Archive for February, 2012

It’s Leap Day! You may be working for free
If you’re a salaried employee and you’re slaving away at work today, you may be working for free. Leap years present an odd compensation dilemma for employees who don’t get paid on an hourly basis. Such workers receive a set salary for a typical year, which is usually 365 days. But there’s an extra day this year.

‘Tip theft’ bill would crack down on alleged employer skimming
A bill introduced in Rhode Island’s legislature this week would prevent restaurants and hotels in the state from pocketing portions of the “service fees” that many customers wrongly assume go to workers. The bill, H 7566, would make it a misdemeanor carrying a fine of as much as $1,000 for an employer to require a service worker to share with the house a certain percentage of the automatic gratuity attached to a tab.

Nuclear safety report cites Duke plant
A watchdog group’s report Tuesday on nuclear plant safety cites Duke Energy’s Oconee plant, which regulators say relied for 28 years on a backup emergency cooling system that didn’t work. The Union of Concerned Scientists report reviews the 15 special inspections the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made last year in response to safety, security or other problems at nuclear plants. Among them was an inspection of Oconee, Duke’s oldest nuclear plant, near Seneca, S.C.

Feds sue S.A. company for unpaid OSHA fines
A San Antonio company accused of failing to hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal fines for workplace safety violations has been sued by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio. San Antonio Lath & Plaster Inc. was hit with 26 citations from February 2007 to December 2010 by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Ex-Massey security director gets three years in UBB case
A former Massey Energy security director was sentenced today to three years in prison after being convicted of two felonies for lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence in the investigation of the worst coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years. Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, of Clear Fork, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger during a hearing in federal court in Beckley.

No more standblasted jeans for Target
Target Corp. will stop selling sandblasted denim products by the end of the year due to worker safety concerns, the retailer reported on its A Bullseye View blog. Blasting jeans with sand gives them a weathered appearance, but the process also contaminates air at work facilities. Those contaminants can cause lung disease.

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Written in blood: Another disaster, another law
Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates just passed — with a unanimous vote — a much-watered down version of a mine safety bill with language worked out in closed-door meetings with industry and labor lobbyists, and a key provision that everyone admits is aimed at addressing a problem that had absolutely nothing to do with the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Wisconsin Legislature votes to repeal employment discrimination law
Wisconsin prohibits employers from discriminating “on the basis of age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, arrest record, conviction record, military service, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours, or declining to attend a meeting or to participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters,” and it ensures that this law has teeth by allowing victims of discrimination to hold their employers accountable in state court. That’s about to change, however, as the Wisconsin legislature recently voted to strip the state’s workers of their ability to actually enforce this law — leaving anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) as the only obstacle to the law’s total repeal.

GAO: Military too slow to aid whistleblowers
If you’re a servicemember who went public with waste, fraud or other wrongdoing in the military and you were punished for it, the investigators handling your case aren’t doing the best job they can. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Government Accountability Office on the problem-filled system for addressing reprisals against military whistleblowers, which may be endangering the careers of those who step forward and hurting the military’s ability to stop mismanagement.

FAA wants to boost experience threshold for airline co-pilots to the same as captains
Airline co-pilots would have to meet the same experience threshold required of captains — the first boost in four decades — under regulations proposed Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration. The proposed regulations would increase the minimum number of flight hours required to fly for a commercial air carrier to 1,500 for all pilots. Captains already have to meet that threshold, but co-pilots currently need only 250 hours to fly for an airline.

Workplace violence: ‘One-third of Americans go to work every day afraid’
According to the findings of a newly released survey of American workers, workplace violence has become an epidemic in this country, as senior business leaders close their eyes to the problem and incidents go unreported because workers have lost faith in their leaders to do anything about it. The survey, which was released just this month, found not only that over half of Americans employed outside the home have witnessed, heard about or experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence in their workplace, but that one-third of Americans go to work every day afraid.

Should helmets be required? The danger of repetitive brain injury
Almost a century ago, a rare but serious form of dementia was linked to repetitive head injuries in boxing. The dementia was aptly named Boxer’s dementia. Lately, this “punch drunk” dementia has been found to affect athletes in other sports, such as American football and soccer, where athletes’ heads take repeated blows, so a broader term for this condition was needed. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is a related brain disorder that has been shown to affect other kinds of athletes, and, more rarely, non-athletes who sustain head injuries. It has been in the news lately because of two high-profile cases.

