Archive for April, 2012

After farm groups complain, Obama administration drops plan to restrict child labor on farms
Under heavy pressure from farm groups, the Obama administration said Thursday it would drop an unpopular plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms owned by anyone other than their parents. The Labor Department said it is withdrawing proposed rules that would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors. The rules also would prevent those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.

Shame on Obama administration for sacrificing children to keep agribusiness happy
In siding with the agricultural industry at the expense of the children it employs, the Obama administration has let industry preferences take precedence over the lives and health of child workers. More children will collapse from heat exposure, more will suffer from acute nicotine poisoning while picking tobacco leaves and more will be crushed to death in grain augers or tractor accidents – thanks to the Obama administration’s reversal.

Withdrawal of proposed occupational child safety rules for agriculture will endanger children working on farms
Those of us concerned with the safety and welfare of children and teens working in agriculture are deeply disappointed by the Department of Labor’s decision to pull back on its effort to protect kids on farms. “The all-out campaign of misinformation and distortion about the Department of Labor’s long overdue and important proposal to protect children working on farms will have an impact for years to come,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work.

USDA gives us 30 more days to tell it why 175 birds-per-minute line speeds will take a toll on poultry workers
Gabriel Thompson writes today in The Nation about a summer job he had a few years back, working on the assembly line at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Alabama. The chickens flew by on hooks at 90 birds-per-minute as he sliced and cut the meat non-stop. It didn’t take long for him to meet co-workers who suffered from painful and debilitating musculoskeletal disorders caused by the high-speed, repetitive work.

Federal judge rules yet another Florida drug-testing program unconstitutional
Welfare applicants aren’t the only people the courts have forced the state of Florida to stop drug testing. A federal court ruled on Thursday that Gov. Rick Scott also doesn’t get to randomly drug test 80,000 state workers.

Workers protest at Foxconn plant in China
Workers at a Chinese factory owned by Foxconn, Apple Inc’s main manufacturer, threatened to jump off the roof of a building in a protest over wages just a month after the two firms announced a landmark agreement on improving working conditions.

OSHA launches outreach campaign on ‘struck-by’ vehicle accidents
OSHA has launched a regional outreach initiative in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska to educate workers and their employers about preventing “struck-by” vehicle accidents in the workplace. “Struck-by” injuries and fatalities are caused by conventional traffic/passenger vehicles, forklifts, and other moving powered industrial equipment such as cranes and yard trucks.

Tree man’s death probed at nudist club
Bernards Township Police and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are still investigating the death of a tree worker who was hit on the head by a falling tree limb at the wooded Sky Farm Nudist Club on Allen Road on Wednesday morning, police said.

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Fatal work injuries rose in 2010, new data show
The Department of Labor reported today that 4,690 U.S. workers suffered fatal injuries in 2010, a 3 percent increase from 2009. The higher number in part reflects a string of high-profile disasters in 2010: An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29; BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11; and a blast at the Tesoro Corp.’s oil refinery in Washington State that killed seven.

US Labor Department’s MSHA releases first quarter mine fatality update
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration today released a first quarter summary of mining deaths across the country. Ten miners died in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines during the first three months of 2012.

OSHA’s Michaels commemorates Workers’ Memorial Day in audio message
Every year on April 28, the nation recognizes Workers’ Memorial Day to remember and honor the workers who lost their lives while on the job. This year, in advance of Workers’ Memorial Day, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels recorded an audio message about worker safety and rights.

New rules set on background checks for job seekers
Federal regulators Wednesday approved new rules that could make it easier to find work for convicted criminals and others who have gotten into legal trouble. By a 4-1 vote, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved the rules for employers who use criminal background checks, calling for careful consideration of how and when such reviews can be used in pre-employment screenings and in the workplace because of their potential to be biased against certain groups, such as racial minorities.

Bloomberg vetoes wage bill, pledges to sue
This time, he didn’t bring up the former Soviet Union. But in a strongly-worded speech Wednesday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg railed against two City Council bills that would raise wages for workers on city-subsidized projects. He promised to sue if they become law.

Sarah Palin attacks Obama on farm work
Sarah Palin lashed out at the Obama Administration in a Facebook post on Wednesday, attacking regulations she says would ban children from working on family farms. Tapping into her Alaska roots and 4-H past, Palin called the rules a “nonsensical intrusion into our lives and livelihoods.”

Tetris-PTSD study suggests video game curbs flashbacks, other symptoms
A seemingly trivial task – playing a particular video game – may lessen flashbacks and other psychological symptoms following a traumatic event, according to research presented here at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference. Researchers are now corroborating what some trauma sufferers have happened upon by chance: Focusing on a highly engaging visual-spatial task, such as playing video games, may significantly reduce the occurrence of flashbacks, the mental images concerning the trauma that intrude on the sufferer afterward.

