up purposes, the carpenters would wedge open their Skil saws. And it was a light, damp sort of misty morning and we were sheeting roofs in a large housing project. And right after the coffee break, one of the carpenters went back up on the roof and picked up a Skil saw that had been wedged open, and it was a hot saw, there was a short between the saw and the power pole, when he grabbed it, he couldn't let go of it, and the blade was spinning, it ripped him from his, from his, the bottom of his stomach all the way up to his shoulder and just killed him right there, and we had to, you know, put him on a pallet and load him down on a forklift, and that was the first time I just, you know, it really, it, it, it had an impact. About two years later, I was working another job in Southern California, and there was a trenching cave in, and there were four Chicano laborers buried and we were all digging them out, you know, with our hands, we couldn't use shovels 'cause there's -- for obvious reasons. So anyway, they were all dead, and it was just really a mess. And that bothered me. Of course, it has an impact, and I became very aware of those things and very aware of, of, of the reasons these things happen, and tried to analyze it. I mean I didn't have any, I didn't have any education. The education was just being there and seeing it. Then later on, when I went inside working as a maintenance carpenter, a, a fellow fell in a, a very large vat of boiling causic soda, a solution, a cleaning solution, and that was the end of him. I mean, they got him out and he died like two days later. And it was because there wasn't a guard rail there. So then that's what, that was when I finally decided something had to be done.
Studs Terkel It's funny. We see, we're talking about outside work to some extent and about safety devices. But throughout, this is -- we, we're talking about now, way back Upton Sinclair, in doing The Jungle
Bob Fowler Right.
Bob Fowler Brucellosis.
Studs Terkel But you know the gag he made, he's writing about 1906, packinghouse Chicago, The Jungle that caused quite a sensation, but for the wrong reasons. He was trying to describe how dangerous the work was, but the people finally were roused to a -- because of something bad with their food. So he's, "I aimed for the people's hearts, and I hit 'em in the stomach." It was his famous crack.
Bob Fowler Right,
Studs Terkel But we're talking, what's happened between then and now? Nineteen six, there have been some safety, some guards, devices that Stella Nowicki worked for. But something new has happened, or has been that we haven't talked about?
Dan Berman Okay, what, what we're seeing now, what we're seeing now is a real chemical revolution in the workplace, and a revolution in use of radiation and other new technologies. And they're all introduced without any kind of care as to, nobody knows what these things do. Now you, if you check out the human body was desi-- was, you know, evolved, what, over billions of years of evolution, there were certain things in a natural environment. The body was designed to deal with it, and what happened is, they're creating all kinds of new substances don't occur naturally in nature. And we're talking about maybe, maybe 500, maybe 1000, maybe 5000 new chemicals being introduced into the workplace every year, and with a, a, a tremendous jump since World War Two with the, you know, they're using, spinning off all kinds of new chemicals from the petrochemical, from, from the oil industry, and nobody knows what they do to people, and there's no, there's no requirement, for example. I mean, it's a requirement if something's gonna go in your food, at least someone pretends they're gonna test it. No requirement until very recently, that there be any kind of testing. So the workers are the guinea pigs, right? And you're starting, and the company's reaction is not "Let's get these poisons out of the workplace," but let's, instead of modifying the, the workplace to fit the worker, they want to fit, modify the worker to fit the workplace. They say, "Put on these, these respirators," which, which mostly don't work. And if, you know, if you've worked with a respirator on, you know that. Their attitude is, "Modify the worker." If they figure, if the company figures somebody's gonna have a, a diseased baby, a birth defect, have the worker sterilized, and this has happened in some of our plants. I worked for the oil, chemical and atomic workers, and they sterilize
Studs Terkel I'm gonna ask you about the role of unions in this, and particularly the role of the oil, chemical, atomic workers. You're talking about guinea pigs. There's a film, a very good documentary film being shown on occasion, called Song of the Canary, we know about in mines the canary was used to detect if there was gas, the canary would die and it was a dangerous place, and the film is showing how the working people are the canaries. That is what you're saying,
Studs Terkel By the way, this raises a question, Bob [Fowler?]. For years unions we know have been working for wages and hours. That's been the battle all along. What they call pork chops issues. The subject of health has hardly been discussed, has it?
