The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Ford Motor Co.
–where safety is "Job Number One... Million and Two"

Jun 11, 2001

In May, "legionnaires disease" was confirmed at Ford's Dynamometer Research and Engineering Facility in Dearborn Michigan. Legionnaires disease is a particularly virulent form of pneumonia which can be contracted when someone breathes in vapor from contaminated water. Water which sits, or which is circulated through pipes, or held in any tanks which are not regularly cleaned, can become contaminated with the bacteria which produce the disease.

The first two men diagnosed with the disease at Dynamometer became ill early in April after repairing a ruptured pipe which carried pond water into the facility. Ford was notified in early May that they were sick.

Rumors spread through the plant about the possibility of legionnaires disease, but Ford did nothing to confirm it until almost the end of May. And even then, it did not shut down the whole plant. It only chlorinated the ponds from which the water came and cleaned up the basement of the plant with a disinfecting agent.

At the very same time as the outbreak at Dynamometer, Ford was pushing workers at its Rouge facility to work under equally dangerous conditions. The main pipe supplying water to the facility ruptured, thus contaminating not only the pipe, but the whole water system. Ford pushed workers to come back into work the very next day, covering over the problem with bottled water, portajohns and portable tanks providing water. What does bottled water mean in plants where water sprays are used to cool hot parts and where water vapor is everywhere to be breathed in?

Nothing to worry about –so said Ford; and so echoed the big cheeses at UAW Solidarity House who certainly weren't rushing out to the Rouge to expose themselves to the threat of a potentially deadly disease.

Workers at both facilities certainly should have worried –and refused to submit themselves to the risks. Some of them did refuse.

After all, it was only two months earlier that an outbreak of legionnaires disease at Ford's Cleveland Casting Plant had claimed the lives of three workers, and led to the illness of many more. On March 7, two workers from the Casting Plant were diagnosed with the disease. The next day, lab tests confirmed the diagnosis. It was not until March 12 that Ford notified the union of the problem, and not until March 13 when it took a tiny action against the disease: it closed down the workers' showers and distributed bottled water.

The only sane precaution against such a disease is to get everyone out of the buildings where the water supply is suspect. But Ford delayed doing that in Cleveland until the night of the 14th, six days after the lab tests confirmed the existence of the disease.

As soon as a disinfecting company cleaned out the water system, Ford called people back to work, even while cleaners, wearing protection gear, continued to work on the system and to take water samples. Test results didn't come back for ten days, during which time Ford pushed for production.

No sane person would send people into a possibly deadly situation until it was definitely cleared. But corporations are not sane people; they are crazy for profits. And Ford, which has long demonstrated that it will cut every corner, delay implementing every needed safety measure, is among the craziest: a true leader of American capitalism.