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2 May 2003, 01:00

It’s the injustice of it all that makes me sick.

It’s the inhumanity of it all that makes me sick.

It’s the laundry list of human fatalities, injuries, illness and environmental attrocities that McWane Inc. has amassed, its the cost in human lives and environmental ruin that communities have paid to have the jobs McWane provides.

Read the whole story and catch the Frontline documentary: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/workplace/

I am horrified at the attitudes and practices that put the product and profit above all else, at all the little companies in all the little communities that are victimized by McWane Inc. Especially when it doesn’t have to be this way. Not by a long shot.

Companies like McWane Inc. thrive in the current political atmosphere where business is allowed to run amok without any regulatory restraints or oversight. Lots of people will call this capitalistic freedom, the removal of the stranglehold government and regulation has on businesses. Lots of pro-business lobbies have fought long and hard to crush the authority and pull the teeth of federal agencies in place to serve as watchdog such as OSHA and the EPA. Indeed, in the current administration has created an atmosphere where these agencies are losing funding and authority to enforce the multitude of safety and health regulations that would have prevented many of the horrors that has happened at many of the companies owned by McWane Inc.

There is a reason McWane Inc. has earned the reputation as the most dangerous workplace in America. Even when worker’s compensation one of their plants nearly tripled in cost, they brought in a nurse whose main job was to question any injury or accident. Treat any and all claims as suspect. One worker, Marcos Lopez , from the, Tyler Pipe in Tyler, Texas McWane’s largest plant, who complained of back pain was diagnosis by doctors at a private clinic contracted by McWane Inc. as having back strain, and send home with pain medication and an ice pack. After returning to the clinic and demanding an X-ray of his back, the clinic’s doctors found out that the worker’s back was broken – he was suffering from a compressed fracture and 25 days after the injury he finally underwent surgery to help his back. Physicians from the state of Texas examined the man and determined he will be partially disable for the rest of his life.

And what is the tragedy is that an abhorration like McWane Inc. doesn’t have to happen. According to the report, a competitor of McWane’s, ACIPCO is consistently rated by Fortune magazine as one of best employers in America.

From the last part of the Frontline documentary:

“Bart Slawson is referring to the American Cast Iron Pipe Company, called ACIPCO.

It’s been here even longer than the McWane plant. It’s in the same business: melting metal, casting pipe. It’s a process that is inherently dirty and dangerous.

But there’s one defining difference between this place and the McWane foundries. There’s a long waiting-list of people who want to work here. They know it isn’t perfect — people have been hurt and killed here in industrial accidents — but ACIPCO’s rate of serious injuries is a fraction of McWane’s.

The chief executive officer at ACIPCO is Van Richey.

They say they have survived by steadily improving working conditions. Temperatures in a pipe-casting shop can reach 130 degrees. In Tyler, Texas, McWane rationed the ice cubes in the workers’ water cooler. In Birmingham, ACIPCO installed individual air conditioners.

VAN RICHEY : We had people say: You’re crazy. That won’t work. Why are you doing that? You’re wasting all this money. It actually works. And the employees are much more comfortable, and they’re more productive.

ACIPCO is consistently rated by Fortune magazine as one of best employers in America — an achievement that’s not lost on one of McWane’s veteran employees.

ROBERT RESTER : Oh yeah, I’ve wanted to work at ACIPCO. Yeah, yeah a lot of people like to work at ACIPCO.

LOWELL BERGMAN : They don’t have a lot of turnover?

ROBERT RESTER : No, no. I was told that the only time you can get a job at ACIPCO is if somebody retires or dies or something like that. I mean people go to work there and stay forever.

Workers at ACIPCO have one very good reason to stay. Collectively, they own the plant and share in its profits, even after they retire.

John Eagan, who built the foundry, willed it to his workers when he died in 1924. He was a devout Christian who tried to practice what his pastors preached by running a business based upon the Golden Rule.

VAN RICHEY : Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Before you make a rule, say, “OK, this rule, what if it applied to me? Is it fair?”

There was one notable dissent when John Eagan announced that he was going to operate his foundry on the Golden Rule. The president of the company quit. His name: J. R. McWane.

He crossed town to start his own pipe company and a dynasty based on a profoundly different vision. That was more than 80 years ago. “