Bob Fowler Well it's, I, I think it's because there's just been a complete lack of, of knowledge. There's a whole trip about machoism and who's the toughest and who's the strongest, and it still exists today. Who can do the most work? When I was a carpenter, we used to race to see who could finish framing a house first, and the employers loved it. Productivity was, was way up there. That hasn't left us yet. That, that, that mentality is still there, and it's unfortunate, so many of the union leaders that, that we have today still live with that mentality, and, and if you're not big and tough and strong, then something's wrong and you're not supposed to be able to complain about breathing dust or fumes or getting hurt backs. It's just, you know, it's one of those things then people feel bad about it and then they forget you. Unions have got to take a, a firm grip of this. The first indication that they, that they have really was, in my opinion, was the recent Health and Safety Conference that was held right at the AFL-CIO, in which George Meany finally took a position on health and safety in 1978 if you will. The leader, absolute without question, leader in the union movement in health and safety has got to be the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic workers with Anthony Mazzocchi spearheading the drive. Unquestioned. No question about it. But still, there's 200 and some odd international unions that are, for all practical purposes, doing nothing to this day.
Dan Berman There's, yeah, and there's, there's another aspect to it. And this is something that, you know. You, you, you have, you pay your taxes. If you're a, a working person, you pay your taxes and you support a lot, a tremendous amount of research, scientific research and medical research. And what's happened with that research is, over the years, and I'm talking about over the last 50 or 60 years, let's say it's a [science?], you pay for, you know, for medical schools that are not serving the people that are paying for 'em, they're serving the interests of the corporations. Now what happens, for example, in the case of asbestos, a guy's medic-- doctors -- been -- it has been known, for example, since 1919 that as-- you know, it's been known for sure that, that asbestos workers die young, right? The insurance companies knew it, and they wouldn't give life insurance to asbestos workers. By the 1930s, Johns Manville Corporation and some of the asbestos trade associations were already paying for research on, on as- asbestos, and they knew the stuff was very bad. They thought it might -- they even thought it might cause cancer. They knew that people died young. Nobody ever heard that stuff and the government went right along with it. And so you have a scientific community. It's kind of, an, uh, uh sort of like, "Well, it's not my fault. I'll lose my job if I expose this." Now, I think if you're a scientist or a doctor and you find something out, you don't just tell it to a little scientific journal or tell it to your boss, the company that pays for it. You better announce it on the TV, on
Studs Terkel Of course we're talking about company doctors, too, and their very role, their role come through the years. But there've been others, independent men like Irving Selikoff, doctors who have come out and spoken. But
Dan Berman With the help of the unions. The only reason Selikoff was able to do his work was 'cause he worked with Local 12 and Local 34 of the Asbestos Workers Insulation Union in New York and New Jersey. And they gave him the data on how, how, what their people were dying from, you know, and they, you know, they could never get that from the company. Now the companies are coming across after all this time.
Studs Terkel I wanna ask you about the role of this particular union the one you're assoc -- the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. But I'm thinking of a remarkable page you have in your book Death on the Job: Why Work Kills, and the way psychiatrists and occupation or company doctors speak of the illnesses. Often the worker himself is blamed for them and you have occupational syndrome. These are the words. Accident syndrome, that is, the guy is -- the guy so, sort of accidents happen to him because of something in his nature, and the words they use are, they, now it's a clinical analy-- he's an impulsive character, and he has anxiety. These are actual terms they use, isn't it?
Studs Terkel But also nothing to do with what's happening in the plant. Another one is, pulmonary insufficiency, you mean the guy can't breathe, right? Pulmonary insufficiency means the, the guy's got problems breathing. Okay. The analysis: depressive reaction, anxiety reaction, he's got asthma, this guy, and about women employees. They got physiological cycles. Then another one: grievance proneness, often those who complain, the malcontents, and they explain it. Paranoid personality, compulsive personality, a depressive reaction.
Dan Berman I couldn't believe this, this is right, and this is unbelievable. This is right in the American Handbook of Psychiatry's article on Industrial and Occupational Psychiatry, published in 1966. A guy, they, they say, "What's happening?" The guy is grievance prone, right? He's got complaints. So they say he's a paranoid personality. He's depressed. He's compulsive. They're saying they're crazy if they complain.
