Banned OSHA Films

Here’s a nice Labor Day themed story.

In 1980, the last year of Jimmy Carter’s administration, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) commissioned a series of three 30-minute films about worker safety.  These were real pro productions, with Studs Terkel as narrator on two of the productions.  In 1981, Reagan appointed 36-year old Florida construction executive Thorne G. Auchter, who proceeded to systematically dismantle the agency.  Evidently, the 3 films disturbed Thorne greatly, because OSHA issued a recall, threatening to withold OSHA funds from any organization that did not return their copies of the films, which were promptly destroyed.

But, a few union officials defied the ban and "stole" copies so they weren’t able to be returned.  Over the years, they would occasionally show them to their troops, using the fact they banned as a way to get them to watch the films, which have important messages about worker rights and workplace safety.  But, aside from these bootleg showings, the video disappeared.

PublicResource.Org got a note recently from Mark Catlan, a health and safety expert for one of the unions for the last 28 years (he actually started working for the union the year the film came out, and remembers his education director stealing a copy out of his office so it wouldn’t get returned).  A year ago, Mark decided the world needed to see these films, so he found 16-mm cannisters and made them available to us to transfer to DVCAM and then disk.

Making their public debut after 30 years are "Worker to Worker," "Can’t Take No More," and "The Story of OSHA."

Link to YouTube

The Story of OSHA

Can’t Take No More

Worker to Worker



Link to the Internet Archive:

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Via Dave Farber’s Interesting People list

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Discussions found on the web:
  1. Greg0658 commented on Sep 1

    Thanks for the link BR.

    I caught a subliminal perception blip in there. Shame shame.

  2. Tony commented on Sep 1

    When jobs, such as the textile jobs depicted in the first film, are off-shored, then there are no standards to protect workers.

    Only by internationalizing OSHA type standards can the playing field be leveled and the dangers to workers be mitigated. This is a role for labor unions.

  3. JustinTheSkeptic commented on Sep 1

    Tony, I believe that, like in so many other instances, it would be both cost prohibitive and a logistics nightmare to enact such standards. Not to mention the crossing of international borders. Perhaps someday, way down the road it might happen, but as for today there are just too many poorer peoples in countries around the world who are willing to take health risks, in order to have a livelihood.

  4. DownSouth commented on Sep 1

    Things like this used to be important to American workers.

    But now worker safety seems to have fallen off the map, just like real wages, health care and retirement benefits, and the only things that occupy the minds of workers are Guns, Gays and God.

  5. Dave commented on Sep 1

    1/ Shorting stocks is dangerous work. Are you covered?

    2/ Where’s Troy McClure?

    3/ Wasn’t OSHA created under Nixon’s watch?

  6. SR commented on Sep 1

    Re: DownSouth

    “…. and the only things that occupy the minds of workers are Guns, Gays and God.”

    One might amend “Babies” with the call to arms of Conservative Christians regarding Palin as VP.

    Watch that play out in the days ahead. The religious fundies now have someone they can believe in/embrace.

    Then again, your mileage may vary….

  7. leftback commented on Sep 1


    You definitely have a good feel for that NASCAR demographic, I won’t argue that point. You are probably right that Palin will play well in the South, where the election will now be even more sharply polarized (in the South it’s about race).

    In the Northeast, reaction among women seems to be divided – between those who are deeply offended (many older supporters of Hillary, Maureen Dowd in the NYT) and the younger women I heard chatting on their cell phones in Manhattan on Friday. “So, I heard they chose this crazy pro-lifer…”

    Still loving the balanced ticket? I remain convinced that Palin will be a Gaffe a Minute once she gets out on the campaign trail away from the handlers.

    A happy Labor Day to all.

  8. SR commented on Sep 1

    Re: leftback

    Nascar Nation demographics* play out all over the country (even in the Pacific NW) and for Palin’s (knocked up) daughter to be displayed as ‘family values’ goes way past pandering to the rabid Pro-Life sector.

    Not to worry, as Palin’s Neocons/Repub handlers will stay on target (keeping her on a short lease)

    *It frightens me as to the banality of the mindset. Though it dovetails with the ‘Thought Speak’ the masses embrace.

    ie ‘Reverend Feelgood’

    All The Best To Everyone This Labor Day…especially for those displaced from Gustav, may they safely return home.

