Sunday, August 31, 2003

Public Employers: Free From Ideological B.S?

I wrote the other day about a city in North Carolina that had received an OSHA citation and used it as inspiration to improve their health and safety program. Now we have another town in Kentucky that is forming an "OSHA Compliance Committee" to bring the city into compliance with the state's OSHA regulations. This action was also in response to an OSHA citation that resulted from an employee's complaints.
County to form OSHA compliance group

Scott County (KY) will form a committee to improve departments’ compliance with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

The implementation of the OSHA Compliance Committee was granted by the Scott County Fiscal Court at Thursday night’s meeting.

The decision comes on the heels of OSHA fining the Scott County Fire Department $21,350 in proposed penalties and citing it for 15 violations in a report issued July 16.

The fines and violations were in response to 21 complaints filed by an employee on April 29 with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Complaints alleged the unnecessary use of force, violations of standard operating procedures and poor records keeping.
I'm not sure if this is a pattern, but it is interesting that public employers often seem to be far less hostile to OSHA than private sector employers, just as they seem to be generally much less hostile to unions and organizing than private sector employees. My hypothesis is that many private sector companies have been led astray (contaminated) by the government affairs people either in the Washington office (of large companies) or (for smaller companies) in the associations they belong to, like the National Association of Manufacturers or the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

In other words, in a better world, the behavior of small businesses might be similar to the constructive behavior of these municipalities if it wasn't for the fact that the small (and large) businesses were ideologically contaminated by the assocations, the Republican party and their Government Affairs types.

Why, you ask? Is it because the Republicans get more support if the business community thinks the sky is falling? Is it because business associations get more members if they scare the shit out of small businesses? Good questions! To be explored more later....

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Workplace violence in the health sector

Global service sector union federation PSI and the ILO, International Council of Nurses (ICN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have, as part of a Joint Programme oan Workplace Violence in the Health Sector, published Framework guidelines for addressing workplace violence in the health sector. The organisations say workplace violence is a global problem affecting all sectors, but the health sector is at major risk. Violence in this sector may represent a quarter of all violence at work, and more than half of health workers may be affected. (From Hazards)

PSI World News. Full report: Framework Guidelines for addressing workplace violence in the health sector

They Say It's My Birthday

They say I'm turning 50 today. (I know, I don't write like I'm a day over 30). One thing about having your own blog is that occasionally you can be self-indulgent and write about whatever you feel like.

I find this very hard to believe.... That it's my 50th birthday. Twenty years ago I was only 30, an age I still feel very close to. But 20 years from now, I'll be....Well, I don't really want to think about it. I mean, I'm still a very young, cool dude...despite what my teenage children think.

At this age, you finally have to admit that you're starting to approach the dawn of early middle age. And it's at this time in life that I really start to realize that:

-- I will probably never play center field for the Dodgers.

-- It's becoming increasingly unlikely that I will ever be President of the United States. Even my senatorial aspirations are looking a bit shakey.

-- I probably won't be the lead singer in any band playing RFK Stadium

-- My academy award chances may be slim -- even for one of those lifetime achievment awards.

So what do I have to show for myself? If "It's a Wonderful Life" were made about me, what would the world have looked like without me?

And what can I contribute for the rest of my productive years? How will my children see me?

Is it time to finally face my deepest fear. Actually my deepest fear is that by the time we get another Dem in the White House, I'll be 55 (or if we have another Reagan-Bush three term thing, I'd be.....Well, I don't really want to think about that either.

This is the time to put all of those day-to-day issues aside and try to find the answers to these and other difficult existential questions.

But this is also the time when a Sopranos rerun is on T.V. I can always contemplate again on my 55th birthday.

P.S. If your really want to get me a present....All I'm asking for is to GET GEORGE BUSH OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE NEXT YEAR.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Yet Another Reason That Unions Are Security Risks

Bush Holds Federal Pay Raise to 2% in 2004

George the W has decided that federal employees (other than the military) should only receive 2% raises next year, as opposed to the 4.1% that the President has proposed for the military and that the House Appropriations Committee last month backed for all federal employees.

