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Maybe itís because I spent twenty-three years in an assembly plant, but to me good ergonomics is good sense. 

Derrick Quinney
Safety & Health Director
Michigan AFL-CIO

Ergonomics in the states

The fight for ergonomic standards lost ground in 2003 with the repeal of Washington stateís ergonomics rule.

The Washington state ergonomics rule became law in 1998, and each year business friendly legislators launched an attempt to repeal it. In 2003 such a measure passed the state Senate with several Democrats supporting it. The governor, however, threatened to veto the bill and it died. Washington industry groups turned to the ballot box, spending an estimated $1.5 million to get the initiative on the ballot and passed into law with 53% support. Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO safety director, says corporate backers of the referendum "lied about the rule from the beginning" and succeeded in portraying the choice as an "economic, not a worker safety, issue."

The new law bars Washington from pursuing an ergonomics standard unless a federal one is passed.

In Minnesota, Democratic senator Linda Higgins is sponsoring an ergonomics bill with the support of labor unions. The bill, however, has no chance of becoming law.

Rhode Island was to establish a special commission on ergonomics under a two year old amendment to the stateís Workers Compensation Act, however, the Republican governor never appointed members to the commission and it expires this winter.

The only state with a current ergonomics standard is California. It is a standard which needs strengthening, though the possibilities of that seem slim. The state AFL-CIO petitioned to strengthen the standard when Gray Davis was governor, but the effort went nowhere. Things donít look any better with newly elected conservative Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. An executive order issued by Schwarzenegger requires that all regulations undergo a thorough analysis of their economic impact on business interests.

Michigan has established an Ergonomics Steering Committee with representatives from labor and industry. Labor representatives come from the Teamsters, UAW, UFCW, PACE, SEIU and the state AFL-CIO.

Derrick Quinney represents the Michigan AFL-CIO on the committee. "Weíve had two get acquainted meetings and are trying to work out who and what a Michigan standard would cover," says Quinney, who thinks a standard should cover all workers. "Maybe itís because I spent twenty-three years in an assembly plant, but to me good ergonomics is good sense. It raises morale and productivity, and it reduces injuries and costs. Itís a win-win situation. I know people who have been through the surgeries and the rehabilitation. No matter what they do, their quality of life is wrecked. Corporations shouldnít be able to use us up and throw us on the trash heap."


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