  9. Tom C commented on Sep 1

    A gaffe a minute? I don’t think she has Biden’s celebrated IQ or been to 57 states yet so you may have a point.

  10. wmac commented on Sep 1

    An OSHA thread turns into more Palin? Is there really nothing more important to talk about than the GOP’s VP candidate?

    Happy Labor Day all, go out and kiss a Union worker!

  11. crabbybill commented on Sep 1

    1. I saw OSHA and safety regs used and abused daily by the UAW and IUE as a lever in work rule extortion/compromise against GM. The 30 min. films clearly are over the ‘nuetral’ line and were created two or three years before the big push to move out of the states, but it’s clear when you’re not wanted. Unrecoverable OSHA/environmental regs. expenses were one of the top ten cost avoidance items in establishing the Mexican and Asian production facilities.
    2.Worker related benefits (i.e. medical insurance, safe workplace, pensions, min wage etc.) are nice but cost prohibitive non-competitive luxuries in ‘global’ manufacturing. If desired in the US, these items need to be removed from the manufacturing/operations unit cost side and funded as a combination of full tax credits and national sales tax funded single payer benefit system. If these luxuries are the cost of manufacturing in the US then…

  12. AGG commented on Sep 1

    Relax, people.
    The pendulum is swinging away from peak greed again. Yes it’s all happened before. We didn’t get here by accident. We got here by design. The con-artists broke into the government and took it apart. These bastards even redifined the term “cost-effective” to mean “steal all you can and let the devil take the hindmost”. They paid pop psychologists to market greed, selfishness, abrasive speach and boorish behavior as alpha male success traits. It was ORGANIZED with money from you and me. From the Jimmy Swagart crocadile tears to the Rove’s wedge politics it was all a piece. They’ve lost credibility and they know it.
    They’re trying to “get in front” of the movement to make capitalism humane now so they can sabotage it and kill any hope we have of a better society.
    When sharp, intelligent people like Barry Ritholtz who could be a billionaire by going the super greed route eschew these civilzation destroying reptiles, it gives us all hope. Thank you Barry and thank you to all the people who have woken up. The Gipper shafted us. It’s time for pay back.

  13. daveNYC commented on Sep 1

    A safe workplace is considered a worker benefit?

  14. DeDude commented on Sep 1

    Reagan was an even bigger disaster for labor and the unions than he was for the country as a whole. Unfortunately the free trade disaster that he started was continued without a break by every president since, including Clinton. Free trade means that the worst and lowest worker conditions (safety, benfits, wage) become the starting point for everybody. What we need is free and fair trade where imports are taxed according to the worker conditions that they where produced under. The savings on safety, benefits and wages that multinationals harvest by going to these countries, should be confiscated at the border when they want to import the products. The short-term benefits of cheap Chinese trinckets are not worth the long-term destruction of our industrialized society.

  15. crabbybill commented on Sep 1

    A safe workplace costs money! It is a nonvalue added expense from the perspective of the product buyer/consumer. Walmart and equals are not interested in the ‘worker benefits’– benefits might be great, but they provide no value to the end consumer 12000 miles away. The shirt doesn’t fit better or worse if the worker breathes dust or not. The mantra of global competition is the elimination of all nonvalue added expenses–even the necessary ones! This is the logic of big name and dollar consulting today.

  16. Gegner commented on Sep 1

    I second that AGG! We’re fortunate beyond measure to have folks like Barry! I also concur that the ‘pendulum’ is swinging back towards a more ‘humane’, um, society (it just might not be capitalistic.)

    The ‘hollowing out’ of the USA was done to us, not for us. When ‘fair trade’ replaces ‘free trade’ the workers of this nation will get their fair share.

  17. AGG commented on Sep 1

    Thank you, Gegner.
    crabbybill: You have a very scientific attitude towards business. However, people are not hamsters that run in cages to make stuff. The fastest and strongest hamster may be better for your business but you will kill a lot of hamsters. To which you say “So what? “. To which I answer: You don’t build a country by mining the foundation. Business is NOT all about profit. That’s an extremely limited view. Every woman would be a whore if life was just about money. Every man would be a thief and a liar if life was all about money. Is that your world view? A lot of us don’t share it and NO, we don’t lie and cheat every chance we get. Principles are real and many people have them. Join us and be part of a better world.
    And for those who want to keep being Soprano CEOs, we’re going to send you to prison where you can join others of your ilk in playing king of the shit pile.

