Deaths on Small Farms and Modern-Day Slavery

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Your job or you unborn child. Your job or your bladder. Your job or your life. These are the choices that far too many workers still have to make every day, in the 21st century, in the United States of America.

Just got back from vacation and lots of troubling stuff has been happening while I’ve been gone. I’ll write more about some of these things as time permits, but here’s a short summary.

Deaths in Small Farms: Eli Wolfe of Fair Warning has written a devastating piece, co-published in The Atlantic, about worker deaths on small farms and how Congress prohibits OSHA from investigating incidents on farms that comprise about 93 percent of U.S. farms with outside employees, employing more than 1.2 million workers. “By keeping the exemption, Congress is saying it ‘doesn’t really care whether workers get killed on small farms or not,’ said Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA during the Obama administration. ‘There’s no other way to interpret it.’”  Wolfe estimates that from 2011 through 2016—333 employees were killed in accidents on farms with 10 or fewer employees.

Modern Day Slavery: Just in time for the holidays a New York Times investigation explores the cost to workers of next day delivery from Amazon and other retail outlets. Workers handle thousands of items every day, quotas are increased and it’s output over everything — including worker health or safety — but they’re the only jobs around. A supervisor to a sick pregnant employer after a 12 hour work day: “What is this fucking pregnancy? You don’t need no more fucking kids. Get a fucking abortion!” She went home and had a miscarriage the next day. Five of her co-workers also miscarried. Doctors notes about not lifting heavy objectw were ignored. Try to read this with a dry eye.

Meanwhile, Somali workers at Amazon in Minnesota show the benefits of collective action.

Acosta in Big Trouble? The Miami Herald published a major investigative series on how former federal prosecutor (and current Secretary of Labor) Alexander Acosta cut a deal with a serial sexual predator,  granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators” and cut short an FBI investigation.  Jeffrey Edward Epstein, a multimillionaire hedge fund manager, “was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day.” Acosta is the rare Trump Cabinet Secretary who has managed to stay free of any allegations of corruption or abuse of power — so far…..

Living in fear: Poultry workers at Sanderson Farms in Texas are only allowed two short bathroom breaks a day without supervisor permission. And it’s a long way to the bathroom. It’s not just painful, but hat lack of bathroom access is a health risk. Pregnant women, the elderly, and people with medical conditions that cause them to urinate more often are particularly vulnerable. The lines move too quickly and there aren’t enough workers to fill in for workers who need a break. And as we’ve read here before, “in a recent move, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was allowing poultry processing plants that meet certain criteria to increase their line speed even further.”

Trenching Citation: Maryland OSHA has issued a large $275,000 citation, including several willful violations, against R.F. Warder Inc. for the trench-collapse death of 20-year old Kyle Raymond Hancock in a 15 to 18 foot deep trench last June. The fact that there were willful violations associated with a workplace fatality means that the state has the legal opportunity to pursue criminal charges. No word yet about whether the state will act on that. I wrote more about this tragedy here.

Exporting Poisons: After three studies, all paid for by US semiconductor manufacturers, showed that thousands of women workers suffered twice the rate of miscarriages after being exposed to chemicals, the industry a) stopped using the toxic chemicals in the US; b) moved production overseas, or c) reached confidential settlements with reproductive effect and cancer lawsuits. Answer: All of the above.  Bloomberg Businessweek show that thousands of women and their unborn children overseas continued to face potential exposure to the same toxins until at least 2015, and most likely to this day.  Formulations of toxic chemicals remain secret. Even the chip plants’ own health and safety managers have no idea what workers are being exposed to.

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Reposted from Confined Space

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder