Tulsa World acts as management’s mouthpiece
By Daniel Lee
Mayor Dewey Bartlett continued his war against Public workers last week, using the local newspaper as his platform to slander city workers. Bartlett is quoted in a Tulsa World article (July 30, “City of Tulsa's 'weak safety culture' costs millions in employee injuries, claims” by Randy Krehbiel) as stating that public employees have a “weak safety culture”, after city management ordered a $71,000 safety report from DuPont “Sustainable Solutions” which gave the city a score of .9 on a 0-5 safety scale. The article also contains numerous graphs and statistics with such statements as “Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they ‘have had no involvement at all with any safety activities.’” It certainly paints a bleak picture, offering staggering figures of injuries and Workers’ Compensation claims, lack of accountability and unsafe work practices.
What the article fails to mention is that AFSCME International, and Tulsa Local 1180, have repeatedly offered to conduct safety training classes for the past 5 years, but the proposals have been rejected each time by city management. In fact, the city has been stonewalling all safety requests made by the union submitted in the City Safety and Health Management Committee, which was originally designed to be a forum for workers and management to come together in a non-adversarial atmosphere to work out issues related to such matters. Union local president Mike Rider told the Oklahoma Workers Monthly that the union has been repeatedly requesting OSHA-rated safety eyewear for the workers, which would cost approximately $60 per pair, but has been turned down each time for over a year by the management on the committee. Yet, despite claims of “budget shortfalls”, the mayor spent $71,000 on the DuPont report. This is the same DuPont, incidentally, which has been repeatedly fined by the EPA for toxic waste dumping - endangering over 7 million people’s lives in the areas around their chemical plants – and has a well-documented history of union busting, health and safety violations, and created an industrial disaster in India, using local police to suppress protesters and murder a 25 year-old activist.
The reporting by the Tulsa World was clearly-one sided and designed to paint public workers in the worst light possible. When contacted by the Oklahoma Worker’s Monthly about the article, Tulsa World writer Randy Krehbiel admitted that he had not even bothered to contact the union about the issue, and had approached the article believing the underlying issue to be the falsification of workers’ compensation reports and fraud by city workers. Krehbiel was urged to contact the union’s president and get both sides of the story. The next day, an editorial was published by Tulsa World staff editors, restating the need for safety issues to be addressed, citing the lack of accountability as the problem. There was no mention of AFSCME’s attempts to set up safety training or the most basic of safety equipment requests being denied by city management.
Bartlett’s attack on union workers comes as no surprise. In 2010, Bartlett commissioned an efficiency review by KPMG, an auditing and efficiency consulting firm, to study and recommend areas to cut costs and “increase efficiency” in city government and services. KPMG, it may be noted, is a multi-national corporation whose influence reaches into the upper levels of US, British, and European government, and was indicted in 2005 for creating fraudulent tax shelters for wealthy clients. The report was used by Bartlett to create a push to cut city services and base an argument for privatization of city contracts, one of the points suggested by the KPMG report. With the jobs of hundreds of workers in the crosshairs, Tulsa city employee union members worked together to create a plan which both cut costs and increase efficiency, and successfully had their contract renewed. Even Mayor Bartlett at the time (as of March, 2012) thanked the city workers on their saving the city $224,000 since last year. However, he had not given up on his war against public workers.
In June, Bartlett presented a city budget which he pretentiously called “The Budget of Collaboration” to the Tulsa City Council, which among other things, included spending over $800,000 on “consultants” such as DuPont, but cut raises for city union workers, many of whom are forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. When city workers showed up at a city council meeting on June 14th to speak out against the betrayal of their interests and the forced hardship on their families, Bartlett stood up in the middle of their message and walked out. This of course was not reported in the Tulsa World. The newspaper’s headline four days later about the meeting: “Tulsa City Council goes to work on mayor's budget proposal”. No mention about city workers holding up their food stamp cards and pleading to be given enough money to feed their families, or the dismissive and autocratic mayor getting up and walking out during one impassioned worker’s speech.
This latest stunt with the DuPont report is merely an attempt by Bartlett and his union-busting cronies to portray public workers as dangerous, costly, and criminally negligent. And it has worked. Online comments to the story already clamor for privatization and speculate wildly about workers compensation fraud with ridiculous anecdotes which slander the work and sacrifice of our public servants that build our roads, keep our water clean, fight our fires and protect our streets; the city workers who are the backbone of our cities. The Tulsa World has given Mayor Bartlett the soapbox he craves, acting as his personal PR team and refusing to report anything which contradicts the narrative he is pushing. Their reporting resembles something more like propaganda than independent media. One wonders whatever happened to “freedom of the press.” And while they fete his accomplishments, another public worker’s family checks how much money is left on their food card to try to make it to the end of the month, wondering how much longer they might have a job.
Party members and Labor supporters are urged to Call Tulsa AFSCME 1180 and show your support! 918.584.0334
Then call the Mayor's action line (918) 596-2100 to protest his attempt to CRUSH WORKERS RIGHTS.
UPDATE: To Tulsa World writer Randy Krehbiel's credit, a followup story was run Sunday August 5th, featuring an interview with AFSCME Local 1180 President Mike Rider, commenting on the situation, and giving the union's side of the story. Mr. Krehbiel should be commended for his pursuing journalistic integrity, despite the Tulsa World's track record of report first, ask questions later.