Archive for July, 2012

When safety becomes voluntary: workplace self-policing program under scrutiny
What’s the value of a worker’s life? According to the calculus of corporate efficiency, it’s often still cheaper to put workers at risk than to spend money to protect them. And the federal government generously rewards those who have perfected this cost-containment strategy in industries where workplace hazards are just part of business as usual.

Female House GOP staffers make $10K less than male counterparts
Women on the Hill make thousands less than their male counterparts each year, with the gap particularly pronounced amongst Republican staffers. On average, women in the House make $5,862.56 less each year than male staffers. But for GOP women, that number increases to $10,093.09, according to an analysis by National Journal.

3 ex-managers sue Wet Seal, asserting bias against blacks
Three former managers at Wet Seal, a nationwide apparel retailer for young women, filed a federal race discrimination lawsuit on Thursday, asserting that the company had a high-level policy of firing and denying pay increases and promotions to African-African employees because they did not fit the retailer’s “brand image.” The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Santa Ana, Calif., includes a copy of a March 2009 e-mail sent by the company’s then senior vice president for store operations to lower-level managers after she had inspected several stores, saying “African American dominate — huge issue.”

OSHA declines to issue rule protecting workers from heat
As high temperature records are broken across the United States, health and public safety advocates are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to finally issue a rule protecting workers from extreme heat. In 1972, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended a heat standard, but OSHA has still failed to implement it. With global warming likely to make heat related deaths more common, public safety advocates say OSHA must act immediately.

BP spill workers say dispersant made them sick
The 1.8 million gallons of dispersant that BP and federal responders spread on the massive Gulf oil spill in 2010 are already coming back to haunt them. FuelFix.com, a Houston Chronicle spinoff devoted to covering energy, reports today that the company that manufactures Corexit, the chemical sprayed on the surface of the Gulf and at the wellhead to disperse the oil in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is trying to get out of a proposed settlement with plaintiffs who say they have health problems resulting from the spill and cleanup.

Is your small business exempt from OSHA?
The Occupational Safety and Health Act covers most businesses that have employees. It has specific rules and regulations but it also specifies a number of industries that are exempt from the OSH Act. Not everyone has to follow OSH Act regulations and many small businesses are exempt from the requirements.

Big week looms ahead for SeaWorld
The week of July 16 will be crunch time for America’s favorite marine theme park, as SeaWorld braces for the next grueling phase in the aftermath of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death, two and a half years ago in Orlando. The company will have much to contend with.

BP agrees to pay more than $13M and abate violations in settlement agreement with US Department of Labor
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced that OSHA and BP Products North America Inc. have resolved 409 of the 439 citations issued by the agency in October 2009 for willful violations of OSHA’s process safety management standard at BP’s refinery in Texas City, Texas. Under the agreement, BP will pay $13M in penalties, and already has abated or will abate all existing violations by the end of 2012.

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Black-lung rule loopholes leave miners vulnerable
Thousands of coal miners continued to suffer and die from black lung during the 40 years that tough new limits on exposure to coal dust were supposed to provide protection. Control of the mine dust was plagued by weak enforcement by regulators and loopholes exploited by mining companies, according to a joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI). The protections were “set up for failure,” says Dennis O’Dell, the safety and health administrator at the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

Reaffirming the legal rights of miners
Among the most critical provisions of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 is the protection of miners against retaliation for raising health and safety concerns. Two recent decisions by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission have affirmed the legal rights of miners to be protected against discrimination in the workplace.

Black lung: Why respirators are not a solution
Respirators and other breathing devices may seem useful for protecting coal miners from the dust that causes black lung. But federal law does not permit using respirators as a way of complying with dust exposure limits.

US Labor Department focusing on compliance of wage laws in Virginia construction industry
According to the department, large companies such as developers and prime contractors are increasingly subcontracting work to smaller companies that employ workers on-site or to other workers with skills like masonry, carpentry and electrical work.

Houston, we have a workers’ rights problem: Profile of a worker justice center in Texas’ biggest city
Last month, more than 70 ironworkers walked off an ExxonMobil construction site near Houston, Texas. The workers, known as rodbusters in the industry, weren’t members of a union or backed by powerful organizers; they decided amongst themselves to unite in protest of unsafe working conditions in a state that has the highest construction worker fatality rate in the country.

SeaWorld appeals killer-whale safety ruling
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that its animal trainers be forbidden from having unprotected contact with killer whales during public performances. The Orlando-based marine park operator said Monday that it has submitted a petition to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission asking the panel to review the May 30 ruling.

Workplace safety regulators cite recycling companies in Texas and Ohio
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration accused Electronic Recycling and Trading Co. of 14 violations in connection with a combustible dust explosion in January that severely burned two workers at a company site in Austin, Texas. The alleged violations included failing to provide suitable dust collection and fire suppression systems. The agency is proposing penalties totaling $60K. Separately, OSHA accused Toxco Inc. of 14 violations at its battery recycling plant in Lancaster, Ohio, including failing to protect workers from overexposure to lead and cadmium. Proposed penalties total $59K.

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As mine protections fail, black lung cases surge
A joint investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has found that incidence of the disease that steals the breath of coal miners doubled in the last decade, according to data analyzed by epidemiologist Scott Laney at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Black lung experts and mine safety advocates have warned of the resurgence of the disease since 1995. New reporting by CPI and NPR reveals the extent to which federal regulators and the mining industry failed to protect coal miners in the intervening years.

