SACRAMENTO — Assembly Speaker Willie Brown on Saturday decried Gov. George Deukmejian's efforts to eliminate California's worker safety program as "an outrage and a menace to every Californian" and "one more example of (the governor's) inability to distinguish between leadership and stubborness."
In his most pointed criticism on the subject to date, Brown accused Deukmejian of "blindly pursuing" his plan to transfer responsibility from Cal/OSHA to the federal government even though a state appeals court ruled that the governor acted without proper authority.
"If the governor prevails on this issue, everyone in California who works will have lost important protections," Brown charged.
Brown Called Jealous
The Assembly Speaker's remarks, delivered in a taped radio broadcast, brought a snide rejoinder from Kevin Brett, Deukmejian's press secretary, who suggested that Brown was simply jealous of the governor's popularity with voters.
"Obviously the Speaker is continuing to express his frustration on the recent public opinion polls that continue to indicate, as they have for the past few years, that Gov. George Deukmejian remains one of the most popular governors in California history," Brett said.
Deukmejian announced plans to abolish Cal/OSHA in January, saying it would save the state $8 million yearly without any loss of worker protections. The Legislature then voted to restore the funding, but Deukmejian vetoed the measure.
Last month, the state Court of Appeal ruled that the governor had no right to unilaterally eliminate the program. The Deukmejian Administration is appealing the case but already has dismantled nearly all of its worker safety operation.
Seen as Campaign Issue
Democrats in the Legislature view the Administration's actions as an important issue that can be exploited politically during next year's legislative races and have sought to keep the controversy alive.
Union organizers, traditionally loyal to Democrats, used the issue successfully this spring to help elect Democrat Cecil N. Green in a special Senate election in southeast Los Angeles County. And labor leaders have since announced that they will launch a ballot initiative campaign to restore the program.
Deukmejian has taken heat from business groups as well. Although generally loyal to his Administration, these critics fear that the elimination of Cal/OSHA may result in more injuries and higher insurance premiums.
On Saturday, Brett sought to downplay the differences between the state and federal worker safety programs, saying Deukmejian "certainly believes the (state) program duplicates worker safety programs administered by the federal government and saw no reason to continue this duplicative practice."
But Brown asserted in his radio speech that federal worker safety standards are "far more lax than our own." He noted that California law, unlike federal regulations, requires workers to be informed about the use of toxic or cancer-causing substances in the workplace and that the state has tougher regulations on permissible levels of toxic exposure.
"Somehow, someway, certain realities have a way of eluding this governor," Brown said.
Last Place Foreseen
At the pace Deukmejian has set, Brown added, by the time his second term is over, California "will have dropped to last" place among states in protecting worker safety.
In his own weekly radio address, Deukmejian sought to highlight his efforts in dealing with California's toxic waste problems.
Deukmejian cited a recent report by his toxics task force, which stated that the Deukmejian Administration had cleaned up 151 toxic waste sites since coming to office and that more than $250,000 in penalties had been collected from polluters.
The governor said he is making strides to solve the problem of toxics "without sacrificing economic progress."