The reason?
In a letter to congressional leaders, Bush said the larger increase "would threaten our efforts against terrorism or force deep cuts in discretionary spending or federal employment to stay within budget."
Does this mean that those who advocate for a larger federal payraise are "threatening our efforts against terrorism?"

If so, John Sweeney better start packing his bags for Guantanemo:
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the president's action was "shameful, and makes clear that Bush is making federal employees pay for his own fiscal recklessness."
And, of course, there's the obvious point made by Tapped:
Tell us, Mr. President, do massive tax cuts for the wealthy, which balloon federal deficits and starve the government of needed funds, also threaten our efforts against terrorism? By your logic, yes.

That's the Proper Spirit!

If only all employers would take OSHA citations in such good spirit!
In response to both of the violations, [town manager Jim] Fatland said, “Learning from our mistakes will make us stronger tomorrow,” and he added, “the Town of Tryon is very appreciative to OSHA for working with us to improve the safety for our employees.”
I'm nominating them for Employer of the Week.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Labor Day at the AFL-CIO

Check out the AFL-CIO's Labor Day Web page. And send some "e-cards" to friends and relatives.

Who's To Blame?

The big news yesterday was the release of the Columbia space shuttle disaster report. Check it out here. It makes for fascinating reading, especially Chapter 8, which was written by Dianne Vaugh, who wrote the classic work on the original Challenger disaster. In Chapter 8, "History as Cause: Columbia and Challenger" she explores the systemic failures of the NASA safety system and how the problems uncovered after the Challenger disaster reappeared to cause the Columbia's problems.

The most interesting parts of the report focuses on the management system problems rather than individual failures. Vaughn cautions however that
the Board's focus on the context in which decision making occurred does not mean that individuals are not responsible and accountable. To the contrary, individuals always must assume responsibility for their actions. What it does mean is that NASA's problems cannot be solved simply by retirements, resignations, or transferring personnel.
The footnote accompanying this paragraph states
Changing personnel is a typical response after an organization has some kind of harmful outcome. It has great symbolic value. A change in personnel points to individuals as the cause and removing them gives the false impression that the problems have been solved, leaving unresolved organizational system problems.
Which makes the following headline from the New York Times "interesting":

Human Error Likely Cause of Blackout, Timeline Says

So, let me get this straight. Does this mean that a simple human booboo resulted in the gigantic blackout that swept parts of eight states and eastern Canada, cost billions of dollars and darkened the homes of millions of people? And does this imply that a slap on the hand (or maybe even jail time) will fix the electrical grid problem?

The only "substance" behind that headline is a quote from an unnamed investigator:
"Had all of the existing policies been followed, this would not have developed into a cascading event," the investigator said. "What we see are institutional breakdowns, not a breakdown of the system itself."
Those who do incident investigations realize, however, that the fact that procedures were not followed are rarely due to human failure. It is far more likely that the procedures were confusing or didn't anticipate the situation that the operators found themselves in.

Some people also blamed the Three Mile Island accident on the plant operators: If proper procedures had been followed, the near-disaster would have been a small unnotable incident. But the failure at TMI can more accurately be blamed on the fact that the information that the operators had available to them at the time was confusing, conflicting and inaccurate, and they had not been trained to address the specific situation they were facing. In other words, given the knowledge they had, the "standard operating procedures" were almost useless.

It may be theoretically possible to trace everything that happens in the world to humans (or nature). But in reality, barring sabotage or horseplay, there are few, if any, cases where the root cause of an incident -- workplace injury, space shuttle disaster, or huge blackout -- could be blamed on "human error."

Human error may be one of the "direct causes" of an incident. A direct cause is the action that directly results in the occurrence, while root causes are usually management system problems which, if corrected, would not only have prevented that specific problem, but other similar problems as well.

