Ricky Nombrano, part of the Ballinger, Texas city work crew was killed earlier this week “while operating heavy equipment.” We know nothing about what caused Nombrano’s death, except that it was not due to natural causes.
What’s so special about Nombrano’s death when 12 of his co-workers somewhere in the country also died that day? Nombrano was a public employee. A public employee in Texas. Texas is one of twenty-four states in the country where public employee like Nombrano are not covered by OSHA. That means that almost 50 years after the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, eight million public employees in this country still do not have the right to a safe workplace. Doesn’t matter if you work with heavy equipment on highways, or in mental health institutions or in prisons or in wastewater treatment plants. Doesn’t matter that public employees in many sectors have higher injury and illness rates that private sector employees doing the same job.
You’re just out of luck. You’re a second class citizen without the basic human right to come home healthy and alive at the end of the work day.
Ballinger City Manager Bryan Grimes said in a news release that “The City of Ballinger is heartbroken by this tragic loss, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends, including the many people he worked with here at the city,” Grimes said in a news release.
I don’t doubt it. But will there be a thorough investigation of Nombrano’s death? Will we ever know what the causes were, whether it was preventable, whether there were any OSHA standards violated? I’m not holding my breath.
Because the problem with public employees not being covered by OSHA is that not only that no one be cited for violations that may have led to Nombrano’s death, but there probably won’t even be a full investigation. Just one of those things. Accidents happen. Very sad. Now move on and pray to God something like that won’t happen again. Pray to God, because without any OSHA coverage, God is about all you have.
Reading between the lines, you may have sensed a bit of anger and frustration on my part. I’m not really coming down on the city of Ballinger. It’s a small town with only about 3800 residents. They probably don’t have the budget for a safety manager. But OSHA coverage might make them more aware of the hazards, might encourage them to get some training for their employees and managers, might encourage them to get some free OSHA-funded on-site consultation.
The thing that really pisses me off is that despite the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Act didn’t cover public employees when it was passed in 1970, it did give states options for providing coverage. The twenty-one state plans states that cover private sector employees are required to also cover public employees in their states. States that don’t have state plans also have the option of adopting a “public employee only” OSHA plan, where the feds would cover the private sector and states would cover the public sector. Funding for the public sector coverage would be matched by federal OSHA.
Only five states have taken advantage of this option over the past 50 years — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Maine. The other twenty-four states? Public employees remain second class citizens — public servants like Ricky Nombrano, apparently ready to die for their city.