11 Things You Need to Know About Safety for Workers Memorial Day

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.

Here are 11 facts about worker safety and health you should know in honor of Workers Memorial Day:

1. In 2013, more than 4,400 workers were killed on the job and more than 50,000 more died from occupational diseases.

2. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 4 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported. Research indicates that the numbers may be underestimated and may actually be two or three times greater than what BLS reports.

3. Certain occupations have much greater risk than others. These include agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation, warehousing, mining and construction.

4. More than 8 million state and local public employees lack the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections while they face a 58% higher injury and illness rate than private-sector workers.

5. Latino workers have a workplace fatality rate 19% higher than the national average. The majority of these workers are immigrants.

6. There is no federal workplace standard (and few state standards) for workplace violence. Meanwhile there were more than 26,000 workplace injuries related to violence in 2013, including nearly 400 deaths. Women workers in health care and social assistance are most likely to face workplace violence.

7. Workplace suicides, many related to toxic work environments and bullying, increased by 8% in 2013.

8. The Occupational Safety and Health Act is more than 40 years old and is out of date. Millions of workers aren’t covered, workers’ rights are limited and penalties for violating the law are weak.

9. OSHA has fewer than 900 inspectors, meaning they can inspect workplaces, on average, once every 140 years. State OSHA inspectors amount to a little more than 1,000, meaning they can inspect workplaces once every 91 years.

10. Many workers face retaliation at work for raising job safety concerns or reporting injuries.

11. Most workplace chemical hazards are unregulated and the rules in place haven’t been updated since 1971.

Find a Workers Memorial Day event near you.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Former Massey Energy CEO Indicted

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For those of you who have been following the Massey Energy story, the Mine Workers (UMWA) passed along this news yesterday:

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that a federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Donald L. Blankenship, former Chief Executive Officer of Massey Energy Company, with four criminal offenses. The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment.

Click here to view a copy of the indictment. An indictment is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Massey Energy Upper Big Branch (W. Va.) deadly blast killed 29 in 2010. Families of the victims reacted to the indictment yesterday.

Photo by D.D. Meighen on Flickr. Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Shameful U.S. Record on Temporary Worker Protections

In the past decade, temporary work arrangements grew steadily in the United States—20% since 2003. In 2013, there were 2,673,800 workers employed in the temp industry, which accounted for 24% of all job growth in the United States during the tepid economic recovery from 2009 to 2012. Often these workers perform the same work as permanent employees for lower wages, little training, no benefits and no promise of security. Unfortunately,according to a recent ProPublica investigation, the United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in labor protections for temporary workers. Of 43 “developed and emerging economies” tracked by the OECD, the United States ranks near the bottom, at 41st, for temporary worker protections.

While temporary work and other forms of independent contracting offer some workers desired flexibility, most temporary workers are caught in a precarious gap in labor protections and lack needed workplace stability. From low-wage maintenance work to highly paid tech jobs, the growth of temporary work has pervaded the labor market. The AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees reports more than 7.7 million self-employed and temporary workers are employed in management, professional and related occupations. Temp workers at Microsoft, for example, have long protested their “permatemp” status at the company, where many have worked for years receiving less pay for the same work as regular employees, with no benefits or paid time off and little hope of moving into regular employment.

On the other end of the wage spectrum, workers often toil in unsafe conditions with little training, as companies outsource entire segments of their blue-collar workforce to staffing firms. Workers who are cheated out of wages or have safety complaints frequently do not know where to turn, as their true employer is masked through numerous subcontracting relationships throughout a supply chain. Some 542 temp workers were fatally injured on the job in 2011; Latino temp workers represented 28% of those deaths.

Immigrant workers are especially susceptible to abuse, as they may be unaware of their labor rights or fear immigration enforcement. Many have reported having to pay fees to fly-by-night staffing firms that charge workers for van transport to unknown job sites. Immigrant workers also frequently access the labor market through international labor recruiters, who have been known to charge high fees, confiscate travel documents, issue threats and commit other forms of abuse that have even resulted in human trafficking.

The growth of temp work arrangements is the product of deliberate corporate practices and policies that have been implemented within the context of privatization, deregulation and flexibilization of labor laws. There are numerous efforts to reverse these trends. The International Labor Organization is examining temporary work this summer as part of an effort to encourage the transition from the informal to formal economy. National governments, too, have made efforts well beyond the United States to combat exploitative temp work arrangements. For example:

  • At least 12 countries have banned companies from hiring temps in dangerous industries or to do hazardous work.
  • Unlike the United States, about three-quarters of the countries tracked by OECD require temp agencies to register or become licensed before they can begin sending out workers.
  • European Union countries mandated that temp workers receive equal pay and working conditions to employees hired directly by the company;
  • Nearly half of the 43 countries in the OECD study restrict the duration of temp assignments, ranging from three months to three years.