Studs Terkel Yeah, but what's happening now? I mean, we're talking about certain petrochemical plants, we're talking about the traditional accidents that happen, and I want to come back to that subject of unions and the oil, chemical and atomic workers. What are they doing now? Particularly Tony Mazzocchi, who's one
Dan Berman Yeah, he's my guy. He's, he's really a person I have tremendous respect for. I work for him. But, I mean, you know, way before that, I, I've been watching him since '71 or '72 and trying to find out -- anyway, what, what the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union has done is when, when the, when the environmental movement started, they, they realized that their people were, were, were eating that dust and eating those chemicals before everyone else, and they realized "We better do something about this." There was just too many things happening. Too many cancers, too -- and so in '67 and '68 they had a series of conferences around the country, and they just had -- they went around with a scientist from Rockefeller University. Maybe that's one good thing the Rockefellers did. And they just listened to what the people out in the plants had to say about conditions. And then the Oil, Chemical and Atomic workers had a lot to do with writing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and making sure that there were provisions in the act that would allow workers to call in inspectors. I mean, we'd really like to have the right to, to shut down a job that's dangerous and to really decide what goes on in the workplace. But in any case, we can call in an inspector, and if there's no regulation that deals with that particular problem, there's such a thing, a thing called the general duty clause, and Bob can explain about that.
Studs Terkel What's
Bob Fowler Well, the OSHA law, general duty clause just provides that work -- that an employer shall provide employment in a place of employment free of recognizable hazards, and no employee will be required to work under, under any unsafe or unsanitary conditions. That's, that is what is called the general duty clause of
Studs Terkel By the way, hasn't there been a decision recently by the Supreme Court, or by one of the federal courts to the effect that a, an employee can walk off his job if he considers it dangerous.
Bob Fowler The Longshoreman Harbor Worker's Compensation Act has language allowing anyone covered by that program to refuse to work under any unsafe conditions and causes an immediate 24-hour decision through an arbitration process. That's the only language that I'm really familiar with at this point, but no Supreme Court decisions that I'm aware of.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking, what I want to ask you about the governmental role on this, OSHA and what is happening now and perhaps, in your book, Death on the Job, Dan, you speak of the history of it throughout, how, one way or another, it's been muted, the dangers have been muted. But perhaps what has happened. We'll take a break right now and we'll resume in a moment after this message with Dan Fowler, who's a carpenter, did a lot of work, very active in occupational health
Studs Terkel And safety battles, and Dan Berman, who's been studying this and observing it a great deal, Death on the Job is his book. In a moment we resume. [pause in recording] We're talking about, with Dan Berman and Bob Fowler, the question of what's, what's the role been as far as governmental regulations down through the years and investigations of this?
Dan Berman Well, okay, the whole, the whole role of the government started around the turn of ce -- maybe in the first decade of the century. What happened was, when you had books like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and had all kinds of exposes about conditions in the steel industry, people, let's say the owners of industry, let's, we could even call them the big capitalists, decide they gotta do something about the problem because it's getting in the papers a lot. There's a lot of trials happening where workers are trying to collect compensation. People are complaining about conditions, and the companies was beginning to lose money on these suits at common law. So what they did is, they adopted a system that was invented in Bismarck's Germany and carried over to England, and they adopted it for use in the United States, called the, the Workmen's Compensation System. And what that does is set a limit on the liability of a company. So if you die, let's say at that time you might get 1000 dollars or 300 dollars. I mean, your survivors would get 300 dollars or 1000 dollars. And so what the companies wanted to do was end these trials, in the court there was, they were a big public relations embarrassment. And they also wanted to, to cut their cost to a manageable amount. And this was first tried out in U. S. Steel after the unions had been busted completely from the steel industry. And this is by, say, 1900, 1910. This was our first billion dollar corporation. Now then, on the state level, they had compensation systems set up. The unions and the socialists at the time criticized this whole concept 'cause they said, "Listen, we want to have unlimited liability, but we also want to get our medical bills paid and, you know, any other problems without having to go through a complicated process." What happened was, all these, these systems, and I'm talking about back in 1910, were put into place that gave very little compensation. And then they set up state inspection systems which completely -- which had really no power to shut down any operations, to require that companies change things. They were mostly advisory, and they were just useless. Now, this went on until the late '60s, and it wasn't until, you know, the coal miners really rebelled in the mines over safety conditions and over the black lung they were getting, and the environmental movement became a power that it was possible to pass the OSHA law against the wish -- a pretty strong OSHA law, Occupational Safety and Health Act, against -- in the teeth of the Nixon administration.