As Daylight Saving Time approaches, it’s time to address high visibility solutions
This year, March 12 is the first workday following the start of Daylight Saving Time (DST)–the day when clocks “spring forward” and many drivers lose an hour’s sleep resulting in a marked, one day increase in roadway collisions. With so many thousands of workers now headed for roadside infrastructure assignments and Daylight Savings Time fast approaching, the need for high visibility work apparel could not be greater.

Jupiter resource center sets up free safety workshops for laborers
Many workers are so eager for a job they do not think about safety. They will climb on roofs, go up ladders and work with chain saws without proper instructions, said Joceyln Skolnik, executive director of El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center. To prevent future injuries, El Sol is holding one workshop on Saturday and two more next month on worker safety. The workshops are free and open to the public.

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Branding soldiers with personality disorder label
Is the U.S. military using dubious personality disorder diagnoses to kick out troubled soldiers out of the military without health benefits? James Dao of the New York Times found one clear example of this kind of treatment and unearthed evidence of a larger pattern. Veterans’ advocates note that the symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury can overlap with the symptoms of some personality disorders.

Is this ‘meaningful’ mine safety legislation?
As we begin another week, expect movement perhaps as early as Monday morning to get a mine safety bill through the West Virginia House of Delegates before Wednesday’s deadline to approve legislation in its house of origin. Officials from the Tomblin administration have worked out a deal with the House leadership, after the legislation appeared stalled last week because coal lobbyists wouldn’t go along with it.

Proposal to make workplace bullying an occupational safety violation is moving through Senate
Bullying, abuse and verbal harassment in the workplace may cause employees physical and psychological harm. That’s part of the rationale behind a proposal to make abusive conduct against an employee an occupational safety violation. Victims would be eligible for workers’ compensation.

Groups challenge trucker fatigue rule
Advocates for highway safety and truck drivers filed suit challenging a new federal rule that they said fails to protect the U.S. public from tired truckers. The Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, the Truck Safety Coalition and two truck drivers filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, seeking judicial review of the final hours of service rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Transit union hires Democratic lobbying firm to help end bus-driver fatigue
A major transit union has hired a well-connected Democratic lobbying firm to help with its push for bus drivers’ overtime pay. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has hired the Ickes & Enright Group to lobby on the highway bill as well as on legislation that would remove an overtime pay exemption for intercity bus drivers.

Federal agency investigating sand-blasting hazards
For years, the wastes from burning coal and producing copper have enjoyed a second life, used in sand-blasting to remove paint, rust and grime from ship’s hulls, storage tanks, bridge trusses and other surfaces. Painting contractors, shipyard workers and thousands of others in Baltimore and across the country are said to use the black, gritty material called slag. Now, though, questions have been raised about whether those who do blasting with ground-up coal or copper slag may be unwittingly exposing themselves to toxic contaminants that could damage their health.

I was a warehouse wage slave
Several months prior, I’d reported on an Ohio warehouse where workers shipped products for online retailers under conditions that were surprisingly demoralizing and dehumanizing, even to someone who’s spent a lot of time working in warehouses, which I have. And then my editors sat me down. “We want you to go work for Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.,” they said. I’d have to give my real name and job history when I applied, and I couldn’t lie if asked for any specifics. (I wasn’t.) But I’d smudge identifying details of people and the company itself. Anyway, to do otherwise might give people the impression that these conditions apply only to one warehouse or one company. Which they don’t.

No company follows Apple allowing expanded China audits amid abuses
Apple Inc.’s rivals aren’t rushing to emulate the iPhone maker’s decision to subject supplier factories to audits by a labor group. Instead, they’re sticking to internal checks that may leave room for violations — and negative public relations fallout.

City cites maintenance mistakes in fatal elevator accident
Maintenance workers failed to enable a door safety circuit on an elevator moments before an advertising executive was killed after stepping into the elevator in an office tower in Midtown Manhattan, according to officials from the city’s Department of Buildings and the Department of Investigations. If the circuit had been working properly, officials said, it would most likely have prevented the elevator from moving abruptly and pinning the executive, Suzanne Hart, inside an elevator shaft.

Ex-NBC-2 anchor Craig Wolf sues over firing; former boss calls claims ‘preposterous’
Former NBC-2 anchor Craig Wolf says he sued his ex-employer because he was fired for complaining to a federal agency about working conditions. In the suit filed Friday in Lee County Circuit Court, Wolf alleges he was fired from Waterman Broadcasting of Florida in March 2011, because he filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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Minimum wages could be lowered in Arizona, Florida
Republican lawmakers in Arizona are pushing legislation that would lower the legal minimum wage for younger part-time workers and tipped workers such as restaurant servers, just as Florida lawmakers are considering dropping their state’s tipped rate as well. In both cases, proponents of the measures are arguing that the wage floor for such employees is too onerous on businesses.

