Archive for June, 2012

Voluntary enforcement of workplace safety isn’t enough
Lawmakers in today’s U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee hearing are misguided if they think that voluntary enforcement of workplace safety is enough to keep employees safe from harm, Public Citizen said.

House Republicans say ‘nay’ to new mine safety reforms, no questions left about which side they’re on
Just two weeks ago, families of the 29 men who were killed on April 5, 2010 at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine traveled to Washington DC to urge lawmakers to improve our nation’s mine safety law. The West Virginia natives met with Republican and Democratic Members of Congress and asked for four simple reforms targeted at the mining industry’s bad actors. They weren’t asking anything for themselves. Only for new laws to help deter unscrupulous employers from causing another disaster and causing other communities to suffer the same pain and loss the UBB families have endured.

Underground mine ribs are focus of MSHA’s 2012 roof control campaign
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration once again will focus its annual mine roof control program on efforts to improve mine rib control during the 2012 Preventive Roof Rib Outreach Program, known as PROP. For the second consecutive year, in 2011, fatal rib roll accidents in underground coal mines outnumbered more typical fatal roof fall accidents. Most recently, on June 25, a coal miner in eastern Kentucky suffered fatal injuries when he was crushed by a rib roll.

Researchers challenge Labor Dept to fix its annual count of injuries, misses 70% of burns work-related burns
It’s not the first time that Kenneth Rosenman, MD has provided scientific evidence on the deficiencies in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual survey of occupational injuries and illnesses, and it won’t be the last. His latest study, written with Joanna Kica, MPA, with Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Medicine ,reports that the Labor Department’s methods for estimating work-related burns misses about 70% of them.

FLSA: 74 years fighting child labor and still going
Last month activists all over the planet shined a light on the persistence of child labor on the World Day Against Child Labor. As many as 215 million children world-wide lose the chance to learn, play and grow as they instead are compelled to join the workforce, often under grueling conditions. As we in the United States celebrate the anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in 1938, we should recommit to the part of its mission dedicated to fighting oppressive child labor in our own country.

Sex workers and cabbies swept into New York’s anti-prostitution dragnet
Two quintessential cliches of New York City street life are heading into more trouble with the law: yellow cabs and prostitutes. The newly signed legislation aims to punish cab drivers who abet prostitution, with a focus on those who “knowingly engage in a business of transporting individuals to patrons for purposes of prostitution, procuring and/or soliciting patrons for the prostitution, and receiving proceeds from such business in collaboration with traffickers and pimps.” The law imposes new criminal penalties, including fines or the loss of a license, for various forms of “promoting prostitution” while using the taxi.

Labor rights advocates: a dozen Wal-Mart suppliers received 482 federal citations
The National Guestworker Alliance said Tuesday it has uncovered “482 federal citations for safety, health, wage, and hour violations,” among 12 of the 18 suppliers of Wal-Mart Stores that the organization has been investigating.

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A breath of fresh air for hydraulic fracturing workers
Since 1997, the American workplace has been left with no direction for appropriate protections regarding crystalline silica. Now, long-awaited guidance for protections from exposure to crystalline silica for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) workers will help those in the industry breathe a little easier, Public Citizen said.

OSHA and NIOSH issue hazard alert for silica exposure in fracking operations
In response to results of the recently released National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) field studies that found workers at hydraulic fracturing operations exposed to high levels of respirable crystalline silica, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NIOSH have issued a Hazard Alert. The alert outlines the health hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing and focuses specifically on exposures to airborne silica, saying that “employers must ensure that workers are properly protected from overexposure to silica.” It also describes a combination of measures that can be used to protect workers, including engineering controls, protective equipment, and product substitution.

Fracking concerns turn to worker health hazards and potential silica exposure
To-date, concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, have been focused mainly on environmental risks. Now it appears federal agencies have concerns about worker health hazards in this fast-growing industry, specifically with regard to potential worker exposure to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica.

Billion dollar mining company hasn’t paid fine for safety violations in 2010 deaths of two workers
It’s been almost two years since Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, went to work at Barrick Goldstrike’s Meikle mine near Elko, Nevada, but never made it back home to their families. They were fatally crushed on August 12, 2010 in a mine shaft by tons of falling aggregate and pipe. As I wrote last year, management at this mine — an operation owned by the largest gold producer in the world, with a stock market value of tens of billions of dollars — had jerry-rigged a reset button with a broom handle and failed to replace missing clamp bolts and load-bearing plates on the aggregate carrying pipe system, factors directly contributing to the workers’ deaths.

Ground Zero workers may get cancer coverage, but the health disaster remains
More than a decade after the Twin Towers came crashing down, the disaster still weighs heavily on the bodies of workers and survivors. A federal panel’s recent decision on cancers related to 9/11 could bring some long awaited relief, as well as new challenges for sick survivors of Ground Zero. The panel’s analysis may open a channel for covering various forms of cancer through the healthcare fund of the federal Zadroga Act, which offers compensation for sicknesses resulting from the disaster.

Poisoning workers at the bottom of the food chain
Laboring in the blackberry fields of central Arkansas, the 18-year-old Mexican immigrant suddenly turned ill. Her nose began to bleed, her skin developed a rash, and she vomited. The doctor told her it was most likely flu or bacterial infection, but farmworker Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides. Under federal law, growers must promptly report the chemicals they spray. The Environmental Protection Agency administers a Worker Protection Standard meant to regulate pesticides and protect workers and handlers. Yet the agency maintains no comprehensive database to track pesticide exposure incidents nationwide.

Heat safety in spotlight as AZ probes worker death
Roofing, landscaping, agricultural and construction companies typically start their workdays at dawn to avoid the hottest part of the day and take other steps to avoid heat-related illness. The danger remains, however, as evidenced by the death this week of a construction worker on the northwest side after showing symptoms of heat-related illness. The death of the worker, 44-year-old Mark Geise of Indiana, is under investigation by ADOSH, said Jessie Atencio, Tucson-based assistant director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH).

Feds to investigate dumbwaiter death
Federal workplace safety investigators are looking into the death of a Schenectady restaurant co-owner who died after his head became wedged in the kitchen dumbwaiter. Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco says it appears Israel Silva was trying to repair the dumbwaiter at Bangkok Bistro early Saturday when it suddenly became activated. The small elevator is used to carry food from the basement kitchen to the first-floor dining room.

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Some employers and Republicans want to lower the minimum wage — here’s why they’re completely out of touch
It seems unfathomable that anyone would consider the minimum wage — which, for a full-time worker, provides a yearly salary that is thousands of dollars below the poverty line for a family of three or four — to be too high. But in Arizona, Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would allow employers to pay teenagers working part-time a full three dollars per hour less than the state minimum wage, which works out to a mere $4.65 per hour. And the Florida legislature is considering lowering the state minimum wage for tipped employees by more than half.

Most minimum wage earners are women
One of the stats that always amazes is this: If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with the rising cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52 per hour today. Instead, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Stunning as that is, it gets even worse when you realize that the majority of those paid the minimum wage are women: In 2011, more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers were women, compared with only 38 percent of male minimum wage workers, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Queer issues are class issues: Where next for the LGBTQ movement?
Economics and sexual identity are not unconnected. The Center for American Progress reported back in 2010, “Besides disproportionate rates of homelessness as youth, a root cause of lower incomes and poverty among adult gay and transgender Americans is the high rate of workplace discrimination they face. This discrimination includes unequal pay, barriers to health insurance, unfair hiring and promotion practices, and verbal and sexual harassment that create hostile and unsafe working environment.”

Top Obama energy aide: ‘Fracking’ rules coming by year’s end
The administration Monday sought to reassure green groups “fracking” regulations are on track despite extending the public comment period. Heather Zichal, the top White House energy aide, told reporters that she expects the Interior Department rules regulating hydraulic fracturing, dubbed fracking, to be completed by year’s end.

Airline crash deaths too few to make new safety rules pay
More than a decade has passed since the last major-airline accident on U.S. soil. That’s great news for aviation companies and their passengers — and a complication for rule makers trying to improve flight safety. The benefits of aviation rules are calculated primarily on how many deaths they may prevent, so the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new requirements.

Monitoring government employee email could lead to repercussions for whistleblowers
Let’s say that you work for a government agency, and happen to witness fraud, waste or abuse—but you know that your employer is reading your email, and might use the information to retaliate against you. Would this affect your decision to blow the whistle? That’s the concern Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner raised in a memorandum sent last week to government agency heads and general counsels. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC)—which is responsible for investigating whistleblower claims—asked agencies in the memorandum to evaluate their monitoring practices to ensure employees are not discouraged from exercising their legal rights to disclose wrongdoing.

CDC considers outside checks on bioterror labs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering having U.S. Army scientists or another outside agency inspect its bioterror labs in the wake of a USA TODAY report this month. The agency plans to install safety equipment to address fire code violations from December 2010 that could trap workers in an emergency, an agency spokesman said Monday.

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Summer begins, workers feel the heat
Workers who are outside – construction workers, farmworkers, landscapers, roofers, baggage handlers, and others – are facing some brutal conditions out there, conditions that can do far more damage than just make us uncomfortable. High heat can cause body temperature to rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. OSHA has created a Heat Safety Tool for smartphones on the Apple and Android platforms that can calculate the heat index in your location and deliver site-specific information about your risks, and it can tell you what steps to take to keep cool.