In the United States, workers have won promising gains in an uphill battle. Through collective action, taxi workers, day laborers, home care workers and adjunct faculty have improved their working conditions and formed collective representation on the job. At the state level in the United States, workers have pushed lawmakers to pass laws targeting employee misclassification, including laws that assign joint responsibility to temp agencies as employers, or forbid agreements where businesses know the agency does not have sufficient funds for all applicable regulations. At a time when inequality is at the top of the administration’s agenda, federal agencies and lawmakers must make every effort to reflect these good practices and extend worker protections to temp workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Hey, Macklemore, Can We Go New Wireless Provider Shopping?

Hey, Macklemore, Can We Go New Wireless Provider Shopping?

Hey, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, can we talk for a minute? I love you guys. I think “The Heist” is one of the best albums of the past few years. I’ve sung three different songs of yours at karaoke and I’m practicing a fourth. I’m one of the people who knows that when you talk about Capitol Hill in your songs, you’re not talking about D.C.

One of my favorite things about your songs, beyond the high-quality sound and performance, is how you talk about real-world issues and problems in honest, open and thoughtful ways. You don’t talk down to your listeners and you give them things to think about that they might not otherwise think about. That’s a great thing to do. From discussions on LGBTQ equality in “Same Love,” to talking about racial profiling and Trayvon Martin at the American Music Awards, to dealing with drug addiction and abuse on songs like “Otherside,” you’re bringing up important topics in ways that few popular musicians ever do. That’s to be applauded.

I’m also a fan of how you have stayed true to your principles and refused to sign with record companies that would exploit you. So, can I ask you a favor? You’re performing a show tonight sponsored by T-Mobile. T-Mobile is a company as bad or worse than those record companies you talked about in songs like “Jimmy Iovine.”

Workers employed by the wireless provider have described the company’s tactics as “brutal psychological terror.” These practices include things like verbal abuse, threats, forcing workers to wear dunce caps and sit in a corner if they don’t meet their quotas. In one town, so many T-Mobile workers have gone to the doctor reporting migraines, stroke symptoms, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, the doctors have started referring to the symptoms as “T-Mobile disease.” When those workers try to stand up for themselves and just work in a reasonable environment, they report being fired, disciplined, interrogated in basements and systematically told to keep quiet.

So far in your career, you’ve done a great job at raising awareness about injustice when you’ve seen it. You can do it again by shining a light on T-Mobile and its mistreatment of workers. At the end of “Jimmy Iovine,” you said something about how you’d prefer to be a starving artist than succeed at getting screwed over by a greedy corporation. And that was a bold stance for you that has paid off. Now you have the chance to help T-Mobile workers avoid both starving and getting screwed over.

Our friends at United Students Against Sweatshops and MoveOn.org asked your fans to sign a petition asking you to break up with T-Mobile.

Can you help some brothers and sisters out?

Read more about T-Mobile’s mistreatment of workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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West Virginia: Weak Environmental Laws = Poison Water

Common sense tells you don’t put a hazardous chemical storage facility on the banks of a river, a little more than a mile upstream from a drinking water intake that serves more than 300,000 people downstream. So should the law.

But beyond basic common sense, state and  federal environmental and safety and health rules should be in place to prevent disasters such as the recent West Virginia chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of families downstream from a largely unregulated and uninspected toxic chemical facility on the banks of the Elk River.

Not only was Freedom Industries allowed to operate the facility, which stored millions of gallons of various so-called “specialty chemicals” in aging tanks along the river banks, it had not been inspected by state or federal authorities since 2001, according to the Associated Press. When the leak occurred it was neighbors, not the company, who alerted officials.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials have said that their inspectors investigated the situation at Freedom on Jan. 9—not because of an alert from the company, but after neighbors complained of an annoying chemical odor resembling that of licorice.

The chemical industry and others in West Virginia have a long and successful history of fighting environmental and health and safety rules. But as the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards points out, the West Virginia water disaster is:

The latest in a series of environmental and safety disasters related to shortcomings in federal and state oversight that have often been driven by vociferous industry-funded anti-regulatory campaigns….The public pays the price when the regulatory agencies don’t have the legal tools and funding to do their jobs.

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario says, “This latest disaster has eerie echoes of the West Texas fertilizer explosion in March 2013—in both cases regulation of the toxic chemicals involved were lacking and there had been no oversight or inspections of the facilities.”

In Charleston, citizens have had their lives upended for days, but thankfully there has been no loss of life. In West, Texas, the damage was more devastating and long lasting with 15 emergency responders killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.

She said the disasters point out the urgent need for stronger protections and greater oversight by state and federal authorities.

