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Posts About Workers' Rights

There’s an eye-opening story unfolding in Indiana, where a federal investigation into the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration found severe problems. 

According to the report, Indiana OSHA failed to investigate an explosion at a utility that occurred only seven months after another explosion that killed one worker and injured another. At the time of the second explosion, Indiana OSHA was negotiating a settlement about the first. The report said, “Failure to investigate the report of the explosion gives the appearance that settlement of the case was a priority over employee safety and health.” 

The report also criticized a decision by Indiana OSHA not to inspect a flavoring plant where an employee suffered an electrical shock and was hospitalized. 

A former assistant regional administrator for federal OSHA called the report “scathing” and noted that Indiana OSHA has also been mishandling whistleblower cases. The federal investigation found that workers that brought workplace dangers to the attention of the state agency weren’t told about their right to appeal, were often told to accept an employer’s settlement or Indiana OSHA would drop the case, or would have their case dismissed when the agency allowed employers to stall until the 60-day investigation window was shut. 

These allegations are serious and raise concerns about how occupational safety is often not a real priority in budgets and in practice. Only about half of the states have their own OSHA programs—with federal OSHA picking up 50 percent of the costs—but continued state and federal budget cuts have shrunk these programs. Overall, OSHA had fewer health and safety inspectors in 2011 than it did in 1981, even though the number of workplaces in the U.S. has doubled in that span of time. Federal OSHA inspectors—at current staffing and workloads—would need 131 years to inspect every workplace in America just one time. 

In Indiana, there is a backlog of nearly 100 complaints that haven’t been processed, with some up to six weeks old. And, while Indiana OSHA says that they’ve addressed all but two of the 22 OSHA recommendation in the report, they also say, “all recommendations outlined in the report apply to administrative procedures, and they have no effect on the health and safety of Hoosiers.” 

But, given they refused to investigate an explosion at a utility that had one just seven months before and the tact they’ve taken with whistleblowers, it’s safe to say their definition of “no effect” is probably different from that of workers.

Posted In: Indiana, Workers' Rights

The following blog was orginially posted on the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference's Meeting Point blog. The Conference kicks off in a little more than a week, so reserve your spot today.

American workers use tens of thousands of chemicals every day. While many of these chemicals are suspected of being harmful, only a small number are regulated in the workplace.
- United States Department of Labor

Making a cleaner and fairer economy is not all about brand new technologies and fancy new gadgets; it is also about looking at the products we are already make and ensuring they are made in the safest and smartest manner possible.

While it is not obvious to all, the health and safety of our workers in inextricably linked to the safety of our environment and our communities. This idea has always been at the heart of the labor movement, and it must be one of the core parts in our efforts to Repair America and create a cleaner economy.

The Health and Safety track at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference is always an popular track for union members, environmentalists and others who want to learn more about needs to be done to protect our workers, communities and the environment. This year, the track’s workshops include:

"Blame-the-Worker" Safety Programs Hurt Workers, Community and the Environment
Monday, February 10, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Lower Silica Exposures and Safer Chemicals: New U.S. OSHA Efforts to Protect Our Health
Monday February 10, 10:30AM - 12:00PM

99 Percent Economics: What We Need to Know About the Economy to Protect Our Jobs, Health and the Environment
Monday, February 10, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

Transforming Chemical Policy in Congress and In the Workplace
Monday, February 10, 3:40 PM – 5:10 PM

Repairing America for Good Jobs, Safer Materials and a Better Environment
Monday, February 10, 3:40 PM – 5:10 PM

Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work
Tuesday, February 11, 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

This blog is the fourth in a series of blogs discussing the various workshop tracks that will be happening at the 2014 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference. Please check back and see the full workshop list for more information.

Posted In: Work, Environment and Public Health, Workers' Rights

Today is International Workers’ Day — commonly called May Day in many parts of the world. It is a day when we can reflect on the current struggles of working people, remember those that have fought so hard and won so many victories leading to the safety standards, wages, benefits and rights all of us have today, and honor those fighting the good fight today.  

International Workers’ Day is a commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, when police were trying to disperse a crowd striking for an eight-hour workday. Someone threw a bomb at the police and they fired into the crowd, killing four demonstrators. Today, the holiday is celebrated in over 80 countries around the world. 

The fight for the rights of working people is far from over. Around the world, workers are exploited — earning paltry wages — and forced to work in unsafe workplaces with deplorable conditions. 

But, that doesn’t happen just in other countries. Unfortunately, there have been stark reminders of late that this happens right here in the U.S. 

