Oil Spills, Underfueled Planes, Contaminated Children’s Medication: Let’s Replace Safety Cuts With CEO Pay Cuts

That feeling you get sometimes? That we’re all screwed? Yeah, I’ve been getting that a lot lately. Fears of an apocalypse via natural disasters or divine intervention don’t even start to match up against the gross negligence and willful neglect of corporations recently.

We all know about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by now, over two months into its overtaking of the Gulf Of Mexico. Some of us know that it most likely stemmed from negligence on the deck of the oil rig; there’s a fairly well publicized account of an argument on deck hours prior to the explosion. Fewer know about the “ponies and balloons” accounts from community activists on the ground like Kindra Arnesen; that the majority of cleanup workers are only being brought out when officials are in the area and quickly leave after the photo op as a measure of cost containment. And then there’s all the hired guns and Louisiana police officers being hired to keep reporters and “activists” off beaches.

Hell, there are even reports that it’s raining oil in parts of Louisiana.

But that’s just that part of the corporate safety endgame.

It’s been revealed that safety issues at the Johnson & Johnson plant in Pennsylvania started years prior, but the makers of Tylenol, Benadryl and Motrin only suspended production following a particularly damning inspection report hit the press, even though the FDA had made such a recommendation for months leading up to the report’s release. It goes against the company’s established traditions of reasonably good practice in such cases—Tylenol did the first-ever drug recall in 1982 and in doing so, saved the brand from outright extinction.

There’s also the Kellogg cereal recalls, most of which are for cereals aggressively marketed toward children—Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Honey Smacks (which I thought wasn’t around anymore) and Fruit Loops—because of an off-flavor and unusual smell. And there’s the ConAgra salmonella outbreak traced to a Marie Callendar’s Cheesy Chicken & Rice frozen food dish.

Then again, you’d have to figure you’d be sick if you eat that kind of thing anyway.

And now, American Airlines wants to reduce the amount of fuel for their flights. It’s not as if every plane is topped off when it flies in the first place, but number crunchers are going in and trying to reduce the overall amount of fuel on the flight for a more efficient run. But unless you’ve yet to experienced air travel, you know flights don’t always go to plan. If you’ve ever been in holding patterns for three hours, you’ll agree that a generous amount of fuel is preferable.

Something is clearly awry in corporate culture when safety cuts go unregulated and even praised by the managers and officers who come up with them. Saving money’s good, right? I mean, you’d figure if the company saved money in one area, it can use that money to run the company more efficiently and maybe increase wages for workers, at least?

That may be the company line, but it’s not the truth. The average CEO in 2005 made more in one day than their average worker made in a year, a ratio of over 262:1. Compare that to the mid-1960s, when a CEO was making slightly less in a day than their average worker made in a month, about 24:1. CEO pay has taken something of a hit since 2007, down to an average of $8 million. So I guess there would be some pity, if the rest of the economy wasn’t in such awful shape. Assuming average worker wages have stayed the same (which they mostly have, for those who still have wages), that ratio is now about 180:1, based on some grade school math.

Johnson & Johnson CEO William C. Weldon? $15.4 million last year. BP CEO Tony Hayward made a modest $4.7 million last year, comparatively. $7.51 million to ConAgra’s Gary Rodkin over the last five. $8.2 million to Kellogg’s David Mackay. Gerard J. Arpey of American Airlines made $8.8 million.

And most of these guys are only “average” CEOs among the top 500, according to Forbes. Imagine the economic recovery we’d have if the current ratio were slashed in half. And how many safety officers you could hire! It’d be like Disney World. Except, you know, without the Disney stuff.