Rather than focusing on the operators who make the errors, modern accident analysis looks for the conditions -- or root causes -- that made the errors possible.

And now check this out:

AK Steel suspends 11 workers after fatal accident

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio - AK Steel Corp. has suspended 11 workers in connection with an overhead crane accident that killed a worker last month at the company's Middletown Works mill, a union official said.

Now I don't know any more about the details of this incident that what you can read from this article, but let me just suggest that you go check out that footnote above again.

Union Health and Safety Programs: Organize and Die?

Last April, in one of my first postings, I opened a debate about whether the almost exclusive focus of several AFL-CIO unions on organizing was a threat to union health and safety programs.

The March 9 New York Times quote by John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (a union that has chosen not to have a health and safety program), sent shivers up the spines of union health and safety activists:
"the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was spread too thin and should devote more of its money and energy to organizing. Mr. Wilhelm said he would even consider ideas like eliminating the federation's respected health and safety department to channel more money into organizing.

"My view is that if we don't devote the largest possible amount of money to organizing and to political action that relates to organizing, we will go out of business," he said. "And if we go out of business, we can't help anybody's health and safety."
This statement has caused quite a bit of concern among union health and safety staff, as well as rank and file activists about the role of health and safety programs in unions, especially in the context of the obvious need to increase resources dedicated to organizing. Is there, or should there be a conflict between health and safety programs and organizing? Is it a zero-sum game?

Harold Meyerson has written an excellent article in the American Prospect entitled "Organize or Die" about the struggle within the AFL-CIO over organizing strategies. He highlights the labor movement's left wing organizing "stars:" SEIU's Andy Stern, Hotel & Restaurant Workers' John Wilhelm, and UNITE's Bruce Raynor, and also discusses the efforts of Carpenter's President (and AFL-CIO dropout) Doug McCarron and Laborers' President Terry O'Sullivan. Stern, Raynor and Wilhelm rose through the union ranks on their organizing successes and continue to show how to build a union even in these tough political and economic times:
SEIU under Stern has grown by a stunning 535,000 new members so that it is now, at 1.5 million members, the largest union in the federation. The SEIU has had notable successes organizing home-care, nursing-home and hospital workers, and has continued to organize the janitors who clean America's office buildings.
Meyerson discusses the debates within the federation about how best to organize (focusing on sectors as HERE and SEIU are doing, using students and outsiders as SEIU tends to do, or rank and file union members as CWA favors), the idea of complimentary unions working together (e.g. janitors and hotel workers) instead of fighting over the same territory (e.g. public employees), the success or failure of John Sweeney, etc . While health and safety issues are not mentioned in the text of the article, the debate over the role of labor health and safety programs in an "organize or die" environment can be read between the lines:
Just as notable as the SEIU's success is the way it's been achieved. At Stern's prodding, the union now devotes about half its budget to organizing. The SEIU has hired hundreds of young people off college campuses or from community organizing groups to staff its campaigns. As existing staffers have been reassigned to organizing, locals have often had to train members to do the work of servicing their fellow members that the paid staff had previously performed.


Indeed, no two presidents have more radically restructured their unions than Stern and McCarron. Both have reduced the percentage of resources spent on servicing existing members to free more resources for organizing new ones. Both have reshaped locals -- over considerable opposition, in McCarron's case -- into larger units more capable of organizing. Both are apostles of organizing to drive up market shares, and disdainful of organizing that doesn't accomplish that end.
Labor health and safety activists remember well that when Andy Stern took over SEIU he decimated one of the labor movement’s largest and most active health and safety programs, leaving only one Washington representative to address the giant union’s abundance of health and safety issues.