Studs Terkel But I'm thinking about something else now, I [unintelligible] there's a big battle goes on and the great myth that if these companies have to have more devices, spend more dough, you know, on environmental matters particularly, they'll have to shut down, hope you don't make it, and hasn't there been an attempt, you know, the idea of some working people have been saying, "Look, the hell with this environmental battle. Or the health battle. We need these jobs." Hasn't the union, Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union demolished that myth? That the companies can have the safety devices, can have new ways of diminishing the dangers to environment and to humans and still make it?
Dan Berman Yeah, okay, well, we, we can only, we -- there's really at most one plant that has ever shut down, and these are plants that would have shut down anyway because of envi-- so-called environmental measures. And this was a place that was so filthy that Paul Brodeur wrote a book about it called Expendable Americans. And no, it's, it's not true that they're gonna have to shut down. But what they, what they -- they're always trying to knock you down on costs, like if, if you, if you do anything that's gonna cost their money, they try to knock it down. And what they do is they play off one state against the other. And with the OSHA law, the passage of the OSHA law in 1970, it was much more difficult to do that. Now what they're doing, it used to be the company strategy was, when you'd say, set up a health standard and say, "You should not be exposed to any asbestos, okay? Because asbestos is gonna cause cancer." Used to be, the company would deny that asbestos caused cancer, or that PB -- what is it? PBCB? What? PC
Bob Fowler PCB
Dan Berman What, let's say, what's this, this -- there's a pesticide that causes sterility. They don't -- they deny, they would deny that these things cause sterility. They'd say, "Oh, we have this medical evidence here," but the, but the doctors and physicians like, like Selikoff, like Sam Epstein, like Thomas Mancuso at the University of Pittsburgh who've got, who were on the side of the unions, or at least who worked with the unions, have become too smart for that. Now the companies don't deny it, they say it's gonna cost too much. Like in the case of the vinyl chloride standard, they said it was gonna cost ninety billion dollars, wipe out two million jobs, and it turned out that within six months that the companies complied with the new standard of, I think it's one part per billion of vinyl chloride in the air, and not only that, they, they made money at it and they turned around, I think it was Dow started turning around and selling the technology and controlling the hazards.
Bob Fowler I, I don't think so. I, it keeps coming out loud and clear to me from the un-- a lot of the union people that I deal with on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, that, that there still is a major fear. It's still a major issue at the bargaining table when
Bob Fowler Right, there, the, the companies continue to use the tactics with the union negotiators, and, and that is a major problem because most of the union negotiators are still of the old school and still are believing it. They're actually believing it.
Studs Terkel So we have a problem here, even on TV, you watch a number of shows, and you hear the union guys talk and the labor guy says, "Oh, we're not gonna worry about that." And they put down, you know, the obvious battle now being created. Middle-class quote unquote environmentalists as against blue-collar people, the implication is they're against each other, because the working man is told, and woman told that you lose your job if we have to have these improvements taken.
Bob Fowler Some of the unions are starting to understand that environmentalists have created employment, rather than, than not create employment, and that is because of a series of conferences between the two groups, labor and the environmentalists, where the environmentalists are able to show a cost benefit analysis where they, where they produce jobs. There's no question that some of the unions are, are coming across now and beginning to understand that.
Studs Terkel You know what we haven't talked about? We don't know what the death toll is. You point out how difficult there's, there's the unwritten or the unrecorded, you know, illness and deterioration of the human body that's indeterminable, that is there in the scores of thousands.
Dan Berman Okay, well I, you know, I could tell you how statistics are kept today. The company reports them, and then the OSHA inspections are targeted based partly on reported death, reported injuries, reported deaths, and I'll give you an example. The only, the total number of deaths annually, from, from work -- from working conditions and as reported by OSHA, is only about six or 8000 a year. Now we know it's in the hundreds of thousands if you're talking about accidents, occupational related disease and cancers, and it's, it's, you know, you can see the holes in the OSHA's, the governments and the National Safety Counsel's statistical techniques. You know, after you take your, your first, you know, your first semester course in statistics, or even the most basic course, because if you depend on the employer to report all the stuff, something that's going to get him into trouble, they're not gonna report it, and the government doesn't have any way of collecting it, and I -- it's, it's a system set up to, it's like the official body count in Vietnam. You know, it's just a, whole tissue of lies.