Studies: Increasing the minimum wage during times of high unemployment doesn’t hurt job growth
Opponents of minimum wage increases contest that raising the minimum wage will be costly for businesses and have a negative effect on job growth and employment. An analysis by the Center for American Progress’ Nick Bunker, David Madland, and the University of North Carolina’s T. William Lester, however, found five recent studies showing that increasing the minimum wage — even during periods of high unemployment — does not have a negative effect on job growth.

Working for working women
Millions of working women struggle to make ends meet every day. Although women now make up close to half of the national workforce, they substantially outnumber men in holding low-wage jobs.

Paid paternity leave far from reality in United States
Many of the young fathers who celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday are more interested than ever in taking an active care-giving and social role in their children’s lives, according to studies cited in a new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families. But especially in the tight economy, relatively few fathers have access to paid family leave after the birth of a child or when a child is sick, and too few fathers even have unpaid job-protected leave to deal with family emergencies and responsibilities.

Two worlds: waiters who starve, and those who don’t
Our food comes at great expense to the workers who provide it. “The biggest workforce in America can’t put food on the table except when they go to work,” says Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U). All this comes because of the pathetic “special minimum wage”–$2.13 an hour–paid to restaurant workers.

Youth sex workers organize for their rights
When youth who live on the streets and work in the sex trade or other informal economies are victimized or abused, often the institutions that are supposed to help them—the police, hospitals and clinics, social service and non-profit agencies, homeless shelters—do more harm than good. A recent report by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago quantifies and analyzes this problem and describes and promotes a two-pronged solution wherein youth develop their own systems and networks for self-help and healing while also working with institutions to provide better services.

Lohan’s ‘Liz & Dick’ checked by 2 guilds for workplace safety; producer says all is ‘fine’
Two Hollywood unions are scrutinizing worker safety and welfare on Lindsay Lohan’s TV movie “Liz & Dick” after the actress tweeted that she was exhausted because of long production days. Lohan was treated last week by paramedics for exhaustion and dehydration. She posted on Twitter: “Note to self… After working 85hours in 4days, and being up all night shooting, be very aware that you might pass out from exhaustion & … 7 paramedics MIGHT show up.”

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Wages continue to fall in value as workers are underpaid and overworked
These are anxious days for American workers. Many, like Ms. Woods, are underemployed. Others find pay that is simply not keeping up with their expenses: adjusted for inflation, the median hourly wage was lower in 2011 than it was a decade earlier, according to data from a forthcoming book by the Economic Policy Institute, “The State of Working America, 12th Edition.”

Kentucky coal mine officials asked to submit plan for paying $1.5M in overdue fines for safety violations
Two House Democrats are asking company officials for a Kentucky mine where five miners died and for another mine that was shut down after a safety blitz to submit a plan for paying $1.5M in overdue fines to the federal government.

Transit safety still lags
It took two Washington Metro trains slamming into each other and nine deaths to reveal dangerous lapses in America’s public transportation systems. But three years after that deadly June accident, the outcry about safety continues. The country’s second-largest public transit agency has worked to bolster safety measures, but financial hurdles and oversight confusion have slowed improvements. The problems reflect a startling reality in public transportation: No one’s really watching.

More ill Hanford, PNNL workers may be paid
A compensation program for ill nuclear workers won key approval Tuesday to ease rules for $150K payments to additional Hanford workers or their survivors. A federal advisory board meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., voted to recommend that the eased rules, which are allowed for groups designated special exposure cohorts, be extended to workers at the site through 1983.

OSHA cites Tribe Mediterranean Foods following death of Fall River man at Taunton plant
The Taunton-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods faces $702K in proposed fines following an investigation into the workplace death of a Fall River man last year. Daniel Collazo Torres, 28, a Fall River resident, was crushed to death on Dec. 16, 2011 while cleaning and sanitizing a machine used to manufacture hummus at Tribe’s Taunton plant.

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Supreme Court says drug companies don’t have to pay sales reps overtime
Pharmaceutical companies don’t have to pay overtime to their salespeople, the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision Monday. Federal law requires most employers to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours per week, but the requirement does not apply to anyone who is employed as an “outside salesman.”

Wage theft a growing epidemic in the US
A new report from the Progressive States Network shows that there are few states that are even attempting to seriously deal with the problem of wage theft from workers and most states do a terrible job of dealing with the rampant problem. 44 of 50 states and the District of Columbia did not receive passing grades on their policies for dealing with wage theft. Only two states — New York and Massachusetts — even got a grade as high as a “C.” Nine states were so bad they earned an “F-.”