As mentioned above, Wilhelm has been quoted as advocating elimination of the AFL-CIO's health and safety department. At a 2001 AFL-CIO Executive Council Meeting,
Wilhelm suggested reallocating federation resources to address the problem: 75 percent of the AFL-CIO's budget should be split equally between politics and organizing, with the remaining 25 percent allocated to other programs that contributed to those goals.

The suggestion went nowhere, but it was indicative of the strategic approach of Wilhelm's group. "Many of us feel that the AFL-CIO provides too many services that international unions should provide themselves and doesn't have enough focus to help unions with their strategic growth and politics," Stern says.
(Transferring services from the AFL-CIO to the individual unions is a rather ironic statement considering the cuts that Stern has made in SEIU's program and that Wilhelm has no health and safety program. Both unions rely on the AFL-CIO health and safety department for health and safety assistance.)

In addition to sowing fear into the hearts of those who have dedicated their careers to developing labor health and safety programs, this debate has forced to address one basic question: Why do unions need health and safety programs? Are they necessary for a vibrant labor movement or are they a remnant of the old “servicing model” of unions?

Aside from the obvious issue of saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses, building the union and organizing new members is a pretty good reason to have a health and safety program. PACE activist Diane Stein discussed this issue on winning NYCOSH’s Silwood award,
People join unions because they need better work lives. Safety and health is a huge part of that struggle…. People join unions because they know that unions are the only institution who really put forward their agenda. We cannot abandon that agenda because we need resources for organizing. It simply doesn't make sense.
As one health and safety activist pointed out to me, fabled organizer Mother Jones’ famous line, “Mourn for the Dead, Fight like hell for the living” was all about workplace safety.

In other words, potential union members need a reason to join a union. Respect and better pay and benefits certainly lead the list of reasons in most cases, but saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses are compelling reasons to to join a union in workplaces where health and safety problems exist.

Most health and safety staffers are anxious to get involved in organizing campaigns, but complain that it’s often difficult to convince the organizers that health and safety is a good organizing issue and to involve health and safety issues in the initial conceptualization of organizing campaigns.

On the other hand, some of the fault may lie within. When I first engaged in this debate last April, one long-time union health and safety activist responded that “Workers have always organized unions for better working conditions. This is not a diversion from organizing; it is its essence.” But she went on to criticize her (former) self and other health and safety “nuts” who had gotten so immersed in health and safety issues that they had “ gotten fat and lazy and forgot to organize.” These are problems
that we have failed to acknowledge and address. How are the structures we are building around health and safety building our unions? What role are the leaders who are first organized around health and safety issues taking in building bigger and stronger unions? What changes do we need to make to tie health and safety issues more closely to organizing a big, powerful and progressive Labor Movement?
Others are critical of many unions’ dependence on government grants which prohibit health and safety trainers from getting involved in organizing campaigns and tend to skew health and safety activities toward grant targets which may or may not be in tune with the union’s organizing targets. Although without the grant programs, many union health and safety programs would practically cease to exist.

Some unions have gotten the idea. AFSCME’s health and safety manual takes an organizing focus. Chapter 1, “ORGANIZING FOR A SAFE AND HEALTHY WORKPLACE” starts with the factors that make health and safety a good organizing issue:

· Health and safety affects all workers.
· Health and safety issues can be won.
· Health and safety concerns can move workers to take action.

Throughout the handbook, basic organizing principles are applied to health and safety problems.

UNITE’s organizing drive at Cintas is one of the few that integrates health and safety issues into the campaign. Unfortunately, campaigns like Cintas are more the exception than the rule, despite the efforts of union health and safety to integrate health and safety into organizing.

Aside from building the union and assisting in organizing campaigns, there are a few other reasons why unions need health and safety programs:

1. Health and safety programs save lives, prevent injuries and illnesses. If unions can’t save your life, what good are they? And when it comes to protecting workers’ safety and health, a knowledgeable, well-organized local union is better than all the regulations in the world. It’s hard to count workers who don’t die or who don’t get hurt or sick. But they exist.