‘Tepid’ state UBB report points to weak W.Va. law
I spent a long time trying to come up with one good word to describe the tone and wording of the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training’s report on its investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. But my friend Howard Berkes over at NPR seems to have hit it about right with his description: “West Virginia’s Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training has issued what is now the fourth investigative report on the April, 2010, Upper Big Branch mine explosion. It largely agrees with the earlier reviews, but in language that’s tepid in comparison.”

More bad news for U.S. workers, businesses from OSHA
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, claims the Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2) standard will be “good for workers, good for business and good for America.” Many job creators would disagree.

Ex-NFL player can’t score medical records
Anyone who watches NFL games each week is witness to organized warfare, with players delivering excruciating and merciless blows to the opposition. To deal with the frequent injuries, players are often given a shot of the painkiller Toradol, known medically as Ketorolac, before games. A dozen former NFL players have filed a class-action in U.S. District Court in New Jersey against the league, claiming that they weren’t warned of the consequences of taking the drug.

Dave Duerson’s family sues NFL over his suicide
The family of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL on Thursday, claiming the league didn’t do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged his brain before he killed himself last year.

U.S.: Chemicals kill bathtub refinishers
U.S. workplace health investigators identified more than 12 deaths in the last 12 years associated with the use of stripping products in bathtub refinishing. The Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program conducted an investigation in 2010 into the death of a bathtub refinisher who used a methylene chloride-based paint stripping product marketed for use in aircraft maintenance.

Why I’m hunger striking at UVA
I am a third year studying Political and Social Thought, and a student-athlete at the University of Virginia. Last Friday, 12 University students began a hunger strike to protest the economic and social injustices perpetrated by the UVa administration against the vast majority of the University’s service-sector employees. Although the University of Virginia – Thomas Jefferson’s brainchild and the only US university designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – has the prestige and high moral traditions of other top institutions, levels of inequality exist here today that are reminiscent of Jefferson’s days as a slave-master and plantation owner – with one anonymous employee even referring to the University’s Grounds as “the plantation”.

What cameras inside Foxconn found
Two new sources of light were trained on the Foxconn situation: a TV broadcast and an e-mail. ABC’s “Nightline” was invited to visit Apple’s production lines at Foxconn. Its correspondent, Bill Weir, was allowed to interview any worker, on camera or off, in the factory or outside. The broadcast showed 3,000 young Chinese workers lining up at the gates for Foxconn’s Monday morning recruiting session.

Can one man change Apple?
If you should ever doubt the impact a solitary artist can have against injustice, meet Mike Daisey. Daisey is a monologist, a creator of one-man shows, whose performance piece “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” has jolted audiences into action as he parallels the obsessions of Jobs, the recently deceased former CEO of Apple; our consumer-driven lust for iPods, iPhones, and iPads and the human toll taken by their manufacture.

Goose Island plant occupation: Workers occupy Chicago factory in desperate move to save their jobs
Serious Energy Inc., which bought assets from Republic Windows and doors in 2009, informed workers on Thursday that the factory would be closing immediately. Instead of packing up their things and walking out, about 70 workers decided that they were not leaving without a fight. For about 11 hours, workers refused to leave the factory, demanding more time to either find someone to buy the plant or a way to run it themselves.

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Pentagon delays endanger whistle-blowers, report says
The Pentagon takes too long to investigate whistle-blower complaints from troops, unfairly endangering the careers of those who step forward and damaging the military’s ability to save money and stop fraud, a draft report by the Government Accountability Office says.

ABC News correspondent questions Obama administration’s war on whistleblowing
Give credit to Jake Tapper, senior White House correspondent for ABC News, who in a press conference today challenged the Obama Administration for celebrating aggressive journalists that have died in Syria as it simultaneously goes after similar journalism in the United States. He noted that the White House continues to praise journalists killed covering the carnage in Syria recently. He then asked, “How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?”

State backs up previous Upper Big Branch reports
State investigators have concluded that poor ventilation, inadequate cleanup of coal dust and a routine failure to fix safety problems led to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training generally agreed with three previous reports about how the blast occurred and about safety infractions that led to the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.

