Archive for March, 2012

Public Citizen to government officials: Stop awarding taxpayer dollars to unsafe companies
Throughout the United States, government agencies at the state, local and federal levels routinely award construction contracts to companies known to be unsafe, Public Citizen said in a report published today. The report, called “Contract Killers,” highlights cases in which companies with suspect safety records win government contracts around the country, often with disastrous consequences.

Child labor rules opposed by ag-friendly Dems
Republicans have stepped up their efforts to block new rules from the Obama administration that would limit the work kids can do on farms, getting a boost from a small handful of Democrats who say they’re opposing the regulations in the name of family farmers. GOP members of both the House and Senate introduced bills this month that would preempt regulations proposed by the Labor Department forbidding kids under 16 from doing certain agricultural duties deemed too dangerous. The Senate version quickly found a backer in Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the first Democrat to sign on as co-sponsor. Tester and fellow Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have joined 39 Senate Republicans in opposing the new rules.

Citing ‘tradition,’ Big Ag fights reforms for child farmworkers
America’s farm workers have always had it tough, toiling for endless hours in the fields under brutal conditions. But those workers do benefit from a unique income subsidy in the country’s industrial farming system: children. In every region of the country, bountiful harvests are regularly gathered by the tender hands of child poverty: several hundred thousand kids work on farms, typically to help their families survive.

Federal OSHA penalties 101: Stuck in a time warp
In 1991, Dan Quayle was US Vice President, General Norman Schwarzkopf led the 100-hour assault known as Operation Desert Storm, and Phil Collins had the record of the year. It was the last (and only) time that the US Congress amended the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to update the monetary penalty amounts that could be assessed to employers who violate worker safety regulations.

Apple supplier in China pledges big changes in working conditions
Foxconn, which manufactures more than 40 percent of the world’s electronics for such companies as Apple, Dell, Amazon and others, has pledged to sharply curtail the number of working hours within its Chinese factories and significantly increase wages, a move that could improve working conditions across China.

CEO pay rises again in 2011, while workers struggle to find work
Executives who successfully steered their companies through the quagmire of recession are now reaping their rewards — although some CEOs might have hoped there would be more. As companies get healthier, employees’ average pay rises and stock prices soar, 2011 brought a year of slight raises for CEOs. While another year of raises comes off one of the biggest increases ever for executive pay in 2010, it wasn’t the bonanza CEOs have seen in prior years. Meanwhile, unemployment remains high for most workers.

OSHA fines Gainesville poultry plant for safety hazards
A Gainesville poultry processor faces $187k in fines after a federal investigation turned up 11 alleged safety violations. Two “repeat” violations include allowing untrained workers to assist with and perform conveyor belt adjustments, and operating the conveyor belt system without machine guards that would protect workers from rotating parts, flying chips and sparks.

NY factory owner where worker died is arrested
The owner of a Brooklyn tortilla factory where a worker died after falling into a waist-high dough mixing machine has been arrested. Erasmo Ponce was charged with underpaying employees, falsifying business records, violating workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance laws.

Former head of The Acadia Hospital David Proffitt fired from Minnesota post
David Proffitt, the embattled director of the crisis-ridden Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, was fired Tuesday by state officials, who cited his inability to communicate with his staff. Soon after his arrival last fall from a hospital post in Maine, Proffitt found himself at odds with various groups who, in interviews with the Star Tribune, said he lacked a clear vision of how to turn around a hospital described in an internal report as unsafe, unaccountable and dysfunctional. That report, obtained by the Star Tribune last year, said regulators found a “pattern” of willful violations by staff and administrators who were incapable of changing the culture.

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OSHA aligns chemical labels with global standard
Improved worker safety and reduced corporate costs are two outcomes of a March 23 federal rule aligning U.S. chemical hazard labels and other safety information with a global system developed by the United Nations.

Help wanted: Spray polyurethane foam insulation research
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has been studying the occupational health implications of spray polyurethane foam, which is being widely used in energy-efficiency building and renovation. The agency is seeking partners who’ll allow NIOSH researchers to collect air samples during spray foam application.

