While working for a building subcontractor operating on site for a major aerospace company, we were again reminded that workers are expendable in the name of speed-up and profit. Last week, a young laborer was seriously shocked while removing a water heater from a bathroom wall, requiring hospital treatment.
The foreman told the young laborer to remove the box rather than follow the proper safety procedure and wait for an electrician. In order to reap maximum profits the bosses cut corners.
The laborer had only worked in construction three weeks. When he asked how to remove the box, the foreman simply said “Take the screws out and pull it off the wall.” He didn’t mention the possible electrical hazard a twenty-year old water heater posed. The 220-volt circuit that fed the water heater had been stripped bare over time. The stripped wiring made contact with the metal casing when the laborer pulled on the box. Since the laborer had both hands on the casing, his body made a circuit. The current held him onto the casing for five seconds before kicking him off.
When the laborer told the foreman what happened and that he didn’t feel good, the foreman laughed. “So you are telling me that you’re a dumbass and that you shocked yourself,” he said. He refused to let the laborer seek medical treatment. Finally, an hour later, a carpenter demanded the laborer be sent to the factory medical center. Factory medical sent him to the local hospital. The project superintendent ran down to the hospital, assuring the injured worker that it was a “freak accident” and “nobody’s fault.”
After the incident, we were forced to attend mandatory safety meetings. The general contractor and representatives from the aerospace company assured us they were going to get to the bottom of this. At first they acted as if people were going to be fired. As it became clear that the foreman was at fault, they decided to be lenient this time and not fire anyone. It came out later that the foreman had suggested a meeting involving only management and that the laborer should be fired for “incompetence.” In the end, the contractor and the aerospace company set up a safety liaison. The person chosen to fill that position was none other than the foreman who had almost gotten the laborer killed.
This was not the first problem we have had with this foreman. He was involved in the racist firing of a black worker just one month prior.
I’ve had a lot of great conversations with my fellow workers about the nature of management and how workplace safety is a joke. When a product can be potentially damaged safety is important, but when a lowly worker is at risk safety is ignored.
Aerospace is important if the bosses want to get serious about competing with the Chinese and Russian war machines. As the push for the “re-industrialization” of America grows stronger, increased fascism at work and in working-class neighborhoods once again reminds us that the bosses need us a lot more than we need them. Hopefully, this incident will help me turn my present-day CHALLENGE sales into a bigger network.