AFL-CIO takes aim at Apple with petition
The nation’s largest labor federation is calling on Apple to improve conditions for the workers who manufacture the company’s products. In an email sent Wednesday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka asked activists to sign a petition to tell Apple CEO Tim Cook “to ensure that people integral to Apple’s success — workers who manufacture Apple’s electronics — are treated fairly.”

OSHA cites Houston food supplier for amputation risks
A Houston food supplier has been cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for exposing workers to amputation hazards. OSHA investigated Amy Food Inc., a supplier of Asian and specialty foods, on Sept. 1 after a complaint alleging several employees had suffered near-amputation incidents while operating machinery, the federal agency said in a news release on Wednesday.

OSHA cites Milk Specialties Company plant for August blaze
Federal officials have recommended a fine against a Fond du Lac plant that turns cheese whey into powder for weight-loss and sports nutrition products. The Milk Specialties Company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It resulted from a fire at the plant last August that was reportedly caused by a dust explosion.

Copter collision kills 7 Marines
Two Marine Corps helicopters collided over a remote section of the California desert during a nighttime exercise, killing seven Marines in one of the deadliest military training accidents in years. There were no survivors in the latest in a series of crashes involving troops from Camp Pendleton, officials said Thursday.

Man with gun wounds manager, kills self at Wal-Mart distribution center in Va.; motive unclear
Authorities say an employee of a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. distribution center in Virginia shot and wounded his manager and then killed himself after deputies approached him.

Wounded journalists appeal for evacuation from Homs
A French reporter wounded in the Syrian government’s bombardment of Homs made a video appeal on Thursday for a cease-fire and evacuation for urgent medical attention. Ms. Bouvier, 31, on assignment for the French newspaper Le Figaro, was wounded Wednesday in the same shelling attack that killed two Western journalists, Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer.

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Massey mine boss charged in deadly coal mine explosion
Federal prosecutors in Charleston, W.Va., have filed the most serious criminal charges yet in the April, 2010, coal mine explosion that left 29 mine workers dead. The conspiracy charges reach into the management ranks of Massey Energy and signal an effort to seek evidence against higher-level executives. A “criminal information” accuses Gary May, the former superintendent of Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, of conspiring “with others known and unknown” to “hamper, hinder, impede, and obstruct the lawful enforcement … of mine health and safety laws” at the mine.

Two Western journalists killed in Homs, Syria
An American and a French journalist were reported killed in a mortar strike in Homs, Syria, on Wednesday morning, Syrian anti-government activists and a French government spokeswoman said. One of the slain journalists was U.S.-born Marie Colvin, a legendary foreign correspondent from Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper who has also reported for CNN, the BBC and other media outlets. The other was Remi Ochlik, an award-winning photographer from France.

Hershey’s packer is fined over its safety violations
After a six-month investigation prompted by the protests of student workers on an international exchange program, the Labor Department on Tuesday issued fines of $283,000 for health and safety violations against a company that operates a plant in Pennsylvania packing Hershey’s chocolates, saying it had covered up serious injuries to workers.

Returning military members allege job discrimination — by federal government
Every year, more than a thousand National Guard, reserve and active-duty troops coming back from Iraq, Afghanistan or other military duties complain of being denied jobs or otherwise being penalized by employers because of their military obligations. The biggest offender: the federal government.

Foxconn accused of hiding underage factory workers before FLA inspection
Foxconn workers claim the manufacturer transferred underage employees to other departments or did not schedule them to work overtime in an effort to avoid discovery during the Fair Labor Association’s investigation of its facilities, reports AppleInsider. Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) project officer Debby Sze Wan Chan was told by two Foxconn employees that the manufacturer “prepared for the inspection” by hiding the child laborers.

Are Apple’s new China auditors toothless tigers?
Apple caved—sort of. For the first time in its history, the beloved electronics company has started allowing labor inspectors with the Fair Labor Association into the factories that churn out Apple’s most popular products, the company said Monday. The FLA, after all, has its own set of critics, who point out that the group is funded by the same companies—Apple, Adidas, and Nike—whose factories the group claims to be independently inspecting.

US Sen. Brown: Allow women into combat units
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is urging top defense officials to let women serve in front line combat, saying barring women from those units could make it harder for them to rise up the military ranks.

Solvent exposure at work, home may increase risk of Parkinson’s disease
Even relatively limited exposure to some common chemical solvents at work or through hobbies may increase the risk of having Parkinson’s disease (PD), report researchers who found a higher risk regardless of the number of exposures, their duration or lifetime totals. They also found that the first symptoms of the disease – the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States – may not surface until decades after exposure.

