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photos by Lara Shipley

OSHA on the Docks

October 10th, 2002 · No Comments

One element of the labor/management conflict on the West Coast piqued my interst. Recall that this wasn’t a straight-up strike: management ordered a lockout after longshoremen began a “work slowdown.” This makes it extra bizarre for management to have petitioned the administration to order their workers back on the job, but that’s not what’s most interesting. What I noticed was how the slowdown apparently works: the union just encourages its workers to follow all regulations strictly. In other words, when the labor laws are actually followed as written, an industry is crippled so severely that the president considered it a serious threat to the economy (and, somewhat obscurely “national security”). Translation: only pervasive lawbreaking prevents the economy from being crushed under regulatory burdens. When people actually follow the law, the president has to intervene to get them back to breaking it. Onionesque.

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