Your incentive program might be illegal! New memo from OSHA clarifies injury reporting and incentive policies
While many employers want to reward workers for safe behavior, there’s a thin line between appropriate recognition and providing a disincentive to employees for reporting injuries. Companies that cross that line could be violating the law, according to a new memo sent to OSHA regional administrators and whistleblower program managers from Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Fairfax.

OSHA proposes fine against Neenah roofer
The federal government’s workplace safety agency is proposing $121k in fines against a Neenah roofing contractor that now has been cited five times since 2007 for failing to adequately protect workers from falling.

N.Y. contractor cited after runaway rail car injures two workers
OSHA has cited Dragados USA-Judlau JV, general contractor for the East Side Tunnel Access Project between Queens and Manhattan, with 11 alleged serious violations of workplace safety standards. OSHA’s Manhattan Area Office opened an inspection following an Oct. 15 incident in which a runaway rail car struck an aerial lift in the tunnel, injuring two workers in the lift.

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Grad student workers plan counterattack after Michigan Gov. signs law denying rights
Following two years of organizing and months of hearings, this month Michigan’s state labor board was set to rule on whether to reverse a 1981 decision that stripped union recognition from the state university’s graduate student research assistants (GSRAs). That ruling never happened. Instead Michigan’s House and Senate passed a bill declaring GSRAs ineligible for union recognition, and Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law on March 13.

Public meetings will be held on uranium mining in Virginia
The National Academy of Sciences will hold a series of meetings next week to brief the public on its two-year study of uranium mining in Virginia. The report said uranium could be mined but that Virginia Uranium, a company seeking to mine a massive site in Southside, would have to take measures to protect workers, the public and the environment in Virginia, which has no experience unearthing a radioactive element.

U.S. battles home builder over pay probe
In the past few years, the Obama administration has stepped up enforcement of so-called wage-and-hour requirements, investigating suspected violations in the hotel and janitorial-services industries, as well as housing construction. The building industry has accused the department of overreaching, saying that big home builders aren’t responsible for ensuring that other companies, including their subcontractors, obey labor regulations, and that the government is hindering job growth by targeting the builders.

Top notch job by OSHA staff to globally harmonize labels and datasheets for chemicals
Earlier this week, Lizzie Grossman reported here at The Pump Handle on revisions to OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard which align the agency’s 30 year old rule with a globally harmonized system for classifying and labeling chemical hazards. In “Moving from Right-to-Know to Right-to-Understand,” we learn how the changes stem from a 2002 United Nations resolution and why they should help U.S. workers better protect themselves from chemical hazards in their workplaces. I spent some time this week reading for myself the 858-page document, and by the time I got to page 20 it was clear that OSHA staff did a top notch job writing the rule.

Report: Mine safety agency ‘could have prevented’ deadly disaster
An independent review of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) enforcement at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine in West Virginia says the agency failed to spot “a number of enforcement deficiencies” at the mine which were major factors in the April 2010 explosion that took 29 lives. The report from an independent panel assembled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health contains this stunning conclusion: “…if MSHA had engaged in timely enforcement of the Mine Act…it would have lessened the chances of — and possibly could have prevented — the UBB explosion.”

Facebook says it may launch legal action against employers who ask for user passwords
With news of employers, colleges and government agencies requesting the Facebook login details of prospective employees and students, Facebook has issued a statement on the matter, highlighting that it believes the practice “undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends,” suggesting that it could result in “unanticipated legal liability” for the parties that request it.

ACLU applauds Facebook for threatening to sue employers
Following the announcement from Facebook’s privacy chief on Friday that the social network is willing to sue to protect user accounts from the prying eyes of employers, the American Civil Liberties Union weighed in, applauding Facebook for the move, but also saying it wouldn’t be enough and that Congress needs to pass a law to prevent the practice.