This will only happen if citizens and workers come together and demand that their government take action to ensure safe water, clean air and safe workplaces for all.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Latino Workers 50% More Likely to Be Killed on Job from Falls, Exposure and Equipment Strikes

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that Latino workers are 50% more likely be killed on the job from falls and dangerous and unhealthy working conditions such as exposure to chemicals or being struck and killed by equipment than the overall workforce.

The CDC study also found that young Latino workers (18–24) are 50% more likely to be killed on the job for any reason that the overall workforce. Of the four groups studied—Latino, White, African  American and Native American/Asian/Pacific Islander, Latinos were the only ethnic and age group to have a so much greater death on the job rate.

The report examined workplace deaths from 2005 to 2009 and found the overall death rate was 3.7 per 100,000 workers, but for Latino workers it jumped to 4.4 per 100,000 workers.

Looking at specific causes of death, the report found that falls accounted 0.5 deaths for every 100,000 workers, but for Latino workers the rate was 0.9. A recent study by the Center for Popular Democracy found that in New York State Latino and immigrant workers suffered 60% of fatal worksite falls. Read more here.

The CDC study found that deaths because of exposure to dangerous substances such as chemicals or dangerous conditions such as excessive heat were 0.3 overall and 0.5 for Latino workers. The rate for workers killed by being struck or caught by equipment was 0.9 for Latinos and 0.5 overall.

The study concludes:

These findings highlight the importance of preventing work-related deaths. All workers, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigrant status, are afforded equal protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Furthering a culture in which occupational safety and health is recognized and valued as a fundamental component of economic growth and prosperity can play an important role in promoting health equity….This information can be used to improve intervention efforts by developing programs that better meet the needs of the increasing diversity of the U.S. workforce.

Click here for the full report.

For more information on Latino worker deaths and injuries, see the 2013 edition of the AFL-CIO report Death on the Job.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Immigrant, Latino Construction Workers at Bigger Risk of Death from Falls

A disproportionate number of Latinos and immigrants are disproportionately killed in fall accidents in New York, according to a new study by the Center for Popular Democracy, because they work in construction in relatively high numbers; are concentrated in smaller, nonunion firms; and are over-represented in the contingent labor pool.

According to Fatal Inequality: Workplace Safety Eludes Construction Workers of Color in New York State:

  • In the state of New York, Latinos and immigrants suffered 60% of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-investigated fatal falls from elevation fatalities.
  • In New York City, 74% of victims of fatal falls were Latinos and immigrants.
  • 86% of Latinos and immigrants killed in falls from an elevation in the state were working for nonunion employers.

Latino construction workers said they feared retaliation from their employers if they raised concerns about safety conditions. The report also points to an underfunded and understaffed OSHA and penalties for safety violations that are “so small that employers can see them as just an incidental cost of doing business.”

The report warns that matters could get worse because the construction and insurance industries are proposing an amendment to weaken the state’s Scaffold Law, which requires owners and contractors to provide appropriate and necessary equipment, such as safe hoists, ladders and scaffolds. The law holds owners and contractors fully liable if their failure to follow the law causes a worker to be injured or killed. It would shift responsibility for workplace safety from owners and contractors, who control site safety, to workers, who do not.

You can read an executive summary of the report here or download the entire report here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Up Late with Alec Baldwin and the Workers Defense Project

MSNBC’s new Friday late night show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” recently featured an in-depth interview with Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of the Workers Defense Project (WDP). She explained the hardships and abuses immigrant workers face, especially undocumented construction workers in Texas, and some of the successes—such as the recent wage and job safety protections approved last month by the Austin City Council—WDP has seen.

Baldwin told viewers that while the battle over comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship “plays out in Washington, out in the rest of the country, out of the spotlight,” immigrant workers are “fighting real battles to feed their families.”

Why? Because without the protection of citizenship, they’re vulnerable to exploitation like wage theft—people hiring them to do work and then not paying them—unsafe and deadly work conditions like denying water breaks to people working outside in the summer heat. The Workers Defense Project in Texas is leading the fight to change this.

Watch part one of the interview above and part two below.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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A Safe Job Is Every Worker’s Right

A safe job is a fundamental workers’ right. It doesn’t matter whether you work in a coal mine, a classroom, a construction site, a hospital or a garment factory in Bangladesh or China, every worker should be able to go to their job and return home safely at the end of the day.

“But in too many workplaces around the world, employers’ push for production and profits and disregard for workers’ safety puts workers’ lives in danger,” state AFL-CIO delegates in a convention resolution on worker safety. This is why the AFL-CIO, along with its allies—safety and health activists and advocates, family members, worker centers, public interest organizations—commit to seek stronger safety and health protections and rights for all workers.