Dust reforms stalled by years of inaction
For more than a quarter-century, government efforts to end deadly black lung disease have hit various brick walls, built by opposition from one side or the other. Industry lobbyists object that tougher dust limits and more rigorous sampling requirements go too far. Labor leaders complain those same proposals are far too weak. Miners are left with the same system that experts have agreed hasn’t worked for decades.

Black lung disease, once on the brink of extinction, is back. Thank the coal industry.
In February 1969, miners in West Virginia launched an illegal wildcat strike. The action halted extraction for half of the mines in the northern part of the state for days. The miners had one demand: end black lung disease. The action worked. But new research into the disease by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity reveals that black lung is far from eradicated.

Forced labor on American shores
It is time to banish the idea that forced labor and sweatshop exploitation are problems of bygone eras or distant countries. These conditions exist within America’s borders. New rules protecting workers’ rights were supposed to have taken effect in April, but have been blocked after business owners sued the Department of Labor and a group of senators from both parties shamefully voted to deny the department funding to enforce them.

Wal-Mart’s dirty partners
Wal-Mart’s low prices come at a high cost. You can measure it in environmental impact, crowded-out competitors or its employees’ miserly benefits. Or you can consider Wal-Mart’s other army: workers employed by Wal-Mart’s contractors and subcontractors, whose labor makes Wal-Mart possible and whose working conditions are shaped by the company’s lust for savings. As Wal-Mart celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, some of them are raising alarms.

Labor activists peer into shadows of Apple’s factory empire
Our gadgets and tablets make our lives easier, but those palm-sized miracles of convenience are built by hard work in a metastisizing global chain of low-wage labor. Apple has received much criticism lately over the exploitation of workers in China, particularly at the manufacturing behemoth Foxconn, where several worker suicides have stirred public outrage. But Apple’s power over China’s assemblyline workforce extends to many other suppliers. A new report by China Labor Watch drills down to the lesser-known plants that piece together our hand-held devices.

DOJ probing whether ‘Fast and Furious’ whistleblowers are safe from retaliation
The Justice Department’s inspector general is probing whether two federal agents could face retaliation for blowing the whistle on operation “Fast and Furious.” In a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), made public on Monday, IG Michael Horowitz said he was investigating their concerns that two federal officials could be at risk of retaliatory action for speaking out against the botched gun-tracking operation.

Jobs report’s thin silver lining: real wages are rising
There was one bright spot in this morning’s monthly nonfarm jobs report: wages are rising. As per the nonfarm payrolls report from the BLS, average hourly wages rose 6 cents, to $23.50. That’s up 2% from a year ago.

A grueling course for training Marine officers will open its doors to women
This was one sequence in the Combat Endurance Test, the opening exercise in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course — one of the most redoubtable male-only domains in the American military. And this session of the course could be the last male-only class. Beginning in September, the corps says, female officer volunteers will participate here, part of a study to gauge the feasibility of allowing female Marines to serve in more extensive combat roles.

Feds investigate Oshkosh crane collapse
Federal workplace safety officials are investigating the collapse of a crane on an expressway bridge near Oshkosh yesterday that killed a worker and injured another.

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With hundreds of workers dying, OSHA’s denial of petition for a heat stress standard is shortsighted
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has denied yet another petition from Public Citizen calling for a life-saving regulation – an action particularly shortsighted given the searing temperatures we are seeing in the summer and the number of workers who are dying from heat, Public Citizen said today.

Who’s watching out for farm workers left out in the heat?
Farm worker organizing led to California’s first-in-the-nation heat illness regulation, which was passed in 2005 after five heat-related deaths that year. It’s supposed to guarantee water, shade, and rest for all outdoor workers, including the state’s 650,000 farm workers. So why are people still getting sick and dying?

House probes NY restaurant-harass group
The House investigations panel has opened a probe into a controversial labor-activist group accused of harassing New York City eateries, The Post has learned. The organization, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), was formed after 9/11 to help displaced restaurant workers, including those from Windows of the World.

GOP Rep. tells constituent who asks about raising the minimum wage to ‘get a job’
House Democrats earlier this month proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, which would catch the minimum wage up to the buying power it had in 1968. The proposal hasn’t gone anywhere, though, since Republicans who control the House of Representatives oppose any increase. Asked by a constituent at a Fourth of July parade yesterday, Florida Rep. Bill Young (R) revealed that he is, predictably, opposed to the Democratic proposal. When a constituent asked him why he opposed boosting worker wages, Young replied simply, “Get a job.”

If former Massey Energy is now “Running Right,” why keep secret its safety progress report?
“We’re still in the dark,” explained one family whose son was killed 27 months ago at Alpha Natural Resources (formerly Massey Energy’s) Upper Big Branch mine (UBB). That comment came two weeks ago after learning that Alpha, one of the world’s largest coal companies, provided its first progress report to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin as required by the December 2011 Non-Prosecution Agreement. The report was dated June 4, 2012. This family member and others feel “still in the dark” because a copy of that report has not been shared with them.

Can you be fired for what you post on Facebook?
Which Facebook posts can get you fired? As more and more of our daily speech migrates online, business groups are hoping that the NLRB will make it easier for employers to control that speech. It shouldn’t.

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