One need only look at the situation in West, Texas to see how far we still need to go to make our workplaces — and the communities around them — safe. The last time a full safety inspection was done on the facility by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was 1985. And, that was the only time in the history of the 51 years that the West Fertilizer Company has been in business that such an inspection was conducted. 

There were other inspections, though few and far between. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspected the facility in 2006 it fined the company a whopping $2,300 for failing to update its risk management plan. The company updated the plan nearly five years later (after all, why bother if your fine for not doing so is so insignificant). That plan, listed as the “worst case scenario,” had fertilizer spilling onto the ground. No mention was made of the danger  of fire and explosion. 

Even as we sort through the rubble and try to deal with the tragedy of the loss of 14 people in West, Texas, efforts are underfoot to turn back the clock on workers’ rights around the country. In Ohio, efforts are underway by Republicans to institute a right-to-work law. Right-to-work laws are all the rage these days with the far-right politicians bankrolled by billionaires looking to keep working people down and line their own pockets in the process. They politically target unions in an attempt to weaken them and reduce the power of working people to collectively bargain for safer and healthier workplaces and family-supporting wages and benefits. Earlier this year, Michigan instituted such a law. 

There are a number of reasons right-to-work laws hurt all of us, not just union members. They drive wages down for both union members and non-union members (an average of $1,500 per year) and employees in right-to-work states are less likely to have health insurance. These laws also don’t do what they’re supposed to do.  Proponents of them say they’ll create jobs and make states more attractive to business, but there’s no proof of any impact on either. 

All of this is to say our fight here in America for safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages and benefits, and the right to collectively bargain is far from over.  We need to celebrate today for the successes that have been achieved. But, we cannot forget how far we have to go.

Posted In: Workers' Rights

Besides taking air traffic controllers off of airport runways, causing mass furloughs in federal and state government agencies and closing food pantries, we’re learning that sweeping budget cuts known as the sequester are now loosening the reins on industries and workers that can least afford it. Mine safety is the latest victim of these indiscriminate cuts and the consequences could be deadly.

This week, news that the Department of Labor will be forced to dismantle legal teams who keep mine operators accountable for maintaining and improving mine safety was met with protest from lawmakers and mine workers. We don’t have to look back far in time to see the real consequences this action could have for mine workers. It’s the same week three years ago that 29 Upper Big Branch miners were killed in an explosion.

A recent Washington Post article further explains the importance of the legal teams being laid off: “After the explosion, legal teams were hired to deal with a backlog of contested mine safety citations. The number of unresolved appeals had grown to 16,600, and Massey Energy, then owner of Upper Big Branch, had the highest contestation rate of any coal mine in the nation.”

Around 30 of the 74 lawyers hired to address the backlog of violations — including those of Massey Energy — will be laid off by June 1. This is an effect of the sequester that endangers workers and threatens progress toward better worker safety that we’ve made since the Upper Branch Mine disaster. If we learned anything before it’s the mine companies must be held accountable.

Just as mining companies have gamed the system before — by for example contesting mine safety citations that create a backlog of paperwork and delay accountability — they will once again have the opportunity to take advantage of loopholes that endanger mine workers’ safety.

Cutting funding to make sure protections can be enforced or loosening these important regulations doesn’t only affect mine workers, their families and mine companies though. The cuts the sequester makes are reaching us all. As the cuts continue to take effect, we stand to lose more than jobs and economic security —our own and many others’ safety is put unacceptably at risk. 

Posted In: Work, Environment and Public Health, Workers' Rights

The following is cross-posted from the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference blog. Reserve your spot today.

We are pleased to announce the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation is partnering with the United Steelworkers Tony Mazzochi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education to offer a set of skills building workshops at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference in Washington D.C. April 16-18 that will arm workers with knowledge they need to make safer and healthier workplaces.

Participants who attend at least three of these five workshops on workplace safety and health can receive a complimentary Skills Builder certificate. The courses are:

How to Make Maps that Safeguard Workplaces and Communities
Wednesday April 17: 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
In this two-part workshop, workshop attendees will learn to how to use Hazard Mapping — a valuable tool to pinpoint hazards inside and outside the workplace — to develop a map that identifies and locates hazards that can be targeted for elimination through a cooperative group effort.

The Globally Harmonized System for Labeling Chemicals: What is it and Why it Matters to Workers and Communities
Tuesday, April 16: 10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m.
In March 2012, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) modernized its hazard communication standards to align them with Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) created by the United Nations. This workshop will teach participants more about GHS and how they can use it to make every workplace and community safer and healthier.