Alpha Natural Resources’ mine safety has improved, prosecutors say
Alpha Natural Resources has significantly cut its accident and injury rates in the six months since a landmark $210 million settlement that spared the company criminal charges over the 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 workers, federal prosecutors say. Alpha cut its accident rate by a third and its injury rate by 25 percent at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine and other former Massey Energy Co. operations.

Kentucky surface miners hit hard by black lung, study finds
Long linked to underground coal mining, black-lung disease also strikes miners who work above ground — hitting hardest in the Kentucky region. Those are the findings of a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first assessment in a decade of black-lung disease in surface miners.

Workplace toxics reveal the beauty industry’s ugly side
You shouldn’t have to suffer to be beautiful. But many women suffer for the beauty of others, polishing nails and styling hair with a toxic pallette of chemicals. Working long hours amid noxious fumes, salon workers, typically women of color, are in constant contact with chemicals linked to various illnesses and reproductive health problems. While environmental justice campaigns have historically focused on localized pollution issues, the National Healthy Nail & Beauty Salon Alliance organizes around the intersection of workplace environmental health and racial and economic justice.

Safety and health in the theater: keeping tragedy out of the comedies…and musicals…and dramas
While the theater provides entertainment, the preparation and production of live performances can also pose hazards to those working in all aspects of the theater –from actors on stage to set designers behind the scenes and musicians in the orchestra pit. Data from the Bureau of Labor statistics show that injuries involving days away from work among occupations related to the theater increased from a low of 870 in 2006 to a high of 1,570 in 2008.

Texas Industries allegedly ordered drug test before helping injured worker: lawsuit
A Texas-based cement company denied on Monday that it ordered a drug test before calling paramedics last year after a employee hurt himself in a fall. The worker, 67-year-old Benino Perez, later died from his injuries. In a lawsuit filed in Dallas County Court last week, Perez’s family alleges that his employer, Texas Industries, sought to drug test Perez before trying to help him after he’d fallen from a height of several feet. Perez worked as a loader for the company.

OSHA fines Norfolk Southern $802K
A Norfolk Southern Corp. subsidiary was fined more than $800K Monday by the U.S. Labor Department, which said the railroad company violated laws protecting “whistleblowers” when it fired three workers.

Upstate NY plant hit with $233K in OSHA fines
Federal workplace safety officials have hit hair care manufacturer Zotos International with fines of $233K for hazards at its upstate New York plant. Hazards included unguarded moving machine parts, electrical hazards, a blocked exit door, unqualified employees working on live electrical parts, failing to develop safety plans and inadequate training of employees.

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Ralph Nader: 30 million workers would benefit from raising minimum wage to 1968 level
In 2008, Barack Obama pledged to raise the minimum wage every year once elected, but the hourly rate of $7.25 hasn’t increased since 2007. Low-wage workers now make far less than they did four decades ago. Last week Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. introduced The Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2012. It draws its name from the idea that the federal minimum wage would be $10.55 an hour now if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years.

Minimum wage laws 100 years later
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first minimum wage law, adopted in Massachusetts in 1912.

Senate OK’s worker-safety bills sponsored by Staten Island’s Savino
Two worker safety bills sponsored by state State Sen. Diane Savino have passed the Senate. The first bill would establish the crime of vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter in an active work zone and intrusion into an active work zone. The second bill, which Ms. Savino sponsored with state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), would equate attacking a social worker or prison guard with assault on a police officer by establishing a second-degree assault charge punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Military suicides on record pace, outnumbering battlefield deaths
New figures show this year’s military suicide rate is on pace to reach a record high. The Pentagon says there have been at least 154 suicides among active-duty troops through last Thursday, a rate of nearly one each day. The figure marks an 18 percent increase over the same period a year ago. More U.S. soldiers have died by taking their own lives than been killed on the battlefield.

Frack sand mining boom: silica dust, air quality, and human health
“It’s basically strip mining,” said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) environmental engineer Rick Wulk, describing the sand mining activity that has exploded across western Wisconsin since 2010. Mining silica and quartz and processing it into industrial sand is big business these days because this sand is an important component of hydraulic fracturing operations that extract natural gas from shale.

As Qatar builds for the World Cup, its workers face abuse
Hundreds of thousands of mostly South Asian migrant construction workers in Qatar risk serious exploitation and abuse, sometimes amounting to forced labor, Human Rights Watch said in a report. Both the government and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) need to make sure that their commitments to respect workers’ rights in preparation for the 2022 World Cup are carried out.

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