Carpenters express safety concerns, demand leadership change at Industrial Commission

Ben Giles//September 29, 2017

Carpenters express safety concerns, demand leadership change at Industrial Commission

Ben Giles//September 29, 2017

Union workers want a change in leadership at the Industrial Commission of Arizona, which has drawn fire for its enforcement of workplace safety regulations.

Dale Schultz
Dale Schultz

Dozens of workers from the Carpenters Union of Arizona attended the commission’s meeting on September 21, where they demanded the resignation of Chairman Dale Schultz, and the firing of Bill Warren, the director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety.

Schultz knew what was coming, and he took several minutes before the meeting began to reassure the union workers that he’s no bureaucrat. He accepted an appointment as chairman of the ICA from Gov. Doug Ducey so he could make working conditions safer for industrial workers, he told the audience. Those pleas were drowned out by chants of “si se puede” (generally meaning yes, we can) from the dozens of carpenters who had spilled out into the hallway.

It was a sign of what was to come for Schultz, who listened as union workers, one-by-one, addressed what they called his failure to provide adequate oversight of the construction industry and called on Ducey to intervene and oust his appointee.

Fabian Sandez, the union’s president, told Schultz that the chairman must lack an interest in enforcing workplace safety standards for blue collar workers. The union specifically pointed to reports from the Arizona Daily Star, whose investigation found that the ICA routinely reduces fines for workplace safety violations – acts that drew the attention of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found the ICA’s reduction of fines to be arbitrary and outside the commission’s legal authority.

“This commission has chosen to side with lawbreakers,” Sandez said. “It’s obvious that your leadership of this commission has been a failure.”

Union representative Steve Pasko told the commission that it had also failed to ferret out bad actors in the construction industry that operate as part of an underground, cash-based economy in order to avoid enforcement.

That costs law-abiding construction companies and workers valuable opportunities, he said.

Pasko said the union has put together its own investigation, which included paid outside investigators who found the accusations to be true. If the union can find it, Plasko said, why not the ICA?

Jose Mata, a 56-year-old union member from Yuma, told the commission of the effects of the commission’s lack of enforcement – a 2011 accident left him in an induced coma for 17 days and out of work for longer. Yet the workers’ compensation benefits he received weren’t enough to cover the cost of being out of work, he said.

“Are you going to be there for us, or for these companies?” Mata said.

After the union had its say, Schultz urged the workers to stay and listen. He boasted of the commission’s efforts to visit work sites and speak to industrial workers, and noted that Warren was part of those trips.

“We do that constantly,” Schultz said.

In his two years on the ICA, Schultz said that industrial injuries have been reduced by almost 10,000 per year. He also defended his motivations for serving, and those of Warren, who Schultz said lost two family members in industrial accidents.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said the Governor’s Office was monitoring the situation.

“The Industrial Commission is involved with ongoing communications with OSHA,” Ptak wrote in an email. “Ensuring workers’ safety is a top priority.”

On September 21, Schultz told the Carpenters Union workers in the audience that federal officials don’t always know best. The ICA is trying to do what’s right for Arizona workers, and that doesn’t necessarily mean following the federal government’s every recommendation, Schultz said.

“Are you guys pleased with the way the federal government runs things? I’m not,” he said.