Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: After Plant Explosion, Perry Should Get Tough Questions About Texas Business Practices




    Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited Illinois this week to try to persuade local businesses to move to Texas, one of his selling points was his state’s weak worker safety protections.

    In a state-by-state comparison sheet on his “Texas Wide Open For Business” website, Perry bragged that Texas’s unionization rate is only 5.7 percent, compared to Illinois’s 14.6 percent. Texas businesses pay 39 cents per $100 in covered wages for workers’ comp insurance. It’s $1.10 in Illinois.

    But Perry showed up here less than a week after America’s worst workplace disasters in years, a fertilizer plant explosion that killed dozens of people in West, Tex. Given that Texas is so proud of restricting workers’ rights, I think its fair to ask whether lax safety contributed to the fire and the blast.
    “Pro-business mindset,” a term Perry uses in his open letter to Illinois businessmen, is also a code word for loose environmental regulations. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News:
    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated West Fertilizer in June 2006, after receiving a complaint of a strong ammonia smell.
    Agency records show that the person who lodged the complaint said a lingering ammonia smell was "very bad."
    But the plant filed a report with the state stating that it presented no risk of fire or explosion. That was good enough -- until last night.
    No one will blame Perry if he cancels his Chicago trip so he can deal with the aftermath of the disaster in his state. If he shows up here, let’s hope he gets some tough questions about how business is conducted in Texas.