Gary Stein, Marine who criticized Obama on Facebook, will receive other-than-honorable discharge
The Marine Corps said Wednesday it has decided to discharge a sergeant for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook. The Corps said Sgt. Gary Stein will be given an other-than-honorable discharge for violating Pentagon policy limiting speech of service members.

AA Foundries hit with safety violations
San Antonio’s AA Foundries Inc. is facing $107,600 in proposed penalties by the federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for various health and safety violations. OSHA said in statement Wednesday that AA Foundries exposed employees to excessive noise levels, lead and copper.

Identity of brewery worker killed in accident released
The identity of a worker killed in a keg explosion at a brewery Tuesday has been released, as an investigation into the accident continues. The Redhook Ale Brewery said Ben Harris was killed when a keg he was cleaning exploded.

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Poor safety record no bar to winning government construction contracts
One might assume that when a government agency awards a private company a contract to do construction work – for bridge or sewer work or other public utility repairs, for example – evaluating the company’s safety and health record would be a prerequisite. This is, however, not the case. As the government watchdog organization Public Citizen details in a new report, numerous government contracts have been awarded to companies with chronic poor health and safety records.

Employment commission ruling protects transgender individuals from workplace discrimination
Late yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a comprehensive ruling giving transgender individuals sorely-needed federal protections against discrimination in the workplace. According to the ruling, employers who discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of gender identity can now be found in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, specifically its prohibition of sex discrimination in employment.

Why does OSHA move at a glacial pace? Democrat calls on Obama admin to speed up safety measures
Republicans typically accuse Democrats of not doing enough to streamline regulations. But at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, Republican senators defended the Obama administration against criticism from labor leaders and workplace safety advocates who say the administration has made it too cumbersome to create and issue new workplace safety rules.

New York state starts hearings on raising minimum wage
Supporters of a bill to raise New York’s minimum wage made their case to state lawmakers on Monday in Harlem, at a hearing called by Assemblyman Keith Wright. Wright and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both Manhattan democrats, are sponsoring legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. The current minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum. Under the bill, the wage would also increase each year according to inflation.

OSHA: Captain fired for calling Coast Guard
A barge captain working in New Orleans was wrongfully fired for telling the Coast Guard about engine problems with a boat he was steering, the U.S. Department of Labor said Monday. The captain’s company, St. James Stevedoring Partners LLC, agreed to pay $245k in pay, compensation and attorney’s fees to settle the whistleblower case, the department said.

Virtually unemployable, undocumented Pulitzer-winning journalist pushes reform
Speaking to journalists with The Institute for Justice and Journalism at a conference at the University of Oklahoma this week, Jose Antonio Vargas explained that since his “coming out” as an undocumented immigrant, he is not legally able to be employed. Of course, almost 12 million people in the United States are undocumented, and most of them are employed—using fake Social Security numbers, working under the table or other situations. But given the high-profile nature of Vargas’s revelation, it’s unlikely any employer who knows how to use Google would hire him.

More workers work through lunch or eat at their desks
Today’s fast-paced work environment and sluggish economy have left many employees with more work and less time to do it, making the once-cherished midday lunch break a disappearing option. Only a third of American workers say they take a lunch break, according to a Web survey conducted last year by Right Management, a human resources consulting firm. The survey also found that 65% of workers eat at their desks or don’t take a break at all.

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Let’s honor workers who lost lives on the job
On Saturday, people across the globe will commemorate International Workers’ Memorial Day. Families across the U.S. will be remembering loved ones who have died as a result of a fatal job-related injuries and diseases. Sadly, our house will join in this emotional observance. My father, Ray Gonzalez, 54, died on Nov. 12, 2004, after suffering severe injuries and burns while working at the BP Texas City refinery.

A punishment BP can’t pay off
Two years after a series of gambles and ill-advised decisions on a BP drilling project led to the largest accidental oil spill in United States history and the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, no one has been held accountable. What is missing is the accountability that comes from real consequences: a criminal prosecution that holds responsible the individuals who gambled with the lives of BP’s contractors and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico.

Kentucky Darby mine operators have yet to pay for 2006 blast that killed 5
Nearly six years after an explosion killed five miners at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, the operators have not paid nearly $700k in civil fines and interest fees for safety violations connected to the accident. Kentucky Darby admitted liability for the unpaid fines under an agreement finalized in January 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in London, according to court documents.

