Workplace Safety for the Week of January 7

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Freedom of the Press is not Free — or Safe: Reporters Without Borders released its annual report last month of deadly violence and abusive treatment of journalists and the news isn’t good: “A total of 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison, and 60 are being held hostage.” And it’s getting worse. Murders, imprisonment, hostage-taking and disappearances have all increased. According to RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.” I know at least one unscrupulous politician who should read this and reflect.

Spreading the Pain: Some federal employers are luckier than others because their agencies are still funded and they’re actually getting paid for their work. Instead of urging them to urge their elected leaders to end Trump’s vanity wall shutdown, “the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for administration and management, Bryan Slater, sent an email urging department staff to help out workers at agencies affected by the partial U.S. government shutdown,” according to Bloomberg. Slater reminded those lucky DOL employees that ““This is a great opportunity to help fellow colleagues manage their bills, their child care and other everyday needs!” So instead of their employers paying them for the work they’re doing (or want to be doing), their fellow employees are now being asked to support them while the billionaire President sits in his bed, watching Fox “News” all day and tweeting lies after lie. Perhaps Labor Secretary Alex Acosta should do something real for the federal labor force and tell his boss to end the shutdown.

ADM Cutting Back on Safety?  ADM has been having problems. Or more precisely, those working in and around ADM have been having problems — deadly ones. Last weekend, OSHA launched two separate investigations into grain dust explosions at ADM corn processing plants in Iowa and Decatur, Illinois. A firefighter was killed responding to the explosion and fire in Iowa. The Decatur plant had experienced another fire and explosion just two months ago in the grain elevator that serves the company’s corn and soybean plants. As former OSHA Policy Director Debbie Berkowitz observed, “The standard to prevent explosions in grain elevators is 30 years old. There are no excuses here for these deadly explosions.”

Mining Fatalities Down Slightly in 2018: MSHA is boasting the second lowest number of fatalities n the nation’s history. 27 miners were killed in 2018 — 12 coal miners, and 27 metal/non-metal miners. Last year 15 coal miners were killed and 13 metal/non-metal miners. 2016 saw the lowest number with 25 killed — 8 coal miners and 17 metal/non-metal miners.  Unfortunately, it only took a few days into 2019 for the first mining fatality: John Ditterline, 55, of Equality, Illinois, was killed January 4. Ditterline was a contract employee in the underground mine, working for Clay, Kentucky-based S & L Industries. The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

McDonalds Workers Walk Out: Sexual harassment and workplace violence are common facts of life for too many American workers. It happens. But good managers are supposed to take action to do something about it. McDonalds is not doing that according to employees who describe how they have been harassed and assaulted at work — while McDonalds’ management does nothing. Last year, McDonalds workers walked out to protest sexual harassment in the workplace, and earlier this week“McDonald’s workers in the Tampa, Orlando and St. Petersburg areas held a walkout strike demanding better protection from workplace attacks in partnership with the Fight for $15 movement and Black Lives Matter” after a video showing a McDonalds worker getting attacked went viral. The are calling on McDonalds to “establish store security protocols, and provide protection and a voice on the job for its predominantly Black and Latinx women workforce.”

Not Getting The Message: Why don’t companies learn from past mistakes? To try to move them in that direction, OSHA is allowed to issue “repeat” violations which carry higher penalties — and they’ve been making good use of them lately.  Coming almost 108 years after 146 workers were killed at the Triangle Shirtwaist factor where exits were blocked, OSHA levied a $208,603 citation on a United Parcel Service facility in Sharonville, Ohio — for blocked exits. And it wasn’t the first time UPS had been cited for the same problem. Two of the citations — one for $71,137 and one for $129,336 were repeat violations. The OSHA Press Release noted that “A roller extension unloader device was permanently located and attached to a belt conveyor limiting the access route, management allowed packages to accumulate in aisles, and some access routes were reduced to just seven inches.” Meanwhile OSHA issued a $56,910 citation against Franklin County Construction LLC, a New Haven, Missouri roofing company, after an employee suffered fatal fall injuries when a roof truss collapsed. The OSHA citation included one repeat violation, in addition to five serious violations.  And it may be cold outside right now, but it was hot in Woodland Hills, California last July when US Postal Service employee employee died of heat stroke while delivering mail when the outdoor temperature reached 117 degrees. OSHA has cited USPS “for a repeated violation of recordkeeping requirements related to recording heat stress incidents. Proposed penalties total $149,664.”

Illogical Logistics: XPO Logistics continues to have a hard time with worker safety and dignity. The growing, multi-billion dollar warehousing giant which contracts, with Verizon, Albertsons and other companies, was accused of mistreating pregnant employees and other safety problems by the New York Times last October. Meanwhile, OSHA just issued a $12,934 citation to the company for the death of two employees, Roger Mangine, 62, and Christopher Klosin, 38, who were killed when 8,800 pounds of countertop material collapsed inside a truck that they were unloading at XPO Logistics’ site in Lockport, NY last June. The Teamsters, the Tennessee NAACP and other groups have sent a letter to Verizon asking the company “to take immediate action to ensure that all workers in your supply chain are treated humanely and not exposed to illegal working conditions” and according to Politico, 97 Congresspersons have sent a letter urging the House Education and Labor Committee leaders to initiate an investigation into the distributor.  Incoming Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) has promised to look into the company’s behavior.

Just the Facts:  When agencies make major policy decisions, they are supposed to back them up with reliable, accurate data or they’re in violation of federal data quality requirements. So say Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Congresspersons Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rosa deLauro (D-CT), Mark Takano (D-CA) and Lucile Roybal-Allard (D-CA) who have sent a letter asking Labor Department Inspector General Scott Dahl asking them to investigate whether the Wage and Hour Division used faulty evidence to justify its proposal to allow 16 and 17-year olds to operate mechanical patient lifts in nursing homes. The legislators note that the one piece of evidence DOL uses to justify its argument that the current policy hindered employment and training opportunities for young people is a 2012 survey of vocational schools that was not even submitted to the docket for public review.  The survey supposedly concluded that vocational school administrators felt that government age restrictions resulted in increased burdens. But only a small number administrators even answered that question, and most of them weren’t even aware of the government policy that was supposedly causing the “burden.” The legislators are asking the agency to make the survey public as required by a Presidential Executive Order, allowing the public to assess the validity and accuracy of the data.

Go Back To Mexico! Abuse of immigrant workers with legal H-2A temporary visa program work permits is on the rise. Why? Employers are “tuned to the era of President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies: ‘Go back to Mexico.’ This response to every gripe ‘was a way to remind the worker the company has the power to fire them and send them home,'” according to a Bloomberg article by Kartikay Mehrotra, Peter Waldman and Jonathan Levin. “More workers are putting up with unpaid wages, untreated injuries and various forms of mental and physical abuse, says David Weil, the former director of the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage & Hour Division under President Barack Obama.” Complaints to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office have more than tripled since Trump’s inauguration.

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Reposted from Confined Space

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder