Archive for ‘Safety on the Job’

October 4, 2013

Military-Industrial Complex A-Okay As U.S. Shutdown Enters Fourth Day

With a government shutdown, the vast majority of U.S. spending is now on military and police.

U.S. Federal Discretionary Budget from the War Resisters League



By Frank Robins


“Government Shutdown” — the words are blocked across every paper in the country this week. It sounds like a good idea — and how great it would be if it were this simple! But the majority of federal discretionary spending, deemed essential, continues unabated:  the military, all 116 federal prisons, border enforcement, surveillance, and federal law enforcement. (Except for labor law enforcement, of course. Goodbye OSHA inspections; time for some direct action.)

April 23, 2013

Only an Accident


By BRUCE MACHART from the New York Times:

JUST after lunch break one infernal Houston afternoon in 1995, I slammed the door of the company truck, cranked the engine, and punched the gas so hard that the truck fishtailed onto Jensen Drive. Beside me sat my co-worker Charlie. In his lap, he clenched a blood-drenched wad of paper towels over what had been, minutes before, his left thumb. The severed thumb, packed hurriedly on ice in a cup, rode in the center console.

“No more hitchhiking for me,” Charlie said, deadpan, a shiver running through him.

July 2, 2012

The Student Loan Debt Suicides

This story was produced by the independent Economic Hardship Reporting Project, co-edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Rivlin.

Students in Montreal resist tuition increases

One evening in 2007, Jan Yoder of Normal, Illinois noticed that her son Jason seemed more despondent than usual. Yoder had been a graduate student in organic chemistry at Illinois State University but after incurring $100,000 in student loan debt, he struggled to find a job in his field. Later that night, Jason, 35, left the family’s mobile home. Concerned about her son’s mood, Jan Yoder decided in the early morning hours to go look for him on campus, where a professor she ran into joined her in the search. The two of them discovered his body in one of the labs on campus and called campus police at 8:30AM. 32 minutes later, Jason was declared dead due to nitrogen asphyxiation.

When the story was posted on several different sites in 2007 and 2008, the Internet chatter was not always kind to the dead man. While many expressed great sympathy for Yoder and ranted against the student lending system, others were quick to invoke the “personal responsibility” argument — “it was his fault;” “why did he take out that amount of loans?;” “Mr. Yoder took out those loans . . . he had an obligation to pay them back.” — and denigrate him.

December 6, 2011

My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers

Liberté Locke, a Starbucks Workers Union organizer, writes about how violence at work and in our personal lives are similar, how domestic abusers and bosses use the same techniques of control and that we need to fight both.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence

I was raped by a boyfriend on August 18th, 2006. The very next day I held back tears while I lied to a stranger over the phone about why I was unavailable to go in that day for a second interview for a job that I desperately needed. When I hung up the phone I saw a new text message. It was from him. “It’s not over. It will never be over between us…”

June 17, 2011

Everyone plays a part in fighting wage theft

Written by: David Cahn , Seattle Solidarity Network and Michael Reagan , Seattle Solidarity Network

The Seattle Solidarity Network in front of a business they were able to shut down when its owner refused to pay a former employee money she was owed.

Seattle recently joined San Francisco, Austin, Kansas City and Denver in making wage theft — bosses cheating workers out of their earned pay — a criminal offense, and rightfully so. Across the country, employers big and small are not paying minimum wage and overtime, or they are forcing people to work off the clock or during their breaks. Others are stealing tips or making illegal deductions from paychecks. Many bosses take advantage of undocumented immigrants, using the threat of arrest and deportation to simply not pay them at all.

A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project estimated that two-thirds of low-wage workers in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were denied full payment for their work.

The passage of the Seattle wage theft ordinance can only help working people. Groups like Casa Latina, a local workers center and immigrant rights organization, worked hard for the law to be passed. At a time when so many of us are struggling economically, we need every possible tool to assist regular people.

But, like any theft, wage theft is already illegal.

June 3, 2011

Government Reports Reveal Jimmy John’s Lied about Pattern of Food-borne Illness Outbreaks


Jimmy John’s Workers Union- Industrial Workers of the World Contacts: Max Specktor, 612-250-7309, Erik Forman 612-598-6205

 June 3, 2011

Minnesota Department of Health Reports

MINNEAPOLIS- Two months after Jimmy John’s fired six workers for blowing the whistle on a company practice of forcing sandwich-makers to work while sick, the IWW Jimmy John’s Workers Union has released Minnesota Department of Health documents today revealing eight outbreaks of food borne illness at franchises across the Twin Cities area in the past five years, seven of which were due to employees working while sick at the chain.

The release of the documents seriously erodes the credibility of Minneapolis franchise owner Mike Mulligan who had previously claimed to reporters and employees that, “the company has made more than 6 million sandwiches during its nearly 10 years in business—and no one’s ever gotten sick from eating one.”

