From January 8-10 of this year, the New York Times ran an exposé of health and safety and working conditions at
McWane Inc. plants that shocked many of its readers. The Times described these conditions as "part Dickens, part Darwin."
Nine employees at McWane industry plants have been killed on the job since 1995, the highest death toll of any American
company during this period, and 4,600 were reported injured.
One of those killed was UE Local 329 member Frank Wagner, who worked at the Kennedy Valve plant in Elmira, New
York. Wagner died in 1995 in the explosion of an industrial oven in which he was asked to incinerate many gallons of industrial paint —
despite specific warnings against this from its manufacturer and warnings on the paint labels. He was further asked to monitor the
controls on the door of the oven during the burn. When the oven exploded the heavy steel door flew out and crushed him against a pillar.
(Editor's note: Local 329 members at Kennedy Valve have aggressively taken on health and safety issues at that plant,
even before it was bought by McWane. Although the New York Times interviewed UE Local 329 members and officers, it chose not to tell the
impressive story of how our Union has struggled to clean up the Kennedy Valve foundry in Elmira. While Local 329 members still have
disagreements with the Company on specific health and safety issues, the Elmira foundry is a much safer place to work than it was in 1995
when Frank Wagner suffered his fatal accident.)
McWane Inc., one of the largest foundry industry companies in the U.S., has in recent years acquired many smaller
foundries and foundry-related companies. It bought Kennedy Valve in 1995. Because the plants are so widespread, it took OSHA a relatively
long time to connect the dots on the worker deaths happening one-by-one in McWane plants across the U.S.
At one large McWane plant, Tyler Pipe in Tyler, Texas, a string of deaths occurred, which finally captured OSHA and press
attention. Here is how the New York Times describes working conditions at this plant:
It is said that only the desperate seek work at Tyler Pipe, a sprawling, rusting pipe foundry out on Route 69, just past
the flea market. Behind a high metal fence lies a workplace that is part Dickens and part Darwin, a dim, dirty, hellishly hot place
where men are regularly disfigured by amputations and burns, where turnover is so high that convicts are recruited from local prisons,
where some workers urinate in their pants because their bosses refuse to let them step away from the manufacturing line for even a few
The newspaper went on to describe the dangerous and illegal conditions under which one Tyler Pipe employee, Rolan
Hoskin, lived and died. On June 29, 2000 Hoskin was asked to repair a sand conveyor belt near the molding machine. The belt had no
safety guard, as required by law, and the belt was kept running during repairs, also a safety violation. Hoskin, working alone at 4 a.m.,
got caught by the belt and was killed. But it "was not just a conveyor belt that claimed Mr. Hoskin’s life that warm summer night.
He also fell victim to a way of doing business that has produced vast profits and, as the plant’s owners have admitted in federal court,
deliberate indifference to the safety of workers at Tyler Pipe." (1/8/03)
NEW YORK SQUASHES INDICTMENT
This series also revealed new information about the investigation of Frank Wagner’s death, and the role of New York
State Attorney General Dennis Vacco in squashing a criminal indictment against the company for his death.
OSHA, after its investigation of company violations, turned over its findings in the death to the New York State Attorney
General’s office for possible criminal indictments of the company. Prosecutors in the office determined that McWane should face criminal
prosecution for violations including second-degree manslaughter.
At that stage, according to the newspaper, McWane, through its local intermediary John O’Mara, entered into
"secret" talks with Vacco’s office. In a letter to Vacco, company lawyers threatened "possible closure" of the
plant, and "adverse press" for Vacco. The Attorney General then caved, and refused to allow his aides to bring the case before a
grand jury. State environmental investigator Donald Snell told the Times recently, "It was a reckless act on the part of
certain individuals that caused the death of that person. I’ll believe that till the day I die. The ends of justice were not met."
Only after a threat of action against the company by a federal prosecutor in Buffalo did Vacco seek further action against
McWane. In a plea bargain, McWane agreed to plead guilty to an environmental hazardous waste violation! No culpability was admitted by the
company for Frank Wagner’s death.
In part as a result of conduct in this case, as well as his political hirings and firings and general ineptitude in
office, Vacco was defeated in an upset in the 1998 statewide elections by the current Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. In keeping with his
sordid record, Vacco on his last day in office (12/31/98) settled an antitrust case involving Waste Management Inc. on terms favorable to
the giant corporation. Two months later, in February 1999, Vacco signed a contract to work as a lobbyist for—guess who? —Waste
THE BOTTOM LINE
For the past 20 years, successive federal administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have backed away from
enforcement of OSHA health and safety regulations, in favor of cooperation with business. A large proportion of the OSHA budgets, both at
the federal and state levels, now go to assist and advise industry and businesses in complying with health and safety laws, using our
taxpayer money of course. But as the New York Times articles have revealed to many Americans — as many working people know well
already — plenty of companies will pursue the bottom line, and their workers’ health and safety be damned. What else but vigorous,
consistent enforcement of existing health and safety regulations will curb these pursuits? What we need are health and safety policies
that are not all carrots, but have some stick behind them.
(The full text of each of these three New York Times articles is available for $2.95 each at www.nytimes.com.)