Bob Fowler Well, Secretary Califano just a couple months ago estimated that, by the best statistics available, that this year 67,000 people will die of asbestos-related disease, just this year, and that will continue to rise at about a five to seven percent rate through on the next 15 years. Now the total projected number of persons that are going to die from asbestosis or asbestos-related disease, just those that worked in the shipyards during the war to, to aid in the war effort will exceed the total number of casualties that the United States suffered in the Second World War, in the Korean conflict, and in Vietnam. And it's rather ironic when those are the people that, that were preparing us for the war that the real casualties are right here. This is the battleground.
Studs Terkel We haven't talked about the, the invisible illnesses, and Dan points out in his book Death on the Job, a work-related cause-and-effect relationship often is not obvious to the worker or the family physician, because it's long term and low-level exposure, this is also non-recorded stuff.
Dan Berman Sure.
Bob Fowler We're looking at people in this study that we just did, the first time in the history that anyone studied the, the women that worked in the shipyards during the Second World War. As you may recall, they, they were called in because of the war effort. The "Rosie the Riveter" types comprised about 25 to 30 percent of the, of the workforce in the shipyards. They were, for all practical purposes, pushed out of the shipyards in, when the war finished up in '45. So many of them worked from one to three years as shipyard employees, and they've since gone into either housewives or other clerical-type work and no one's ever studied them. Our study revealed that 27 percent of those women that we studied, that worked in the shipyard only one or two years and have never been in a shipyard since, this is in '41 and '42, now 27 percent of those women have significant asbestos-related disease
Studs Terkel You know, it's funny as you mention it, I'm thinking of a friend of mine, she lives in Chicago, an Appalachian woman, she's now in her 50s, and she was a very young girl during the latter part of the war, working in one of the yards on a, at a plant, a milit -- a defense plant. And I remember, she and a friend turned orange, she said, and then she got sick at the time. And now she's complaining of all sorts of ailments the doctor can't quite determine, so that's what we're talking about too, aren't we?
Bob Fowler Well, there was a very famous physician that said, "The first question you should ask your patients is 'What is your occupation?'" And, and that should continue to happen today, but it doesn't, and maybe we need to be spending some more time with the physicians and helping them understand that when a patient comes in, it's very important to know the type of work these people did.
Dan Berman Yeah, another thing, another thing, it's very important for you, if you learn about these occupational diseases, is to get together with other people and help educate people in the workplace and even educate your own physician. Now, in Chicago here, we, several of us were very concerned about -- and this is, we're going back to 1971. Several of us in the Medical Committee for Human Rights were very concerned about the whole problem of occupational disease, including occupational injuries, occupational diseases, and we, we got to, with the help of Quentin Young over at Cook County Hospital, we got together a bunch of people from the unions and from the professions and organized a group that we, we had a conference, we were sponsored by a bunch of local unions, by the University of Illinois School of Medicine and School of Public Health and the Chicago area chapter of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. We, about 200 people came out, maybe about half from the workplace and half of them students. And we formed a permanent coalition, grassroots coalition of unionists and health workers, and called the Chicago Area Committee for Hum-- Chicago Area Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, or CACOSH. And we -- since then, the committee has spread out. They have scores of local union members, and they do educational work if there's -- they do politics, they watch the enforcement under the OSHA law, they push for new compensation, changing the compensation law for occupational diseases and for partial hearing loss, which was always hard to get in Illinois. And it still is. And so this is another area of action, which has occurred in, in several cities around the country.
Studs Terkel You know what occurs to me, Bob Fowler, is that something happening. The other day I read about some Johns Manville workers going out on strike, not wages and -- not wages and hours, but because of the dangers of disease and ailment. And we think of the miners sometimes going out because of dangers to the mine, you see, so something is popping in that respect, isn't it?
Bob Fowler Workers are becoming more and more cognizant of, of the potential health problems related to their work. The, it's, it's interesting that along with that comes constant warnings of cancer-causing things in your, in your food, in your sprays, the different items that are commonly used day to day. I sometimes wonder if, if that isn't for overkill, but workers are becoming more and more aware, they're asking more questions, they're asking good questions, and the pressure on the international unions will come from the bottom. Historically, it comes from the bottom, and it, and I, I'm thinking
Bob Fowler From the, from the rank and file. And the day will come when international unions will have the type of programs that oil, chemical, and atomic workers have, where they'll have physicians, where they'll have industrial hygienists, where they'll have training programs, where they will monitor their workplace instead of relying on the federal government or the state government to monitor their workplace.