While union activists may see unions as an inherently good things, most workers want some good, concrete reasons to organize and pay their dues to unions. For many union members, union resources that are used to train rank and file activists in how to investigate and organize around health and safety issues is a service well worth paying some dues money for. And some health and safety problems – fatality or health hazard investigations need the expertise provided by experts in a national union program. The “servicing model” of many unions may ultimately be a dead end, but that doesn’t mean that in some cases, workers don’t need services that only professional union staff can offer. (For information on how unions help to protect workers health and safety check out Hazards.)

2. Health and safety programs provide organizing and health and safety skills to rank and file activists. Local rank and file activists may run organizing campaigns and health and safety programs better than union staff, but many of the skills and much of the knowledge need by health and safety activists can be intimidating for newbies without training sponsored and conducted by union health and safety professionals.

3. Need for coordination between workplace conditions and local/national political battles. Forcing OSHA to issue health and safety standards or to enforce the law is no longer a simple administrative process. To be successful, unions need to organize massive grassroots political action campaigns. It takes coordination from the AFL-CIO and national unions, it involves organizing the victims of health and safety problems on the local and national level and it takes political action in Washington and in the states.

It took over a decade of nationwide organizing to get OSHA to issue its ergonomics standard in 2000, yet in a matter of hours, the labor movement was out-organized by the business community in Congress and the ergonomics standard was lost. To achieve future gains and to prevent future losses, health and safety issues have to be integrated with organizing and political action programs.

4. Union Health and safety programs stimulate and support research into illnesses and injuries caused by work. It is well known that workers are the proverbial canaries in the coal mines: Almost every major workplace health problem was initially discovered by workers and their unions, and then brought to the researchers and government regulators. The state of health and safety research in this country may not be as popular or well funded as we might wish, but imagine what it would be like without unions to detect the problems and provide the populations to study.


These are not easy issues, but they need to be addressed by health and safety activists. Within a couple of years, the AFL-CIO may elect a new president. If it’s one of the organizing "stars," what will become of the AFL-CIO’s health and safety department, and departments in the individual unions? Can the case be made that health and safety programs are an integral part of organizing, rather than a costly distraction?

These are my thoughts. I encourage you to support or slam them. E-Mail me. Let me know if I can post your thoughts, and whether or not you want to remain anonymous if I decide to publish them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Successes of the Bush Administration

(Thanks to Mad Prophet for alerting me to this)

Attention Walmart Workers: Go to Hell

Good article in today's Washington Post by the American Prospect's Harold Meyerson contrasting Walmart encouraging the downward slide of wages in this country, as opposed to the effect of the early auto industry which pushed workers' wages up to the point where they could buy houses.
The nation's largest employer, with 3,200 outlets in the United States and sales revenue of $245 billion last year (which, if WalMart were a nation, would rank it between Belgium and Sweden as the world's 19th largest economy) doesn't pay its workers -- excuse me, "associates" -- enough to buy decent cars, let alone homes.
Actually, Meyerson doesn't go far enough. As other authors have pointed out, Walmart "associates" don't even make enough money to shop at Walmart.

Meyerson points out that Walmart's practices threaten not only the wages of Walmart workers and other service employees, but also the ability of workers to organize:
Wal-Mart's expansion into non-southern metropolitan areas, the company poses a huge threat to the million or so unionized clerks who work at the nation's major supermarket chains.
And finally, what does this say about democracy (economic and political) in America?
It may just be me, but I don't recall the moment when the American people proclaimed their preference for an economy driven by Wal-Mart to the one driven by General Motors. It is, after all, one thing to live in a nation where the largest employer wants workers to make enough to afford its cars; quite another to wake up in an America where the largest employer wants workers to make so little they'll be compelled to buy low-end goods in a discount chain. Indeed, polling has consistently showed that a clear majority of the American people have been dubious about the benefits of free trade -- but these are the only polls that the political elite, so poll-driven on other questions, has consistently ignored. By the same token, polling also shows that Americans believe workers should have the right to join unions free of intimidation, yet that has not been the case in the American workplace for at least the past three decades.
Update: Check out Carter Wright for more on Walmart's anti-union campaign.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Bill Moyers: Eve of Destruction?

Anyone who has seen Bill Moyers' show "Now with Bill Moyers" or read any of his articles knows that he is one of the only journalists in America who has the insight and courage to stand up to the Bush administration -- especially on environmental and workplace health and safety issues.

Check out this interview in Grist for more insight into (and inspiration from) Bill Moyers on environmental issues.

He first talks about the Bushies preference for "religious and political dogma" over facts:
Their god is the market -- every human problem, every human need, will be solved by the market. Their dogma is the literal reading of the creation story in Genesis where humans are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing ..." The administration has married that conservative dogma of the religious right to the corporate ethos of profits at any price. And the result is the politics of exploitation with a religious impulse.

Meanwhile, over a billion people have no safe drinking water. We're dumping 500 million tons of hazardous waste into the Earth every year. In the last hundred years alone we've lost over 2 billion hectares of forest, our fisheries are collapsing, our coral reefs are dying because of human activity. These are facts. So what are the administration and Congress doing? They're attacking the cornerstones of environmental law: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act]. They are allowing l7,000 power plants to create more pollution. They are opening public lands to exploitation. They're even trying to conceal threats to public health: Just look at the stories this past week about how the White House pressured the EPA not to tell the public about the toxic materials that were released by the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
But, of course pure politics also factors in:
It's payback time for their rich donors. In the 2000 elections, the Republicans outspent the Democrats by $200 million. Bush and Cheney -- who, needless to say, are oilmen who made their fortunes in the energy business -- received over $44 million from the oil, gas, and energy industries. It spills over into Congress too: In the 2002 congressional elections, Republican candidates received almost $15 million from the energy industries, while the Democrats got around $3.7 million. In our democracy, voters can vote but donors decide.
The problem is that they're so good at it. Unlike the public bluster of Ronald Reagan's James Watt, these guys know that results are more important than rhetoric -- unless the rhetoric is used to lull the American people into believing that all is well:
They learned a big lesson from the Watt era. Not to inflame the situation. Use stealth. If you corrupt the language and talk a good line even as you are doing the very opposite, you won't awaken the public. Gale Norton will be purring like a kitten when she's cutting down the last redwood in the forest with a buzz saw.
But all is (hopefully) not lost. Moyers leaves us with a small bit of inspiration:
I once asked a friend on Wall Street about the market. "I'm optimistic," he said. "Then why do you look so worried?" I asked. And he answered: "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified." I feel that way. But I don't know how to be in the world except to expect a confident future and then get up every morning and try in some way to bring it about.
Well, we may not all be Bill Moyers or have his acess to the media, but if we all "expect a confident future and then get up every morning and try in some way to bring it about," maybe we can start to turn this ship.

-- This is Pollyana Barab, signing off.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Sometimes it's nice to see that we can all get along and work together -- labor, enviros, native Americans -- and get some results.

Labor-Native American Coalition Confronts Taiwanese-Owned Company

Union members, Native Americans and local farmers have come together to confront Taiwanese-owned Continental Carbon Company with charges of environmental pollution, creating public health risks, and causing "economic havoc."

The problem is "carbon black dust that rains-down on their properties and in their homes. This pollution, they claim, has worsened since the company locked out members of Local 5857 of the PACE (Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers) International Union."
The Ponca Tribe, which was first detected by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, originally settled in Northern Nebraska. According to Tribe Activist Casey Camp, in 1876, they were forced to walk to Oklahoma in the winter for resettlement -- a trek in which one of three died. Today, approximately 2,500 of the 24,000 residents of Ponca City are members of the Tribe. "Where once we died from relocation, today we are being killed with pollution," she said "Our people are dying from cancer and suffering from asthma and congestive heart failure, and why? The answer is because companies like Continental Carbon value their profits more than the lives of our elders and children. The earth, air and water are sacred and too important to be polluted for business profit."
The workers have been locked out by the company for over two years.
Speaking on behalf of the PACE Union was Todd Carlson, the Chairperson of the Locked-Out Workers Committee. Carlson and 85 other employees, all members of PACE, were locked-out of their jobs after they refused to accept severe cuts in pay and benefits that would have cost each employee about $35,000 per year. "Continental Carbon has been allowed to assault the economic health of our community and our environment," he stated, "The reinstatement of a PACE-represented workforce would be a huge step in the right direction to rectify both situations."

Labor-Environmental Coalition Forces Steelworkers to Clean Up Its Act

A coalition of environmental, labor and community groups has forced a Portland steel mill to spend $105,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company repeatedly broke air-quality rules.
In an agreement filed last week in U.S. District Court, the Portland-based company said it would pay $55,000 to set up a system of air monitors around its North Portland steel mill and refinishing plant.

It also agreed to allow an independent monitor from PBS Environmental to make as many as 100 surprise inspections at its facilities during the next three years.
The settlement was a result of the work of a coalition of the U.S. Steelworkers, environmental and community groups:
The Environmental Justice Action Group, the United Steelworkers of America and the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment sued the company in 2001, alleging that the mill violated its state-administered air permits and the federal Clean Air Act about 100 times since 1995.


"When the government doesn't do its job of holding corporate polluters to the legal limits, citizens have to step in and seek enforcement of the law," said Dave Foster, local director for the Steelworkers union. Oregon DEQ officials admitted in 2000 that they mistakenly ignored the violations.

Daddy, Tell Me About That Statue

Fallen Ironworkers Honored

Twin Cities union ironworkers, who normally erect buildings, will this week erect a memorial to their brethren killed on the job.

The almost 8-foot-high bronze statue will be dedicated Tuesday outside of the ironworkers' St. Paul union hall.

Ironworkers Local 512, which has 1,350 members, gathered the names of 25 Twin Cities ironworkers killed on the job since the 1930s, when the St. Paul and Minneapolis Ironworkers locals were merged.

The names of the deceased will be inscribed on the memorial, which was designed by Art Norby, the Afton artist who sculpted the Minnesota Korean War Veterans Memorial on the state capitol grounds.

Save These Dates: AFL-CIO Safety & Health Conference

December 7-10, 2003

AFL-CIO National Safety and Health Conference:
Safe Jobs and Strong Unions, Keep on Fighting

Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center
Detroit, Michigan

Join union safety and health representatives and activists like yourself from across the labor movement. Plenary sessions and workshops will give you practical information on current safety and health problems and how to tackle them. Exchange experiences and discuss strategies with other safety and health representatives and activists on how to improve safety and health in your workplace while increasing union strength.

Detailed information will be available soon here and on the AFL-CIO Safety and Health web site.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Hotel Workers Suffer From Workplace Hazards

A US study has shown strong connections between working conditions and the health of Las Vegas hotel room cleaners.
A study of 941 workers found that ergonomic problems, increasing workloads, and time pressure were significant causes of work-related pain and injury. Overall stress levels also contributed to pain and injury, as well as increased levels of smoking among workers.

Over 60% of workers reported severe back pain, and 45% had been injured at work in the last year. But nearly half of these injuries went unreported to workers' compensation bodies, with many workers using their own leave for time off work after injury. (Source: Worksafe)
The information in this article is important and ironic considering that on March 9, 2003, John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that
"the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was spread too thin and should devote more of its money and energy to organizing. Mr. Wilhelm said he would even consider ideas like eliminating the federation's respected health and safety department to channel more money into organizing.

