Eleven workers dead, untold volumes of sea life poisoned and more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea. If that’s what a historically good safety record looks like at TransOcean, I’d hate to see a bad year.
Most people know the name TransOcean only because of the explosion on the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
A US presidential commission investigating the offshore spill—the largest in US history—declared that lax standards caused the deadly mess. Despite that, TransOcean executives are receiving safety bonuses this month. In a filing Friday, TransOcean said, “Notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record.” In fact, the company says it was the best year in safety performance in the company’s history—which has to make you wonder about other years.
Safety apparently accounts for a quarter of the equation that determines executive bonuses at TransOcean. The rest is, predictably, “financial factors,” including new rig contracts. Even as it doles out that safety bonus (worth $374,000, above salary) to its CEO, TransOcean is trying to score more of those—and dodge hearings by the US Interior Department and Coast Guard, telling its employees they don’t have to show up despite being subpoenaed.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly says TransOcean “just doesn’t get it.” Maybe what we need to “get” is the importance of not leaving corporations to police themselves. When it comes to safety, self-enforcement doesn’t do the job. Just ask the families of the eleven dead TransOcean rig workers, or the relatives of the twenty-nine miners killed a year ago this week at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Persistent violations there preceded the deadly gas build up. Multiple investigations continue, with every player pointing the finger elsewhere. Is a safety bonus for then–Massey CEO Don Blankenship on the way? Who knows?
What we do know is that workers’ lives need defense not contingent on the calculus of CEO performance and that doesn't value profits and reputation over people’s lives. As long as companies have great lawyers, workers need their own defenders. And that’s part of what people are marching for.
This April, people are remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last stand with striking sanitation workers in Memphis and showing their own solidarity with unions under attack. When politicians or executives say we “all” have to share the sacrifice, some sacrifice more than others—and as long as bonuses are paid to the bosses who don’t protect workers lives, workers need unions that will stand up for them.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books . GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org  and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv  or GRITlaura  on Twitter and be our friend on