How “Blame-the-Worker” Safety Programs Hurt Workers, Communities and the Environment
Tuesday, April 16: 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
So-called “behavior-based safety” programs, present in many workplaces today, are based on the bogus idea that most workplace accidents, incidents and injuries are caused by workers’ unsafe acts rather than hazardous workplace conditions. This workshop will examine behavior-based safety programs and the harm they can do along with exploring options that will put the focus back on the prevention of hazardous workplace conditions before accidents happen. 

Putting Breast Cancer Out of Work
Wednesday, April 17: 2:40 p.m.-4:10 p.m.
In November of last year, a six-year study found that women employed in the automotive plastics and food-packaging industries in Ontario were five times as likely to develop breast cancer, prior to menopause, than women in the control group. This workshop will teach workers the new science linking chemicals and breast cancer and other chronic health problems along information about how to eliminate these hazards. 

Change the Story: New Strategies for Protecting Workers’ Rights and Health and Safety Regulation
Tuesday, April 16: 3:40 p.m.-5:10 p.m.
This provocative, multimedia workshop will look at the stories that are told, who tells them, and how we can change the story for a more just and sustainable future.

Make sure to save your spot for this exciting conference today.

Posted In: Workers' Rights, Work, Environment and Public Health, United Steelworkers

This blog — by John Guevarra, Research and Policy Analyst for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) — is cross-posted from the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference blog.

recyclingPicture this moment at last year’s Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference in Los Angeles: Several hundred environmentalists, union members, and green jobs advocates rallying on behalf of green jobs at a recycling facility in a heavy industrial area. The crowd — some donned in business casual, others in reflective vests, and many in union t-shirts— held signs that read “Fight for Recycling Workers!” while rallying in support of the workers’ right to fair treatment and safe conditions.  

In an industry that is deemed one of the “most dangerous industries in the nation” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and with injury and fatality rates higher than police and firefighters, the workers at this facility appreciated every bit of our support.

A former employee of the company talked about her repetitive and exhausting work of collecting and sorting, with tattered gloves, through vile trash on a dizzying sort line — this was her life before she was fired by her employer an hour after her tailbone was injured in a workplace accident. Not even a farewell — or compensation for the injury.

Within shoulder’s length, James Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Allison Chin, former President of the Sierra Club, shared the merits of reaching zero waste-to-landfill, but only if those green jobs are ones with dignity and respect. By the end of the rally, the message was clear: companies that collect and dispose of our trash, in the name of zero waste, will be held accountable by the public when they trash workers.*

After the rally, we at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and the Don’t Waste LA Project carried the message — and the spirit — from the battlefield into the conference room. As part of a panel on zero waste and green jobs, LAANE’s Greg Good shared experiences about transforming Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest waste market, into a high-road industry.

A few months after the conference, the Don’t Waste LA Coalition achieved a major victory to overhaul the Los Angeles waste landscape. In November 2012, the City of Los Angeles voted to approve and implement a strong franchise system. This move would install a robust set of standards and guidelines, including: recycling for all, cleaner trucks, equitable customer rates, and worker health and safety requirements. We applaud the City for their efforts then, and now.

But we will not rest until every major city has a high-road recycling system. For years to come, we will work to pave the road for good recycling jobs: Jobs with dignity and humane conditions; Jobs that protect public safety and health; Jobs that catalyze our society towards zero waste-to-landfill goals; and, jobs that transform our recycled materials into new products.

The Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference is one of the best opportunities to share stories about creating good recycling jobs. This year, we are participating in a workshop hosted and moderated by the Partnership for Working Families (PWF). We are joined by our Teamster allies and partner organizations from Boston, Denver, Milwaukee, New York, Oakland, and San Diego in sharing experiences and best practices about reforming the waste industry into a high-road recycling industry. 

Each story is unique — with their own set of strategies for improving workers’ lives, market research and analysis, and political dimensions. However, the goal is the same: to radically transform the U.S. recycling industry to produce better jobs, less pollution, and greater accountability.

To learn more, please join our workshop, “Cleaning Up Trash and Recycling: Creating Good Jobs and Healthier Communities by Changing the Waste Industry,” at the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, April 17th at 10:30 AM.

*Related note: The month following the rally at Good Jobs Green Jobs, this recycling company was cited by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 36 violations of placing workers at risk of injury or death, and fined $38,895. 

Posted In: Workers' Rights

With only six days left until Michigan voters head to the polls to cast their ballots on Proposal 2, a broad coalition of supporters who are backing better wages and safer working conditions, environmental leaders and local workers spoke out about the importance of voting yes on Proposal 2 in Michigan. Proposal 2 ensures that future generations benefit from basic rights that give workers a say when it comes to protecting their health, as well as negotiating and enforcing agreements between themselves and their employers.