Younger veterans want to work, but face roadblocks
While older veterans generally have a relatively low jobless rate, the unemployment rate for veterans who have served in the post-9/11 era averaged more than 12 percent last year, compared with under 9 percent for the general population, according to government data out last week.

Mysterious odor in baggage room at Logan Airport sickens 15 TSA workers
A hazmat situation was declared in a bag room at Logan Airport this morning after an odor was detected coming from an open bag, sending four workers to the hospital, officials said. Logan Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said 15 Transportation Safety Administration workers complained of headaches, eye and throat irritation at 8 a.m today after the bag was opened in a baggage room in Terminal A. Four people requested to be sent to the hospital for evaluation, he said.

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Senator: Ban bosses from asking for Facebook passwords
Sen. Richard Blumenthal has a status update for employers who ask job seekers for access to their private Facebook accounts: He’s writing a bill to outlaw the practice. The Connecticut Democrat and former state attorney general told POLITICO that those kind of requests from prospective employers amount to an “unreasonable invasion of privacy” for those looking for work.

Gov. Tomblin signs mine safety bill — again
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin already signed the state’s new mine safety bill last week, but the governor’s office had an official “signing ceremony” this afternoon anyway, in the shadow of the coal miner statute at the Capitol. A press release said the governor “publicly addressed this monumental piece of legislation.”

Proposal to kill Arizona minimum wage pulled
Arizona workers at the bottom of the pay scale are going to keep getting raises each year to match inflation, at least for the time being. House Majority Leader Steve Court said Tuesday he has pulled the plug on his proposal to ask voters to repeal the state’s minimum wage.

Why does Idaho’s governor pay female employees so much less than men?
The women who work in Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s (R) cabinet make substantially less than their male colleagues, according to a McClatchy analysis of state salary data. Despite chairing the state Agriculture Department, for instance, Director Celia Gould makes less than male directors.

The costly business of discrimination
There’s a price to be paid for workplace discrimination—$64 billion. That amount represents the annual estimated cost of losing and replacing more than 2 million American workers who leave their jobs each year due to unfairness and discrimination. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and only 16 states and the District of Columbia have done so on the basis of gender identity.

FedEx agrees to pay $3 million to settle a bias case
The United States Department of Labor has reached a $3 million settlement with the ground delivery unit of FedEx to resolve allegations that the company discriminated against 21,635 job seekers at two dozen FedEx facilities in 15 states. The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs reached the agreement with FedEx Ground Package Systems after saying that it had found evidence of discrimination in hiring on the basis of sex, race and national origin.

Compost company fined in poisonous gas deaths of two workers
State workplace safety regulators issued more than $166k in fines Wednesday against a prominent recycling and compost company that runs a Kern County, Calif., site where two brothers died last fall from exposure to poisonous gas.

Workers die at factories used by Tommy Hilfiger
More than a year after 29 people were trapped in a fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh used by well-known American clothing brands, an ABC News investigation found that the retailer is right back in business at the factory. And labor groups say dangerous conditions such as locked gates and shoddy wiring persist in a country where nearly 500 workers have died in garment factory fires over the past five years.

Construction worker killed in building collapse in Manhattan
A construction worker was killed and two others were injured on Thursday morning in the collapse of a partly demolished two-story building in Upper Manhattan that was owned by Columbia University, the authorities said.

Law office fires 14 workers for wearing orange shirts
Where I work, we get donuts on payday Friday. At one law office in Florida, workers go to happy hour after work. They all wear the same color shirt so they look like a group when they go out for happy hour. 14 workers wearing orange shirts were called into a conference room, where an executive said he understood there was a protest involving orange, the employees were wearing orange, and they all were fired.

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Florida drug testing: Rick Scott signs bill allowing random drug testing of state workers
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a controversial bill Monday allowing random drug testing of state workers. Scott signed the bill, which is likely to draw a constitutional challenge, after normal working hours Monday night. The GOP governor has backed both drug testing for public workers and drug testing for welfare applicants. The initiatives could force hundreds of thousands of Floridians to submit to drug tests or risk losing their public jobs or benefits.