Two of the outbreaks, both caused by sick employees, were at the Mulligans’ stores.

May 24, 2011

Why is America the ‘no-vacation nation’?

Written by A. Pawlowski:

(CNN) — Let’s be blunt: If you like to take lots of vacation, the United States is not the place to work.

Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world — much less than what people in many other countries receive. And even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached.

Some U.S. companies don’t like employees taking off more than one week at a time. Others expect them to be on call or check their e-mail even when they’re lounging on the beach or taking a hike in the mountains.

“I really would like to take a real, decent vacation and travel somewhere, but it’s almost impossible to take a long vacation and to be out of contact,” said Don Brock, a software engineer who lives in suburban Washington. “I dream of taking a cruise or a trip to Europe, but I can’t imagine getting away for so long.”

The running joke at Brock’s company is that a vacation just means you work from somewhere else.

So he takes one or two days off at a time and loses some vacation each year.

Only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the days they’re entitled to, compared with 89% of workers in France, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Brock’s last long holiday was more than 10 years ago, when he took a two-week drive across the country.

May 3, 2011

Worker Deaths Decline Due to Recession

Miners, 101 of whom were killed on the job in 2009, made up only 2 percent of the total job related deaths in the U.S. that year.

This story was taken from the Huffington Post – written by Lila Shapiro:

NEW YORK — The number of workplace-related deaths and injuries decreased slightly in 2009 according to the nation’s largest labor union, but that’s not because of any significant changes in safety regulations. Instead, the loss of jobs due to the recession has simply kept many employees away from the most harmful workplaces.

“You can’t suffer workplace mortality if you’re not working,” said Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist at AFL-CIO and one of the authors of the report. Many of the most deadly industries — construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing — were among the most decimated in the past several years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economic factors played a major role in the decline of workplace deaths.

In 2009, 4,340 workers were killed on the job, a decrease of 874 deaths from the 2008 figure. And occupational diseases caused by exposure to toxic substances are responsible for an estimated 50,000 deaths each year, according to the report. The data, compiled from the BLS and published annually by the AFL-CIO, is preliminary, and the total number of deaths is expected to increase slightly when more complete data is released later in the spring. The report estimates the true number of workplace related injuries — reported and unreported — to fall between 8 and 12 million per year.

In terms of a percentage of total work related deaths per year, construction had the highest share at 19%.

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970, workplace safety and health conditions have steadily improved — the year the act was signed, 13,800 workers were killed on the job. But, the report reads, “too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.” For this, the report lays heavy blame on the Bush administration for “eight years of neglect and inaction” that “seriously eroded safety and health protections.”

“The Obama administration,” the introduction to the report reads, “has returned OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to their mission to protect workers’ safety and health.”

But some experts say the AFL-CIO’s assessment may be too generous to the current administration.

“We are still waiting for the Obama administration to propose a substantive health or safety standard,” said Celeste Monforton, an assistant research professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services who was previously employed as a policy analyst at OSHA. “So the facts don’t really support what the AFL-CIO is saying. I think  [Obama and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] have good intentions, but it can’t just be an intention. It has to be an action.”

The Obama administration has taken certain small steps to increase workplace health and safety, such as increasing funding for OSHA and hiring additional inspectors. Still, the report cautions, at its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 129 years to inspect each workplace in its jurisdiction just once.

Story continues on next page -

December 30, 2010

Wage Theft in America – Two Approaches

Mercedes Herrerra is a 39-year-old Mexican immigrant living in Houston, Texas. Working primarily for staffing agencies, she first started cleaning houses and sports facilities in 1996. Paid meager wages, working long hours and travelling some distance to get to new job sites, her staffing agency charged her as much as $100 per week for gloves and cleaning supplies.

As if the massive charges for basic cleaning supplies weren’t enough, her employers found other ways to skim more cash off of her hard work.

“She was never paid for overtime. Her employers would tell her, “There is no overtime. After 40 hours you work for someone else.”

-Personal Accounts of Wage Theft

A study conducted in 2008 by the UCLA in conjunction with the National Employment Law Project found that, amongst non-managerial and non-technical workers in the United States, wage theft is a virtual epidemic.

The study found that nearly 70% of workers surveyed had experienced some type of pay violation within the previous week. Of those, the average worker lost $51 out of an average weekly earnings of $339, or nearly 15% of annual wages. For the workers who partook in the study, this meant an average annual loss of $2,634 – no small sum when you’re living on $17,616 a year.

In all, it was estimated that in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles alone, $2.9 billion in wages had been stolen from workers within a years time.

In response to the crisis, organizations have used two general approaches to help stem the tide of wage theft.