Corporate margins and profits are increasing, but workers’ wages aren’t
As we’ve been noting, corporate profits have made it back to their pre-recession heights (even if corporate tax revenue hasn’t followed suit). In fact, in 2011, corporate profits hit their highest level since 1950. But as Bloomberg News noted today, this hasn’t translated into wage growth or more purchasing power for workers.

Amy’s Kitchen opens clinic to treat workers
In what is believed to be the first clinic of its kind in Sonoma County, natural frozen-food maker Amy’s Kitchen has opened a health care facility across the street from its Santa Rosa plant to treat workers and their families. The clinic, which is funded by the company, is designed to expand workers’ access to medical care while saving money for Amy’s Kitchen by improving the health of its employees.

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US Labor Department extends comment period on proposed rule to provide minimum wage and overtime protections for in-home care workers
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has announced a 14-day extension of the comment period for its proposed rule to provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly 2 million workers who provide in-home care services. Currently, workers classified as “companions” are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime pay requirements.

Why the fast food industry hates the idea of raising the minimum wage
As Laura Clawson observes, unlike other kinds of restaurants fast food outlets actually have to pay the minimum wage which naturally makes them the heart of hostility to increases: Restaurant workers who make the federal minimum wage for tipped workers are pretty well screwed: That minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour, the theory being that tips will be enough for these workers to get by. When tips don’t bring workers up to the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, their employers are supposed to make up the difference, but in practice, that’s an invitation for bosses to pressure workers to just accept below-minimum wages.

Restaurant industry screws women, while $2.13 tipped worker minimum wage makes it worse
Restaurant workers who make the federal minimum wage for tipped workers are pretty well screwed: That minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour, the theory being that tips will be enough for these workers to get by. When tips don’t bring workers up to the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, their employers are supposed to make up the difference, but in practice, that’s an invitation for bosses to pressure workers to just accept below-minimum wages. That’s not the only abuse of this rock-bottom minimum wage, though, and as a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United shows, these abuses and high poverty rates fall most heavily on women.

How things have (and haven’t) changed at Foxconn
After a mass suicide threat, media exposes from both This American Life and The New York Times and factory audits from Apple and the Fair Labor Association, Foxconn has had about six weeks to shape up. Really, though, the Chinese manufacturer that American gadget corporations rely on has had about a year and a half to evolve, after mass suicides back in June 2010 brought similar American media attention to the firm. In that time, some things have changed, as evidenced by Bill Weir’s tour through Foxconn with ABC News.

Apple’s ‘Nike moment’ over Foxconn iPad factory conditions
Inaes Kaempfer, an indpendent assessor working with the Fair Labor Assocation (FLA), told ABC News’s Nightline that publicity surrounding suicides and accidents at the Foxconn plant meant Apple was facing pressure similar to that which forced Nike to reassess ‘sweatshop’ suppliers in the Nineties. “We call it the ‘Nike moment’ in the industry,” audit inspector Ines Kaempfer told Nightline.

L.A. conference considers plight of day laborers
Hundreds of current and former day laborers from across the country gather this week in Los Angeles for a national conference to measure their progress since day laborers began a concerted effort to organize themselves two decades ago. They will discuss wage theft and worker safety, and they will reflect on the role that day laborers, often seen as little more than loosely banded groups of men looking for a day’s work, have had in challenging local anti-solicitation ordinances, state anti-illegal immigration laws and federal enforcement.

Heirs of 400 dockyard workers in Malta file U.S. lawsuits over asbestos exposure
Most of the 400 workers died of mesothelioma blamed on exposure to asbestos from working on U.S. warships anchored at what is now known as the Malta Drydocks. The suits seek compensation from, among other parties, a Johns-Manville Corp. trust established for victims of asbestos exposure. The plaintiffs claim that, because they aren’t U.S. citizens, they have faced unfair discrimination in trying to obtain compensation.

Sugarland says stage collapse was an accident
Country duo Sugarland has denied negligence claims against it, responding to a lawsuit by saying that a fatal stage collapse last year at an Indiana State Fair was “a true accident, or act of God.” Several families of victims from the August incident have filed a lawsuit against Sugarland, contending it was negligent in the stage collapse that left seven people dead and more than 40 injured.

Perception, work-life balance key factors in workplace safety, study says
According to a recent University of Georgia study, a worker’s perception of safety in the workplace and the work-life balance established by businesses has a significant effect on on-the-job injury.

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