This past April, the horrifying collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which housed five factories making garments for U.S. and European retailers, highlighted the urgent need to address workplace safety issues. Cracks in the building had been discovered, because of illegal and shoddy construction, making it unsafe. But workers were told to return to work or lose their month’s pay. Soon after, the building collapsed, killing 1,129 workers, mostly women, and injuring hundreds more. Just months earlier, 112 Bangladeshi workers were killed in a fire, trapped behind locked doors at the Tazreen garment factory, another producer for global retail chains.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and an advocate for garment factory workers, said at the convention:

In the USA, you had events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that happened over 100 years ago. You still have workplace disasters, but you have made it clear here that industry does not have to be that way. If workers organize unions and know their rights and laws, and government does its job, industry can be held accountable.  Workers can produce without risking health and life. The economy can grow and workers can share in this prosperity.

In the United States,  in recent years alone, the lack of safety protections is costing workers their lives. In 2010, 29 coal miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, a company with a history of serious mine violations and deaths. A few weeks later, an explosion at the BP Gulf Coast oil well killed 12 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. This past April, 15 people died in an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant that processed and stored highly dangerous chemicals. The plant was small and not covered by many chemical safety regulations and had never been inspected  by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And in June, 19 firefighters died in a massive wildfire in Arizona when they were trapped behind the fire line when the wind shifted; with no way to escape. This was the worst firefighter tragedy since the collapse of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Even though the union movement’s advocacy in workplace safety standards has made significant improvements for workers—since the passage of the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act, the job fatality rate has been cut by more than 80%—out of date workplace safety laws and underfunded enforcement, coupled with eight years of neglect and hostility under the Bush administration, has taken its toll.

Fortunately, under President Obama, we are starting to make progress on workplace safety issues.

Strong, committed advocates have been appointed to lead the job safety agencies. Both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have stepped up enforcement, particularly for employers who have a history of serious and repeated violations. The agencies have increased focus on protecting workers’ rights with enhanced whistle-blower protection programs and policies to protect workers who report job hazards or job injuries from retaliation. And education and outreach, particularly for vulnerable workers, has been expanded to help workers exercise their legal rights.

But there is still work to do.

The resolution states the union movement will:

  • Strengthen the OSHA and MSHA laws to cover all workers and all work arrangements, toughen enforcement and provide stronger workers’ rights and anti-retaliation protections, seeking improvements both federally and at the state level.
  • Continue to push the Obama administration to issue needed rules on silica, coal dust, combustible dust, infectious diseases and other hazards, taking legal action when necessary to protect workers’ safety on the job.
  • Continue to challenge employer policies and practices that discourage or retaliate against workers for reporting injuries or hazards and shift blame and responsibility to workers, and instead push employers to reduce exposures to workplace hazards.
  • Oppose the industry assault on regulations and corporate legislative efforts to dismantle our system of regulatory safeguards that protect our health, safety and environment and financial security.
  • Educate workers and union members about job hazards and safety and health rights, and support efforts to organize and take action to improve working conditions.
  • Fight efforts to use international trade agreements to lower safety and health standards and protections, and instead seek to use these agreements and their enforcement as means to raise standards and improve working conditions for all workers.

From the resolution:

And we must and will stop corporations’ endless worldwide drive for cheaper production, lower wages and resulting exploitation of workers. With the global trade union movement and our partners, we will seek strong laws that protect workers’ safety and health and workers’ rights no matter in which country they live or work. We will hold global corporations responsible for their actions and production on their behalf and demand binding enforceable industry agreements that provide workers fair wages, safe working conditions and the right to organize.

Read the full text of Safe Jobs—Every Worker’s Right.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers in Walmart Supply Chain Strike Against Unsafe Conditions

At 5 a.m. local time, workers at a Mira Loma, Calif., warehouse that ships goods for Walmart launched a two-day strike to protest alleged unsafe working conditions and retaliation against workers who are exposed to those conditions. The warehouse is owned by Olivet International, an apparel and luggage company.  Some 70% of the products that move through the warehouse are shipped on behalf of Walmart.

Employee Miriam Garcia told The Nation:

I’m scared because I need to work for my family’s sake. But I don’t want me or my co-workers to keep working in these conditions. It’s important that I make it home to my family safe, in good health. I don’t want to get injured [at work] like my other co-workers.

In May, workers from the warehouse filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, supported by photo evidence, alleging a number of safety violations: unclean drinking water; emergency exits blocked by boxes and merchandise; forklift brakes, seatbelts and horns that don’t work; workers loading shipping containers in the dark; triple-stacked and unsecured boxes; lack of ventilation or adequate water amid intense heat; and a risk of workers being hit by forklifts and workers trapped inside trailers as they drive off. The workers also have been requesting higher compensation. The workers say that attempts to remedy the concerns with Olivet were ignored initially, but following the complaint, the company began intimidating the workers, including the installation of surveillance cameras, following workers, cutting hours and implied threats that the workers would be fired.

The strike is the latest in a series of work stoppages at various parts of the Walmart supply chain, including a previous one at the same facility, another in Elwood, Ill., and a rally at a shareholder convention in Arkansas.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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