Gov’t requires new labels for hazardous chemicals
The Obama administration announced long-awaited regulations Tuesday to improve labels on hazardous chemicals and make them conform with international guidelines developed by the United Nations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimated that such labels could prevent more than 40 deaths and about 500 workplace injuries and illnesses from exposure to hazardous chemicals each year.

Save a mind, draft a body
The arrest of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in the slaying of 16 Afghan civilians has raised questions about whether it’s fair and sensible to order soldiers to serve multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The need for such deployments is due, in part, to America’s reliance on a relatively small standing army and reserve. Could a draft spread the burden of combat and its reality to more Americans?

Britain limits deployment to reduce P.T.S.D.
Research has shown that personnel who deploy within the guidelines show no ill-effect related to deployment length, except in relation to alcohol intake. On the other hand, spending more than six months away, or having these periods extended unexpectedly, can have adverse effects on health and well-being for both personnel and their families. These effects are even greater for deployments lasting longer than a year, resulting in cumulative stress.

Feds overdue on airline pilot regulations
U.S. regulators haven’t met deadlines to establish four programs required by a 2010 law to improve oversight of airline pilots, the Transportation Department’s inspector general said.

Report: Alpha tops coal industry in MSHA fines
Coal mines operated by Alpha Natural Resources Inc. were assessed more proposed fines for federal safety and health violations in 2011 than all major public coal companies combined, evidence that the company continues to struggle to bring former Massey Energy Co. operations into compliance.

Facebook stalking in the name of affirmative action
There I was, Facebook stalking again. As the internship coordinator for Roll Call (now CQ Roll Call), a newspaper covering Congress on Capitol Hill, I was looking at the faces of candidates for internships. I was told that out of three interns hired each semester at Roll Call, one of them had to be from a racial minority: African-American, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian, Native American.

As more U.S. aircraft are repaired abroad, are airlines sacrificing safety for profits?
Repairing planes overseas is cheaper for airlines—and not as closely monitored by the U.S. government. According to a Department of Transportation Inspector General report issued in 2010, there are approximately 100 inspectors for more than 700 aircraft maintenance facilities abroad doing work on U.S.-based aircraft. By comparison, there are 4,000 FAA inspectors who ensure the quality of 4,200 different maintenance repair facilities within the United States. And out of eight major FAA inspection offices in the United States, just four of them completed 50 percent of their assigned inspections, the DOT inspector general reported.

Even with Daisey’s lies peeled away, Apple’s rotten core exposed
Apple’s brand glared in the media spotlight this past week, after the public learned that performance artist Mike Daisey’s theatrical rendering of the struggles of Apple factory workers contained false claims—painfully exposed on an episode of the radio program This American Life. But if one fundamental truth has emerged from the scandal surrounding Daisey’s dramatic fudging, it’s that the lived reality of many Chinese workers is undoubtedly bleak—no embellishment needed.

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Keeping transportation dollars from worker-safety violators, such as Thomas Industrial Coatings
The $109b transportation bill passed last week in the Senate has a title that doesn’t even mention roads or highways. It’s called the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (MAP-21). One provision of the legislation fits especially well with the bill’s title, with real potential to make progress on worker safety while we move ahead with transportation projects. Section 1520 of MAP-21 concerns bridge and overpass upgrades and maintenance projects, including the application of industrial coatings and cathodic protections.

Wyoming lawmakers: State moving toward safer work environments
Three months after Wyoming’s first occupational epidemiologist quit, claiming the Wyoming Legislature wasn’t interested in new safety regulations, state lawmakers say they made real progress this session toward enacting his recommendations. And the state plans to carry out the rest of former epidemiologist Timothy Ryan’s recommendations after his successor is hired in the next few months, state and industry officials said.

Will New York City mayoral front-runner kill paid sick leave again?
Five years after San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate that employers provide paid sick leave to employees, similar bills have been debated or passed across the United States. And in New York City, activists are mounting a renewed push following their defeat in 2010. Now, as then, the legislation’s fate will land in the hands of New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a former activist turned business-friendly Bloomberg ally and potential future mayor.