Dan Berman The
Bob Fowler And as the example, right, the workers will monitor it. And an example of that is, if you recall, Studs, and I'm sure you do, when the minimum wage law was passed, unions were out enforcing and they were calling on the government to, to come in and see, that make sure this employer is enforcing the minimum wage standards. That's a thing of the past. Today unions have bargained far beyond that minimum wage, they've got their own wage rates. They monitor it themselves. That'll happen with
Bob Fowler I see workers monitoring their workplaces and becoming trained and, and educated in monitoring techniques and in conducting the initial monitoring and LCAW is involved in that at this point.
Studs Terkel Who, who, who's a better judge? I was going -- who's a better judge of whether a place is polluted and how difficult it is to work, the efficiency expert brought in from outside or the actual person working there?
Dan Berman Sure.
Bob Fowler Well my experience is that, that the most valid source of, of workplace health and safety problems is the worker. If you want to do an inspection of a workplace, the first place you should start is interview every worker. I wrote a pamphlet on that several years ago called Seven Steps to Hazard Identification, and it's strictly an interview procedure with a worker. And aft-- going through the exercise of asking him seven separate questions, you're able to identify an ungodly number of health and safety problems related to that person's work, something that a trained hygienist or safety engineer would never uncover.
Studs Terkel You know, we haven't talked about stress, the aspect of stress and work. At the very beginning, I was reading the comments of this luggage worker, the middle-aged woman, Grace Clements, and imagine the stress in what she does in that 40 seconds of that, that's another aspect that is non-quantifiable. You can't put it down on paper,
Dan Berman They want you to work as fast as they can drive you, because they make more money off of that, off of that operation. What's happening in the refineries now, is it used to be they'd have an annual shutdown for maintenance. They'd just turn everything off. Now they try to maintain it while the fi -- while the refinery's on stream. And so sometimes they blow up. They, you know, a lot of, lot of, lot of places have mandatory overtime, and there's people I've talked to, we were just, had them at a, at a -- people from out, from Texas and other places who were working in chemical plants who were working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for five and six months at a time, just like the, the steel workers used to have to do in the old days, and because they got mandatory overtime, and they can't fight it. And, you know, someone, one of the, one of the fellas, Freddie Poor, who was a president of, at an Arco Chemical plant up in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, figured out that, you know, once you're working that sixtieth or eightieth hour, when you take out the income tax, when, when you take out the income taxes, you're working for about 2 dollars an hour, that extra hour because the income tax takes it anyway, so you're not, you know, you're not making any money. The corporation's making money and the government's making money, you're not making any money for that overtime, and people should spread that work around.
Bob Fowler Air traffic controllers have been studied and studied and studied, as have pilots, as have other folks in highly stressful jobs. Police officers, firemen. And there's no question about it. An example again is that we're behind as a country and in a number of areas in this field, we're the only country that exists that has air traffic controllers that work 40 hour weeks. The base, the model is 32. No one works more than over 32 except in the United States of America.
Dan Berman Well, I was just going to say, you take the National Safety Council, which was a company outfit from the beginning, and still is. And that's the outfit that puts out these, these estimates for, for deaths on the highway and these holiday weekend, Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend. They always talk about speed killing, but they never say speed kills on the job. You can look in all their literature and they turn out thousands of pages. They never say speed
Bob Fowler Right.
Bob Fowler Sure.
Studs Terkel Maybe this is a way of reaching peop -- just as pesticides killing farmworkers also make some of the food dangerous. See we're talking now about plane travel could be dangerous because we're talking about the non-air control, people in the planes because these guys are working ex-- you mean, you mean in European countries they work less hours?
Bob Fowler The only country with air traffic controllers allowed to work over 32 hours a week is the United States and the base in the United States is 40 hours a week. There's another thing that's important. The whole issue of public awareness is it is crucial to health and safety. An example is, people talk in a negative way about unions. Unions make the front page of every newspaper on wage demands and on strikes and on curtailing services. People, and I've been a union person 23 years now, and I'm, I'm appalled at the lack of education that the general public has on unions. Nothing ever good is said about unions in the media. Now, one very classic example of the problem of, of, of media coverage of union people is, and this is a Bureau of Labor Statistics figure that I'm gonna quote you, this is not mine. For every day lost, like every workday lost by strike, there are 10 work days lost because of injury or illness or death to a worker. Do you ever read in the papers about workers, deaths, injuries, or illnesses? I mean, there should be 10 articles for everyone on strike, but it doesn't work that way. The image that's portrayed by the media on, on unions is, is, is really unfair.
Bob Fowler Well, they grow, they were, they were raised in a, in an are -- raised in a, in a decade when unionism has really had its problems, that we all know that, as, as -- 10 years ago, that 25 percent of, about 25 percent of the workers in the country were unionized, now it's around 20.
Bob Fowler Oh, it's dropped, it's dropped considerably, and organized labor has had a lot of problems. So your, your younger people that are now entering the workforce were raised in a decade of, of anti-unionism, and it's really pathetic that that had to happen. Unions have a lot of good things to offer, but unions have to take a look at what they have to offer, too, and they have to revamp their programs and become more involved and more vocal, be, doing their, a little bit more PR on their positive programs.
Studs Terkel So what is happening, as we near the end of the hour, we're talking about, about what? Dangers in the workplace, the new kinds of illnesses coming into being, the new kind, new kinds of accidents coming into being as well as the old kinds and what happens to people, Death on the Job, one of my guests here, Daniel Berman, wrote. And it's the subtitle, Occupational Health and Safety Struggles in the U.S. This cites chapter and verse statistics and, and Bob Fowler, who just became active in the matter of health and safety, just through your own observations.
Bob Fowler Right, yeah, about 12 years ago, Studs, and, and it's been something I just devoted my life to. I, I never realized that I would go from apprenticeship carpenter to a carpenter. It's all I ever wanted to be in my life was a carpenter, and I became a carpenter after putting all that four years in the apprenticeship, and suddenly I haven't driven a nail in, oh, God, I can't even remember now.
Dan Berman Movies.
Studs Terkel What is perhaps one last from each of you. Dan, anything you want to say you haven't talked about, but before that, what's the role? Has the role of the government now been significant? One way or
Dan Berman Well, there's been a very, very important program by the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. Eula Bingham. She, with the advice of some of the unions, has set up a thing called the New Directions program, with the government spending three or four million dollars, to directly -- which the government is, is granting to unions and other groups like CACOSH, to help educate people in the workforce about health and safety hazards. Now, I, I would argue that Dr. Bingham is being sabotaged on a higher live, level by some of the top Carter appointees and wage, wage and the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Wage and Price Stability. But she's, there's really a tremendous upsurge in the amount of, of direct education that's going on among people. People being shown how to, not only what the hazards are, but how to deal with them in collective bargaining and bringing in inspectors. And this is a new thing. And I think Dr. Bingham, who, you know, just five or six years ago, was a, a registered Republican until she saw the light about the problem, should be supported in every way possible. And she's really the best we're ever going to get.
Studs Terkel I was just thinking about this one passage in his book before I ask Bob some of his thoughts. More recently, the top economic policy makers of the Carter administration are trying to eliminate OSHA's -- OSHA is the Office of Occupational Safety Health Administration -- enforcement function, resuscitate the theory that worker's compensation could provide the incentive for business to prevent accidents. A memo to the president signed by Charles Schultz, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Stuart Eisenstadt and Bert Lance, rather interesting, former director of the Office of Management, noted that "serious consideration should be given to totally eliminating most safety regulations and replacing them with some form of economic incentives".
Bob Fowler Well, Bert Lance certainly showed his economic promise to the, to the citizens of the United States. In America today, it's not acceptable that, that a worker should have to sacrifice his health or her health or their life for the privilege of having a job. Economic considerations are the, are the main considerations in providing safe and healthful workplaces. As long as we have six to 10 million people unemployed, we're gonna have unsafe working conditions. I don't think that one can exist without the other. Full employment will cause, I believe, changes, health and safety changes, in the workplace. I don't believe workers' compensation is the answer. Workers' compensation offers the employers the incentive to externalize their costs and pass it off on to the public. And that's all that, that I feel it really offers.
Studs Terkel Bob Fowler and Dan Berman, thank you very much, just a word about Dan's book. Barry Commoner, who has called the shots invariably correctly, Director of the Center of Biology at uni-- Washington University, St. Louis, says, as, as, as far as this book's concerned, he says, "A wealth of information, new insights in this crucial area of public policy. His book is an essential weapon in the battle to improve industrial and public health." Gentlemen, thank you very much.