“Collective bargaining means safer workers, safer communities and better jobs for all of us. Workers who can collectively bargain not only protect themselves, they also safeguard our neighborhoods, our communities and our environment, and raise up the wages and benefits for all of us,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “It’s important that we pull together to build on that progress and give working families the opportunity to provide better lives for their children, and Prop 2 does just that.”

Proposal 2 protects collective bargaining rights and prevents attempts to weaken these protections in the future.

“Everyone who values clean environments and safe, secure and prosperous communities should support this critical ballot initiative,” said Anne Woiwode, State Director for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. “The rights secured by Proposal 2 are essential for strengthening and protecting the hardworking, middle-class families who are the backbone of Michigan communities.”

“Some Michigan lawmakers are doing everything they can to abolish workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” said Mark Schauer, National Co-Chair of the BlueGreen Alliance’s Jobs21! initiative. “But, giving Michigan’s working families a voice to negotiate for fair wages, benefits and working conditions that are good for them and safe for our communities and our environment is as important today as it ever has been.”

At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan this week in support of Proposal 2, event participants spoke specifically to the protections that make the middle class strong by ensuring workers have a voice in their workplace and in the nation’s policies, advocating more equitable wages, humane work conditions, and improved benefits. Joining Sierra Club and the BlueGreen Alliance in outspoken support of the proposal were local workers, the Union of Scientists and Michigan Clean Water Action.

“We can and we must protect the rights of working people in Michigan,” said Kevin Riley, a meat cutter at Meijer in Grand Rapids. “Putting these rights in our constitution is something the politicians and corporations cannot take away, and it will benefit future generations of Michiganders, both economically and environmentally. We must stand together to protect the right to negotiate for good jobs with cleaner, safer and healthier workplaces.” 

“We cannot afford to go back to a time when corporations could make up the rules as they go along, regarding working conditions, workplace safety, environmental protection and worker pay,” said Ben Scheid, an AT&T worker. “Michigan’s workers and families can’t afford it, that’s why I support Proposal 2.”

The supporters said that without collective bargaining rights our environment is endangered and workers face more risks on the job.

“Collective bargaining rights are as American as apple pie,” said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “These rights have strengthened our democracy and our economy by protecting working families from exploitation and by expanding economic opportunities.  The overt, well-funded attacks on workers’ rights are like the overt, well-funded attacks on science that we have been fighting— and both, if successful, would weaken our democracy.”

“Collective bargaining has been the driving force behind improved work place safety and protecting Michigan workers from over exposure to toxic chemicals,” said Nic Clark, Executive Director of Michigan Clean Water Action. “Clean Water Action is proud to stand with labor on voting yes for Proposal 2.” 

Press Coverage

WPRR 1680 AM Radio Working Family Radio Network, Grand Rapids, MI October 26, 2012 (interview starts at 35:40) 

WPRR 1680 AM Radio Working Family Radio Network, Grand Rapids, MI October 29, 2012 (interview starts at 44:00) 

WKZO AM 590/FM 96.5 Kalamazoo, MI, October 29, 2012  (not available online) 

Gongwer News Service: Environmental Groups Join Collective Bargaining Proposal Proponents, October 29, 2012 (Excerpt, subscription required)
The BlueGreen Alliance and the Sierra Club joined major unions backing the proposal to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Constitution on Monday, citing safer working environments and better-paying jobs as reasons to get involved.  

Grand Rapids Press/ Sierra Club leader headlines Proposal 2 rally in Grand Rapids October 29, 2012

Posted In: Michigan, Workers' Rights, Communications Workers of America, Sierra Club, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

Yesterday, environmental and local leaders gathered in San Francisco to urge voters to reject Proposition 32 — a billionaire-backed ballot measure that would silence the voices of working people in the political process. At the event, Michael Brune, Sierra Club's Executive Director, announced the Sierra Club's strong opposition to Prop 32 and  noted, “Backed by out-of-state billionaires like the Koch Brothers, who see California's clean energy progress as a threat, Prop 32 would silence the voices of our state's working families who share our vision for good clean energy jobs and clean air and water.”