Gender pay gap is largest on Wall Street
While it’s well-known by now that women consistently earn less than men even though they often attain better education — 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2010 — Bloomberg News’ Frank Bass reports a new development: this gap is widest on Wall Street.

Verizon hit with slew of safety violations after electrocution death of technician Douglas Lalima
Verizon was hit Monday with a slew of job safety violations and heavily fined over a worker being electrocuted in Brooklyn last fall. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration cited the phone giant for 10 infractions totaling more than $140k in penalties — the maximum allowed — following a probe into the death of technician Douglas Lalima.

Local construction company fined over fatal fall
The MacMillin Co. has been cited for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards following the death of a construction worker in September at Keene Middle School. Temporary employees working under the direction of the Keene-based contractor were erecting scaffolding when the plank on which Steven Sawyer, 58, of Dublin, was working snapped.

Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords
When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password. Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.

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Minimum wage has room to grow
It is coming up on three years since the last increase in the federal minimum wage –to $7.25 per hour– in July 2009. By all of the most commonly used benchmarks – inflation, average wages, and productivity – the minimum wage is now far below its historical level. By all of these reference points, the value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968.

BP whistle-blower seeks shutdown of Gulf rig
BP Plc’s Atlantis platform, its second-largest oil producer in the Gulf of Mexico, should be shut down until it’s proven to comply with U.S. safety and environmental laws, a whistle-blower’s lawyer told a judge. BP misled U.S. offshore regulators to win operating permits for the platform, located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of New Orleans, according to the whistle-blower.

Protesters cloud Apple’s new iPad launch
Protesters asking Apple to change the labor practices in factories in its supply chain have mobilized at stores in Georgetown, San Francisco and New York City. Their goal was to remind Apple and its fans that the gadgets on sale today come from factories that have been criticized for poor labor practices.

The sad and infuriating Mike Daisey case
When I heard Daisey’s Shenzhen riff on C-Span late last year, I wrote to a longtime friend who is also a friend and supporter of Daisey’s and had been trying to get us together. I said: This doesn’t sound right. I also said that I was bleakly amused by Daisey’s presenting the far-off exotic territory of “Shenzhen, China” as some super-secretive realm that he alone had thought to unveil. I pointed out that I had done a gigantic cover story and on-line slide show about this unknown land back in 2007, plus later in a book and a video series; that the Wall Street Journal had done hundreds of stories with Shenzhen datelines before and since; that there had been countless books, picture shows, news features, etc, about the Shenzhen phenomenon; that “Foxconn” was hardly an unknown enterprise; etc.

Foxconn: No legal action after Mike Daisey story retracted from ‘This American Life’
Foxconn Technology Group, the top maker of Apple Inc’s iPhones and iPads, said on Monday it had no plans to take legal action over a U.S. radio program about its activity in China, parts of which have been retracted. But the company said the broadcast, which has generated public debate on journalistic ethics in the United States, had hurt its reputation.

Where pimps peddle their goods
I went on a walk in Manhattan the other day with a young woman who once had to work these streets, hired out by eight pimps while she was just 16 and 17. After Alissa testified against her pimps, six of them went to prison for up to 25 years. Yet these days, she reserves her greatest anger not at pimps but at companies that enable them.

Jewett man killed in mining accident
Walter R. McAfee Jr., 55, of Jewett, Ohio, was killed in a mining accident Saturday at the OhioAmerican’s Redbird West Operations near Brilliant. According to the Mine Safety Health Administration, McAfee, a foreman at the mine, died at about 10 a.m. Saturday from crushing injuries.

Sheriff: Searchers find body of hot-air balloon pilot who went missing when thunderstorm hit
A hot-air balloon pilot found a safe spot for his skydiving passengers to bail out just before a thunderstorm sucked in his craft and sent him plummeting to his death.

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