  18. SR commented on Sep 1

    Re: AGG

    “…When sharp, intelligent people like Barry Ritholtz who could be a billionaire by going the super greed route eschew these civilzation destroying reptiles, it gives us all hope. Thank you Barry and thank you to all the people who have woken up…”

    Can I have an AMEN?

    Do I hear HALLELUJAH?

  19. Mark E Hoffer commented on Sep 1


    with this: “Reagan was an even bigger disaster for labor and the unions..”

    “…The list of members now totaling about 350 indicates such professional, geographic, and political diversity. Among the current U.S. members, for example, the largest group is drawn from business, banking and finance, but these individuals constitute only about half of the total. There are also labor leaders, congressmen and senators, university professors, and research institute directors.”

    “…There are also labor leaders,…”

    “Union” Leadership, long ago, sold the ‘rank and file’ down the river.

    crabbybill: “A safe workplace costs money! It is a nonvalue added expense from the perspective of the product buyer/consumer.”

    Your Financial view of Business is one thatcreates little, to no, long-run Economic value.


    excerpt: “While every loyalty leader’s strategy is unique, all of them build on the following eight elements: Building a superior customer value proposition, finding the right customers, earning customer loyalty, finding the right employees, earning employee loyalty, gaining cost advantage through superior productivity, finding the right [capital sources], and earning [their] loyalty.”

    to AGG’s point:
    “The reality is none of the American auto makers have a positive book value. Think of this. We’ve had this generally accepted economic concept of a growing reliance on a financial economy or capital trumping labor for the last thirty or forty years and what did we get for it? A banking system in ruin and a collapsing Wall Street. As the topic pertains to this post, we got a completely bankrupt automobile industry. Of course, how many times have we said the most important source of capital is human capital. It is indeed labor. I’m not talking about unions or a socialist movement for anyone who becomes emotionally unglued when they find out another worker makes more than they do. An economy that favors capital over labor has created a self-reinforcing resentment on some level. So, now it is an often accepted position that the world is better off if everyone makes $5 a hour. That is, as long as it isn’t me. Blaming unions, as has become extremely popular, is a non sequitur. It’s a generational belief system that isn’t based in truth. But, what I am talking about re labor is the value derived from economic work. Human capital. Not any political association of the term as would be construed by socialism or communism.

    I’ll tell you the only tangible asset at Chrysler that is worth anything. It’s employees….”
    a weblog by bdg123

    We should rememer that Elections are Quadrennial afairs, nor Biennial, or Annual. They happen Everyday. The Ballots are our ‘Dollars’, in the Marketplace of Goods & Ideas. Cast by our every decision, whether we Spend or Invest. Our votes inform our Day, and shape the very ‘Morrow we’ll trod.

    And, this: “The ‘hollowing out’ of the USA was done to us, not for us.” from Gegner, is not a ‘Theory’.

  20. dr paul commented on Sep 1

    Thanks, Barry. As a follow-up, see the NY Times article, When Workers Die. Among the highlights: the penalty for harassing a wild burrow on federal land is more severe than a willful violation of OSHA law that results in a worker’s death. Repeated willful violations are typically not prosecuted criminally.
    Workers Die

    What happened to pro-life? What about ‘tough on crime?’

    FYI, on the cost benefit analysis – the EPA “lowered its official estimate of life’s value, from about $8.04 million to about $7.22 million.” There’s now less ‘benefit’ to environmental regulations that save lives.
    Markdown: EPA Says Life Is Worth Less

    Put your favorite inflation joke here.

  21. crabbybill commented on Sep 1

    As offensive as the ‘nonvalued added’ approach is, it is operational reality. The alliances (unions, company, gov’t, financial system, customer) and the related dependencies that worked in the US for decades have not adjusted to the movement of financial capital,technology improvements and gov’t trade compromises that are globalization. As competition slaps one alongside the head, the niceties of the value of human capital (labor) yields quickly to the depraved reality of business practices of your competitor and your competitor’s gov’t. The most surprising reality that seems to fly under the radar is the impact of the US gov’t using US jobs as opposed to foreign aid as barter for overseas political cooperation from foreign gov’ts.

  22. lark commented on Sep 1

    “Yes it’s all happened before. ”

    What scares me is that we didn’t learn from our own history.

