Gov. George Deukmejian said Thursday that sponsors of Proposition 97, the worker-safety initiative, are using “misleading” statistics to bolster their claims that more workers have died since he cut funds for Cal/OSHA, the safety and health program for California’s 9.5 million private sector workers, from the state budget.
Deukmejian, taping a KCBS News Conference program that will be shown at 5 p.m. Sunday, said charges that worker deaths have increased since Deukmejian eliminated the program fromthe budget are “absolutely untrue.”
Proposition 97, sponsored by the California Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), the California Medical Assn., the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club, among others, would restore about $9 million in state funding for a state worker safety and health program.
Deukmejian eliminated the Cal/OSHA program last year as a cost-cutting measure, claiming that the state was “duplicating” the federal worker-safety program.
The state retained responsibility for protecting the health and safety of state and municipal workers in California.
Critics claim that since the budget action the number of worker deaths in the private sector has risen.
In several recent press conferences, proponents of Proposition 97 have said that there was a 53% increase in work-related deaths during the first six months after Cal/OSHA was axed and worker safety was turned over to the federal government.
But Deukmejian said Thursday that sponsors of the initiative “are counting things like people involved in automobile accidents,” a charge he also leveled at a press conference last week. He added, “They are counting types of things that are not related to violations of worker standards.”
The assertion about increased work-related deaths was first raised in a state Senate report in August. Committee consultant Andrew Schaefer’s study reported that there were 101 private sector workplace deaths during the second half of 1987 under federal OSHA, compared to 66 in the last six months of 1986, under Cal/OSHA.
The report’s conclusions were immediately challenged by Ronald T. Rinaldi, the state’s director of Industrial Relations. He said the Senate report was based on “meaningless and misleading conclusions” because it counted all fatalities logged by a state research agency during that six-month period, not just those that involved apparent violations of OSHA standards. Frank Strasheim, the regional director of federal OSHA in San Francisco, has also challenged the validity of the Senate report’s conclusion.
On Thursday, Deukmejian also suggested that supporters of Proposition 97 have partisan motives in criticizing him. He noted that Massachusetts and New York, both of which have Democratic governors, have not attracted similar criticism for having a federally run worker-safety programs.
Deukmejian has taken heavy criticism from labor supporters in the Legislature, but the Proposition 97 campaign has been more restrained.
“We’ve been careful not to attack the governor,” said Marc Grossman, a campaign spokesman. “If you look throughout our press materials . . . we hardly mention his name.”
He added: “We don’t want the thing to degenerate into a political squabble. . . . We want to talk about the substantive differences in the program. The California program is very superior to the federal program. It has more and tougher standards and has led to many more criminal prosecutions of employers who endanger workers’ lives.”
Jan Chatten Brown, special assistant to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner for occupational safety and health, took issue with Deukmejian’s charge. She noted that the fatality data was scrutinized by a Sacramento Superior Court judge in August.
“The judge ruled that it was the governor’s use of statistics that was misleading, not the proponents of Proposition 97. In fact, the judge ordered removed from the governor’s ballot argument against Proposition 97 the statement that fatalities were declining under federal OSHA,” she said.
Leading in Polls
Polls by the Mervin Field organization in San Francisco in July and September showed Proposition 97 leading by better than a 2-1 margin. On Wednesday, Richie Ross, the Sacramento-based political consultant who designed the Proposition 97 campaign, said his latest internal poll showed that the measure was leading 46% to 19%, with 35% undecided.
However, he cautioned delegates to the California Labor Federation convention here that “46% ain’t 50%,” the amount needed for the measure to pass.
Ross said that it was critical for the campaign to get its message out on television and that he had booked $500,000 worth of television time. But he said the campaign had only $385,000 available to buy television time and needed to raise another $115,000 in the next week to pay for all the time that has been booked.
He said the pro-Proposition 97 campaign had also begun to disseminate direct mail to voters, “piggybacking” on the mailers of Democratic candidates. But he added that virtually every Republican slate-card mailer sent out in the closing weeks of the campaign would urge a No vote on Proposition 97.