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13 years, this has been the way [the board] has seen that this vital law of Texas is ‘faithfully executed.’ ” Last November, a month after Mattox and Criss aired their criticisms, Lyndon Olson, chairman of the Board of Insurance, fired back. He said that workplace safety was not a matter to be taken lightly, “or to be used for political advantage.” He pledged that. “to the extent we can receive the. money and the necessary staff, we intend to monitor more closely the insurance industry’s compliance with the law. . . ” Toward that end, the board has since revised its compliance certificate to include a section on expenditures for field safety services and training. It also has requested the legislature to appropriate funding for three engineers to oversee job safety programs provided by insurers; there currently are none on staff. IVEN THE legislature’s histori cal indifference to safety in the workplace even in rosy economic times it seems unlikely the state will seek to greatly expand its role in this arena in the 70th session. Even so, there are faint rays of hope on the horizon. A House subcommittee study ing trench fatalities has recommended that “the state consider developing its own OSHA.” The committee, though, mindful of the $30 million or so a year a state-administered OSHA would cost, declined to draft such a bill. Chaired by Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, D-Alice, the committee did draft five pieces of more modest legislation, which would: provide financial incentives for safe contractors; strengthen the regulatory role of the Board of Insurance; establish a comprehensive system for tracking on-the-job injuries and fatalities; require detailed trench construction plans for publicly-contracted jobs; and presume recklessness if a contractor fails to comply with OSHA trench regulations. “What we want to do,” Glossbrenner says, “is take the financial reward out of risking people’s lives.” Another House committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Smith, R-Bryan, is looking into workers’ compensation reforms. Smith said the committee will recommend introducing legislation to more closely monitor insurance companies and to reward companies with good safety records with lower premiums. Ken Oden, the Travis County attorney who brought criminal charges against the employers in the 1985 deaths of the three construction workers, Eatmon, Rodriguez and Maldonado, told Glossbrenner’s committee he believes the only deterrent to recalcitrant employers is stiffer criminal penalties. “Right now,” Oden says, “getting slapped with an OSHA fine even in the event of a death is just another cost of doing business, like your insurance. Until we develop some other kind of serious direct potential to make people reevaluate how they run their company, I really doubt there will be any serious change. “Whatever insurance incentives, whatever civil remedies, whatever else is available will probably not get the employers to take it as seriously as we would want them to unless they feel like there is potential for criminal liability,” Oden says. But with a largely unorganized workforce 80 percent of construction workers in Texas are non-union and nearly half the workers killed in trenches in this decade were Hispanic, many of whom were undocumented one probably cannot expect much moral indignation rising out of the Capitol. While the legislature investigates and deliberates and debates, the death toll continues to climb. At 4:30 in the morning of January 8 the week before the 70th session of the legislature was convened a 29-year-old Houston construction worker named Bill Parks was pouring concrete when he fell 50 feet through a hole to his death. About 30 minutes earlier, Dennis Kaiser, 26, had fallen through the same hole. “It’s possible to keep the law going if the legislature comes through for us this year,” Elliot said. “But the more interest we stir up, the more we are inundated with compliance documents, and the less able we are with our small staff to keep up with it. So unless we get additional staff, we’re going to reach a breaking point.” Shortly before press time, Elliot told the Observer the Legislative Budget Board had recommended against funding the Department of Health’s two-year request for $400,000 to hire additional compliance inspectors and support staff. IN THE INTEREST last session of forging a rare alliance the chemical industry and labor and environmental groups endorsed the right-to-know bill Rep. Ed Watson, D-Deer Park, the bill’s author, excluded agricultural workers from coverage under the act \(TO, “because frankly we couldn’t pass the thing with everybody included.” Did Watson bow to pressure from the powerful Texas Farm Bureau, as some critics have charged’? “Look,” Watson told the Observer, “the farm workers were just one of many groups excluded. We would have liked to include them but when you’re trying to negotiate and get some people protected on the books, you’ve got to be willing to compromise.” Farm worker representatives say that they are the only major group exposed to hazardous workplace chemicals and excluded from the state law that are not covered by the federal right-to-know rule. “Miners, construction workers are all protected [under the OSHA regulation],” says Jim Harrington, legal director for the Texas Civil Liberties Union, who is bringing a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO. The suit, filed in November in state court in Travis County, alleges that the law discriminates against Texas farm workers, who are predominantly of Mexican origin, “a minority group with a long history of political powerlessness. . . .” The suit seeks to expand the act’s coverage to include farm workers. A February trial date has been set before District Judge Harley Clark. Texas Chemical Council lobbyist Jon Fisher, a key player in the drafting and passage of the bill, said he thinks farm workers ought to be protected by law, but that “the training requirements [of the existing act] are not really applicable to an agricultural workplace.” Fisher said he would support a separate law for farm workers. Farm worker representatives have been meeting with the Chemical Council and the Farm Bureau in an effort to agree upon a bill for this session. But the UFW’s Rebecca Flores Harrington said farm workers “can’t afford to twiddle our thumbs waiting for the good graces of the legislature to pass another bill.” With or without a vigorous enforcement program, says Jim Harrington, farm workers will still benefit from inclusion in the present law. “You can enforce it through lawsuits, which is the way things are done anyway in Texas. You can’t really depend on the agencies to protect you.” B.A THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7