Eleven workers dead, untold volumes of sea-life poisoned and more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea. If that's what an historically good year for safety looks like at TransOcean, I'd hate to see a bad year.
Most people know the name TransOcean only because of the explosion on the company's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the spill that followed -- the largest offshore oil spill in US history. A presidential commission investigating that disaster declared that lax standards caused the deadly mess. Despite that, TransOcean executives are receiving safety bonuses.
In a filing Friday, Transocean said, "Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record." In fact, the company says it was the best year in safety performance in the company's history —which has to make you wonder about other years.
Safety apparently accounts for a quarter of the equation that determines executive bonuses at TransOcean. The rest, predictably, is “financial factors," including new rig contracts. So, even as it doles out that safety bonus -- worth $374,000 above salary - to its CEO, TransOcean is trying to score more contracts -- and it's working hard to dodge hearings by the U.S. Interior Department and Coast Guard, telling its employees they don't have to show up despite being subpoenaed.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly says TransOcean "just doesn't get it." Maybe what needs most to be "gotten" is the importance of not leaving corporations to police themselves. "Self-regulation" has been the regulation-of-choice for corporations for years, and for a generation of politicians in their pocket. But when it comes to safety, self-enforcement doesn't do the job. Just ask the families of the eleven men hurled to their death off the TransOcean rig, or the relatives of the 29 miners killed a year ago this week at the Upper Big Branch mine owned by serial violator, Massey Energy in West Virginia. Persistent violations there preceded the deadly gas build up. Now multiple investigations continue with every player pointing the finger at every other.
Is a safety bonus for then Massey CEO Don Blankenship on the way? Who knows. A good safety year for any of these companies still tends to be bloody, and they're not alone. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sixteen workers a day die from work-related injuries, with hardly any consequences to employers for failing to comply with guidelines. With four million injuries on the job each year, it seems that employers have decided that it's easier to flout the law than to comply.
What we do know is workers lives need defense not contingent on statistics and the arcane calculus of CEO performance in which people's lives are measured against profits. As long as companies have great lawyers, workers need their own defenders. And that's part of what people are marching for this spring in thousands of "We Are One" rallies taking place in solidarity with unions under attack in Wisconsin and around the US. Protestors are remembering Dr. King's assassination and his last stand, with striking public workers fighting for the right to unionize. And they're remembering the TransOcean Eleven, The Massey 29. The reality is, although politicians and executives say we "all" have to share in sacrifice, some sacrifice more than others. And as long as bonuses are paid to the bosses who don't protect workers lives, workers still need unions who will stand up for them.