New York named national leader in fight against wage theft
One year after New York’s new wage theft law took effect, the Progressive States Network has named the state the nation’s leader in confronting the issue. Speaking on a media call Wednesday, PSN Senior Policy Specialist Tim Judson said the 2010 law has proved “the strongest in the country.” But he warned that the national picture remains bleak: “Where wage theft is concerned, there are essentially no cops on the beat.”

Judge sides with workers in Jimmy John’s case
A federal administrative law judge has ruled that a Twin Cities Jimmy John’s franchisee violated the union organizing rights of six employees by firing them last year after they publicly protested the restaurants’ sick leave policy. The workers, activists in the Industrial Workers of the World’s attempt to unionize the local Jimmy Johns, must be reinstated with back pay, according to an order late Friday by the judge, Arthur Amchan.

Ferrero sets date to end cocoa slavery
Chocolate maker Ferrero has pledged to eradicate slavery from farms where it sources its cocoa by 2020, as part of a growing movement by the multi-billion dollar industry to clean up its supply chains. The Italian company, which produces Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Nutella spread and Kinder eggs, follows Nestle and Hershey as the third major chocolate manufacturer to announce new anti-slavery moves since September.

SuperShuttle drivers say they face tough times under firm’s franchise system
Once, drivers of this ubiquitous blue-van airport shuttle service were salaried employees. But in the past 13 years, SuperShuttle has transformed its drivers into franchisees — what the company calls independent business owners. In doing so, SuperShuttle has shifted, in its own words, “hard to manage variable costs from the company” to the drivers, making “gross profits more stable and predictable.” Enajekpo and hundreds of other drivers across the country say the changes have done more harm than good — and, in a series of lawsuits, they say the company doesn’t allow drivers independence and is cheating them out of wages and benefits they would be entitled to as employees.

Half of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed
The disappearance of mid-level jobs during the Great Recession, along with overall high unemployment, have made it hard for recent college graduates to find good jobs upon leaving school. More than 50 percent of college graduates under age 25 are either jobless or underemployed, according to an analysis from Drexel University and the Economic Policy Institute.

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The unlearned lessons of the BP disaster
The BP disaster taught us many things: namely, that giant corporations cannot be trusted to behave responsibly absent strong public oversight, and that if 11 workers die on your watch, or unprecedented ecological damage from your negligence occurs from your operations – that none of it matters: You can continue to operate, business as usual, securing more government contracts and enjoying record profits the same as before.

The lessons we learned from Deepwater disaster
The aggressive pace of reform since the Deepwater Horizon is remarkable, but my agency has much more work to do. In particular, over the coming months, we will be implementing new, common-sense safety advances in three fundamental areas.

Scott Walker reinstates program to give bonuses, merit raises despite shortfall
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker quietly reinstated a program to give merit raises and bonuses to some state workers even as he preached cost-cutting and pushed through a law reducing most public workers’ pay and eliminating their union rights.

Working moms’ challenges: paid leave, child care
The past week’s political firestorm in the presidential race focused on stay-at-home moms, but two-thirds of women with young children now work. Nearly half are their family’s primary breadwinner. What some feel is being lost in the political debate are the challenges they face in the workplace.

‘We don’t go to work to be touched’: sexual harassment in the warehouse
Constant remarks about their bodies, and unwanted touching, advances, mean-spirited “pranks” and other forms of sexual harassment are a regular occurrence for many of the more than 30,000 women—like Dickerson—who work in the warehouse industry in the Chicago area, according to a report (PDF) released this week by the group Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ). And women often face retaliation for reporting harassment.

USA Today journalists targets of online intimidation
Attention screenwriters, please take the following and run with it: Two USA Today journalists, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, claim that they have been the target of an extensive online smear campaign as they were investigating government propaganda contractors. According to The Washington Post, the two men were busy preparing a special report on the Pentagon’s “information operations” program, which spent millions on marketing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they noticed that damaging fake Twitter accounts, websites and more were popping up.

Obama tweets ‘Progress For The LGBT Community’ timeline
President Obama has weathered a sizable fallout from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy groups and voters for his surprising refusal to sign an anti-discrimination executive order in recent days. Perhaps in an effort to combat that criticism, the White House tweeted the following timeline image, titled “Progress for the LGBT Community,” today.
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Congress gets ‘D’ from oil-spill panel for safety inaction
In the two years since a BP Plc (BP/) well blowout set off the worst U.S. offshore oil spill, Congress has failed to make drillers more accountable, according to members of the panel that studied the disaster. Lawmakers earned a “D” from members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill for not enacting safe-drilling legislation, according to a report yesterday.

Injunction blocks new NLRB rule requiring bosses to post organizing rights
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an emergency injunction blocking implementation of new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules that would require employers to post notices of workers’ legal rights to organize. The rules, In These Times reported on in detail here, would have gone into effect on April 30.