The first approach emphasizes legislative action and social service. It calls for political leaders to crack down on employers who break the law, and for union leadership to fulfill their role as mediator between worker and owner. Advocates of this approach prefer protesting through so-called “proper channels.”

The second approach contends that the established political system is partly to blame for the mess in the first place. They argue that in order for us to effectively confront the problem of wage theft in the United States, we will need workers to fight their bosses themselves, instead of relying on either politicians or social service providers. This approach is known as “Direct Action.”

Proper Channels:

When asked the question “how can we fight wage theft?” Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), Kim Bobo answered:

“We need a strong union movement. We need a strong network of social services and grassroots organizations. And we need a strong Department of Labor that enforces labor laws.”

Speaking about her new book Wage Theft, she emphasizes, “I have four chapters on how we can strengthen the Labor Department.”

Bobo continued, “we need a secretary of labor who cares about wage theft and who can make it a priority… Most important, we need more cops on the job. There are 750 investigators for 130 million workers in the country… I believe we need to quadruple that staff.”

“Finally,” she concludes, “we need to have meaningful punishments. If you steal wages from workers, there needs to be consequences…”

The interview from which these quotes were taken wrongly emphasizes, this author believes, the role of politicians and service providers in fighting wage theft today.

June 15, 2010

Oil Spill


Crews continued to work on stopping the leaking Deep Sea Horizon this week, with limited success. The new cap over the leak is capturing around 10,000 barrels of oil per day, but scientists are conflicted as to how much more is still escaping.   

Experts have recently revised their estimate to nearly 40,000 barrels a day.   

It has been over a month since the leaking oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean around it.   

Job Losses and Unsafe Working Conditions:   

The gulf oil spill is not only an environmental catastrophe, but an economic disaster as well. Naturally, working people will take the brunt of both on their own shoulders.   

The Louisianna Oil and Gas Association estimates that Obama’s moratorium on new drilling contracts and an outright halt of drilling on 33 already operating rigs could put as many 75,000 people out of work. For every rig halted, up to 1,400 jobs are at risk.   

Younger workers on the rigs are especially vulnerable. “”If we see a good deck hand with good initiative who’s got promise,” says oil rig manager Pat Matte in an interview with the Huffpost,  “we talk them into going into debt, buying a house, buying a car, so they have to stay.” In this way, generation after generation of oil workers is forced to stay in the trade.   

“We get them into debt. Now all our best hands are scared to death. They got a new family, new kids, just bought a car or motorcycle and we talked them into all this stuff, and they’re scared to death of losing everything. What have I done, being a supervisor who’s supposed to be teaching these boys how to live the rest of their lives?”   

On top of management’s scam to bring young workers into debt, the job naturally attracts high school graduates and dropouts. Without having to go to college, young workers can enter into the industry and immediately start making good money.   

Those working in the shrimp and fishing industry in the gulf are finding themselves jobless as well. 

Shrimper Billy Delacruz signed up to participate in BP's program to employ local fishers to assist in the oil clean-up efforts.
Shrimper Billy Delacruz signed up to participate in BP’s program to employ local fishers to assist in the oil clean-up efforts.

 As the oil spreads further out from the rig, shrimp boats and fisherman are forced to close down their business and begin running clean-up operations at a fraction of the pay they would otherwise be recieving.


Workers helping with the cleanup, moreover, are being exposed daily to extremely dangerous chemicals.   

The Los angelas Times reported that Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) has recently called on the federal government to open up mobile medical clinics to deal with workers’ increasing health problems.   

Workers like George Jackson, a local fisherman who has been forced to work on cleanup crews in the Gulf since the fishing industry has been closed, have reported severe chemical burns, dizziness and lightheadedness while on the job.   

“As he was laying containment booms Sunday, he said, a dark substance floating on the water made his eyes burn.   

“I ain’t never run on anything like this,” Jackson said. Within seconds, he said, his head started hurting and he became nauseated.”   

The EPA’s website has warned coastal residents as far as 50 miles from the oil leak that “[Some] of these chemicals may cause short-lived effects like headache, eye, nose and throat irritation, or nausea.”   

BP, however, has not only refused to issue respirators to workers, but has actual forbid respirators from being used on certain job sites. Neither have they distributed gloves, suits, or any other kind of protective gear to many fisherman.   

George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Assn, argues that the company is not protecting workers in order to avoid ciminal liability. “[If] they give us that type of equipment then they admit there are health hazards.”   

Marine toxicologist Riki Ott, who studied the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska, remarked that this tragedy was just “deja vu.”   

“What we saw with Exxon Valdez was a parallel track — sick animals and sick people. Harbor seals were looking like they were drunk and dying … and autopsies showed brain lesions.…What are we exposing these poor fishermen to?”   


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