    It’s always been said that America is not a nation that reflects on history, it charges ahead. This seemed okay to me when the history was European. But the Gilded Age followed by the Great Depression is as American as it gets. If we didn’t learn our lesson then, do we get to go through it again?


  23. Whammer commented on Sep 1


    I think people were perceiving you as an advocate of the “money trumps everything” position; I saw you as describing it as reality.

    What do you mean about this remark:

    “The most surprising reality that seems to fly under the radar is the impact of the US gov’t using US jobs as opposed to foreign aid as barter for overseas political cooperation from foreign gov’ts.”

    Not clear to me.

  24. crabbybill commented on Sep 1

    Whammer: The US gov’t apparently used foreign aid (basically bribes in a lot of cases)to convince foreign gov’ts to support American positions and interests. Sometimes American interests were in the form of US coporations expanding operation in a country sometimes the US wanted public support from foreign gov’ts. Starting in the 70’s cash wasn’t good enough. The most blatant examples were GSP tariff reduction changes for Korea and Taiwan in exchange for sending troops to Vietnam. When you hear someone in the US gov’t talk about free trade, there is an implied ‘wink’ that comes with it. What is being traded specifically are jobs, sometimes in the form of work visa increases sometimes in tariff reductions or waivers. Do you really think that some ‘entrepreneur’ just decides to start an outsourcing company in India one day without a lot of gov’t connections and wired in support? What do you think is being traded with the proposed South American trade pacts — think ‘drug war’ support for ….

  25. dallas commented on Sep 2

    Having been in charge of two different manufacturing facilities in the 80’s, I can attest from personal experience that OSHA had very little to do with improving worker safety. They were (and I suspect still are) a paper tiger that sent bureaucrats to the workplace who had no concept of the operations being performed but were meticulous at examining paperwork.
    The real improvements in workplace safety have come from more enlightened employers in some cases, fear of lawsuits in others, and insurance company partners.
    Many workplace accidents are due to worker carelessness or intentional violation of rules and procedures, even in “good” companies that sincerely care about workplace safety.
    BR’s fealty to OSHA is just another example of the liberal philopsophy that the government is the solution to all our problems.

  26. Francois commented on Sep 2

    “Worker related benefits (i.e. medical insurance, safe workplace, pensions, min wage etc.) are nice but cost prohibitive non-competitive luxuries in ‘global’ manufacturing.”


    Are you kidding me? Since when decency is a “luxury”?

    There was a very simple way to avoid this sham when globalization was started and we were the consumer of choice.

    “USA to those who want to sell stuff within our borders: You treat your workers as we treat ours. Otherwise, take a hike!”

    Where would have been the competitiveness of all these low wage countries with no safety standards in place and rampant exploitation?

    Instead, we chose to run toward the bottom. The result isn’t pretty thank you very much.

    Luxuries…give me a break!

  27. Francois commented on Sep 2

    “BR’s fealty to OSHA is just another example of the liberal philosophy that the government is the solution to all our problems.”

    Gee! If OSHA is such a kludge, why didn’t Reagan IMPROVED IT instead of making even more irrelevant? Isn’t the whole point to make the workplace safer for everyone? OSHA should be rewarding the good actors and slam the asshats.

    Matter of fealty to the far right-wing philosophy I suppose. Workers should be on their own, while the go-vermin shall be a loyal servant of the corporation. Quite a few countries are like that, and it can be very unpleasant to live there. For instance, having to hire a body guard with armored vehicle to drive your kids to school. Nice huh?

    Of course, you couldn’t help yourself by uttering the “liberal” curse on BR, right?

    I can picture BR recoiling in fear under his desk, awaiting the mysterious disease that will sap his willpower, make him delirious and finally comatose.

    Tickle me!

  28. bdg123 commented on Sep 2

    “BR’s fealty to OSHA is just another example of the liberal philosophy that the government is the solution to all our problems.”

    I guess we could always re-institute child labor. Or, not worry about companies hiding secrets about the effects of compounds their employees have to handle. Or the cumulative millions who have died in an unsafe work environment.

    I believe we should let the market resolve this issue. Let’s let companies hire Pinkerton guards again to kill their employees that complain about an unsafe work environment or about worker’s rights.

  29. Kimble commented on Sep 3

    “I guess we could always re-institute child labor.”

    Is everything you say as worthless as this sentence?

    Workplace “safety” concerns were used by unions to effectively strike without actually striking.

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