At least 30 countries have unemployment benefits more generous than the U.S.
According to data from the International Monetary Fund analyzed by Tim Vlandas, there are at least 30 countries with unemployment benefits that are more generous than those that go to American workers.

Women’s bureau: Fighting for equal pay, every day
Today, as we commemorate Equal Pay Day it is a time to reflect on how far American women have come. Coincidentally, it is also tax day and a fitting reminder of how long into 2012 women must work to earn the wages men earned in 2011. Since the creation of Equal Pay Day 16 years ago, the pay gap between women and men has barely moved — from 74 cents in 1996 to about 80 cents in 2011.

After problems plague Hawaii State Labor Agency, feds may take over workplace investigations
The federal government, in two reports issued in 2009 and 2010, noted that Hawaii’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is understaffed, untrained, underfunded and not keeping up with inspections – and apparently not much has improved since then. That has led the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division to discuss “concurrent jurisdiction” with the state this year, which means the federal agency may take over many of the state functions. However, both the state and federal government officials involved are refusing to release details about the plan.

Off the clock: Employees fighting for overtime pay
Everyone from pharmaceutical reps to home health care aides to waiters and waitresses in fancy restaurants are sick of working off the clock, and they’re looking to finally punch in. This week, the Supreme Court is reviewing a case involving pharmaceutical representatives who claim they’re owed overtime pay even though their employer, GlaxoSmithKline, contends they’re sales people and not entitled to it.

Breathing devices fail test, but not ordered out of mines
Federal coal mine regulators have concluded that a widely used emergency breathing device doesn’t meet safety standards but have not yet taken any action to get the equipment out of the nation’s mines. This week, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a long-awaited report on its investigation of problems with CSE Corp.’s SR-100 model self-contained self-rescuer, or SCSR.

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Huffington Post wins Pulitzer Prize
Huffington Post senior military correspondent David Wood has spent decades covering war, watching as wounded combat troops are loaded onto medical evacuation helicopters and, he said, “go off in a cloud of dust.” But after their sacrifice on the battlefield, Wood said, “you never know what happened to them.” So for eight months this past year, Wood reported extensively on the lives of severely wounded veterans and their families in “Beyond the Battlefield”, a 10-part series awarded Monday with the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting.

Keeping a promise to home care aides
Evelyn Coke, who died in 2009 at age 74, was a home care aide whose case for fair pay went to the Supreme Court in 2007, where she lost 9 to 0. At issue were federal rules that define home care aides as “companions,” a label that exempts employers from having to pay minimum wage and time-and-a-half for overtime. The justices said that only Congress or the Labor Department could change the rules.

Oil worker’s death renews debate on safety of extraction method
California’s largest oil company failed to warn employees of the dangers in an oil field where a worker was sucked underground and boiled to death last year, state authorities found — and then they fined the firm $350. The small regulatory penalty, levied after a first investigation cleared Chevron, has angered labor leaders and reignited a debate over the risks of the extraction technique that led to the worker’s death.

Needed: Non-profit organizations to provide occupational safety and health training
Are you a non-profit organization interested in providing training on identifying and controlling occupational safety and health hazards — from bloodborne pathogen exposure control to managing excavation hazards? Then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is looking to accept your application to provide classroom instruction in occupational safety and health for private sector workers, supervisors and employers as part of its OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Centers Program.

Cal-OSHA’s new local presence most welcome
Kern County is home to a high concentration of dangerous jobs, from oil fields to farm fields, refineries to construction sites. On top of this, the number of undocumented immigrants living and working in the community creates the likelihood that some, due to their reluctance to speak up, could be exploited by hazardous work environments. So it is welcome news that Cal-OSHA, the state workplace safety watchdog, has opened an office in Bakersfield.

David Coppedge, ex-NASA worker, says ‘intelligent design’ views led to firing
David Coppedge, a former computer specialist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spent much of his free time advocating for the idea that a higher intelligence must have had a hand in creation. Now, a judge will decide if his commitment to that belief has also cost him his job.

OSHA inspectors make surprise visit to troubled St. Peter Hospital
After months of turmoil, state OSHA inspectors visited the Minnesota Security Hospital for the first time in more than 20 years, Minnesota Public Radio reports. The surprise inspection was conducted on March 13 over concerns regarding worker safety.

Titanic’s shipbuilders tackled an olympic task
Titanic’s construction required 3,000 men to work for six days a week for two years straight with few holidays or breaks. Shipbuilding was dangerous, hard work. There were almost 250 documented incidences of severe work-related injuries and 10 deaths. There were few workplace safety standards at the time, so considering the magnitude of the project, Harland and Wolff’s track record is still thought to be remarkable.

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