Environmentalist urge California voters to reject Proposition 32During the event, Victor Menotti, Executive Director of the International Fourm on Globalization released a report that highlights the anti-labor and clean energy agenda of some of the largest funders of Prop 32, the Koch Brothers. The report found the Koch Brothers had spent:

  • $1 million in 2010 to overturn AB 32 
  • $4 million through the American Future Fund to support Proposition 32
  • At least $656 million on attacks on environmental protections and workers’ rights

Other local and state environmental leaders who spoke at the event were Jenessee Miller, Communications Director for the California League of Conservation Voters; Roger Kim, Executive Director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network; and Laura Wisland, Senior Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists; and Lisa Hoyos, California Director for the BlueGreen Alliance.

The Labor's Edge blog did a feature on the event. From the blog.

Menotti was joined by other academics who underscored the fact that anyone who respects science, the environment, workers and the truth should immediately recognize the Kochs and Prop 32 as an enemy to all of the above.

Laura Wisland of the Union for Concerned Scientists:

"These overt, well-funded attacks on labor rights are in the same realm as the overt, well-funded attacks on science -- and both, if successful, will weaken our democracy. Make no mistake: Prop 32 would be the first step in a renewed effort to kill California’s environmental advances and threaten hundreds of thousands of green-technology and clean-energy jobs. The Union of Concerned Scientists sees through this phony reform of Prop 32 for what it really is – a way for corporations to buy a Legislature that will roll back California’s environmental advances, reduce the rights of workers and silence the voices of Californians."

Check out the video from the event below:

Posted In: California, Workers' Rights, Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club

The following post was cross-posted from the United Food and Commercial Worker's blog.

All too often, we see companies putting their employees at risk in order to cut costs.  This week, a monthly report by the National Council of La Raza announced that the number of fatalities for Latino workers has increased.

The report includes a chart that shows the amount of Latino worker fatalities each year since 1997, and in 2011, there were a total of 729, the highest since 2009.  Although the higher number of fatalities may have to do with a greater amount of Latinos in the workplace, it is no excuse for the lack of worker protection programs employed by corporations.

The figures from 2011 should prompt policymakers and authority figures to amp up laws and regulations that protect workers on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is sorely in need of more funding and needs to update its policies so that it can keep up with this fast paced economy.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for enforcing and strengthening workplace safety standards, is in dire need of funding and reform to enable it to be more nimble and effective in the twenty-first century economy. With a meager $500 million budget, OSHA under the Obama administration has succeeded in hiring hundreds of additional workplace inspectors, targeting enforcement to high-violation industries, and improving prevention outreach to workers around common hazards like heat illness and falls in construction. However, OSHA’s reach remains limited; in 2010, there were only 7.3 OSHA inspectors for every million workers. Vulnerable workers are further threatened by the end-of-year

Lawmakers must also act to strengthen OSHA’s authority to regulate rapidly evolving industries, such as poultry processing, and strengthen the agency’s ability to crack down on repeat bad actors, who currently consider the agency’s weak fines and legal recourse a cost of business rather than a deterrent from breaking the law. Protecting workers from deadly injuries at work requires serious consideration of these and other important legal and regulatory reforms.fiscal debate, in which cuts to OSHA’s budget could total $46 million if sequestration proceeds.

No amount of cut costs is as valuable as a human life.  It’s time for more worker protection programs in the workplace, no matter what occupation or race the employees may be. Click here to read the full NCLR report. 

Posted In: Workers' Rights, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

The middle class is shrinking. New Census data proves a fact we already knew, that the income gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us is getting bigger and stagnant incomes and rising costs are making it harder than ever to reach the middle class. 

Offering a way forward, more than a dozen leading national organizations that research the economy, advocate for good jobs and represent workers— including the BlueGreen Alliance—have come together to propose 10 steps to build the middle-class.

As the middle class, the great engine of the American economy, sputters there is real cause for concern about the fact that the wages of most workers have been stuck in neutral for 30 years; more and more Americans—even those with college degrees—are toiling in jobs that do not pay enough to support their families in dignity and offer hope of a brighter future. 

The guiding principles of the roadmap are values we all share: that work lies at the center of a robust and sustainable economy; that all work has dignity; and that through work, all of us should be able to support our families, educate our children and enjoy our retirements.

Some might think the jobs being created in today’s economy are being shaped by some kind of invisible hand—that there is little we can do to change that. But a strong middle class doesn’t happen by accident. 

Rebuilding the great American middle class in the 21st century will once again require deliberate action by the American people, through our government and by businesses that understand that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. These too are the principles that guide BlueGreen Alliance’s work.

It will mean taking a U-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built. 

Together, we can set a course that will honor work, help rebuild the middle class and drive us forward to a more powerful, sustainable economy.

Check out the full report, 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century and BlueGreen Alliance’s Jobs21! plan for national, long-term economic growth here. 

Posted In: Work, Environment and Public Health, Workers' Rights
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