"My view is that if we don't devote the largest possible amount of money to organizing and to political action that relates to organizing, we will go out of business," he said. "And if we go out of business, we can't help anybody's health and safety."
Yeah, but on the other hand, if unions don't focus on workers' health and safety, they may have less reason to organize. And unless workers see political action as affecting their lives, why get involved? You can find more on this debate here.

The full Executive Summary of the report can be found here.

Workers Under Attack

Good article in the Denver Post about the Bush administration's attack on workers. The article highlights the war against worker health and safety, beginning with a discussion of Bush's refusal to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for their employees' workboots and other personal protective equipment.
President Bush and his administration are quietly implementing an aggressively pro-business labor strategy that focuses on voluntary compliance.

Since Bush's election in 2000, the Labor Department has yanked 41 worker-safety regulations in development off the books, including two addressing hazardous chemical dangers. The administration has frozen action on other rules, including one meant to prevent the spread of airborne diseases in the workplace. Bush has issued legally binding orders that weaken labor unions. The Labor Department now wants to rewrite rules governing who gets overtime pay.
Almost more depressing than the actual actions is the word "quietly" and the following sentence: "Most of the changes have escaped notice outside Washington." This is true even for those who are suffering the effects of these actions don't necessarily know that the Bush administration holds within its hands the ability to fix these problems and has deliberately chosen not to.

Aside: My wife was flying back from California yesterday and observed the new airport baggage procedures. Instead of just sliding (or lifting) the bags onto the conveyor where they are whisked away to be loaded on the plane, they're now taken to a station where they much be hefted onto a bomb exray machine. She observed an older gentleman (older than we are) lifting the heavy suitcases, twisting around and hefting them onto the x-ray machine where another worker reversed the procedure on the other side. She asked whether or not they had had any back injuries. He replied that "You wouldn't believe the number of people who are getting hurt." She told him the sad story of the demise of the OSHA ergonomics standard. It was new news to him. "Well we sure need OSHA in here."
Why this war, you may ask?
"Fundamental to Bush's political future is pleasing business," said Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"The Bush people understand that the stronger labor unions are, the stronger the Democratic Party is," Sabato said.
Of course, even good reporters need a bit of education:
Bush's approach to labor became apparent in his first few months in office. Within two months, working with Congress, he repealed a Labor Department regulation requiring businesses to take specific steps to prevent repetitive stress injuries. A subsequent ergonomics standard released by the Bush administration relies on voluntary compliance by employers.
In fact, as you all know, the Bush administration has released no "standard." They have their "comprehensive approach" which consists of voluntary guidelines, compliance assistance and research on ergonomics issues that tells us nothing important that we don't already know -- In other words "Voodoo Ergonomics." And voluntary voodoo ergonomics doesn't seem to be helping the baggage handlers at the airport. Big surprise.

Read the article. It's good, but it's frustrating, because this is the kind of information that every American worker needs to know -- now and throughout the election process. They need to know why they're getting hurt and how the Republican politicians (and a few Democrats) are screwing them. They need to remember what happened to the ergonomics standard and they need to understand how voting -- in local and national elections -- affects everything in our lives, from health care, to public services, to coming home uninjured from work.

We've got work to do.

Saturday, August 23, 2003


Not to blow my own horn or anything, but Labourstart has named Confined Space this week's Labor Website of the Week.
Subtitled 'News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics', this is one of the first of a new generation of trade union websites that are blogs (web logs). These sites tend to be somewhat more personal, more updated, and in some cases even more content-rich than conventional trade union sites. This site is a particularly good example of what a blog can do, and if you're interested in health and safety issues, it should be one of your favorites/bookmarks.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Rather ironic, though, to come this week, when I've been in Knoxville and barely blogging.

Oh well, such is life in the Blogosphere.

Don't Rush In

Attached here is a tragic article about three electrocution deaths -- the original victim when the crane he was operating touched an energized electrical line, and two rescuers.

The death of rescuers is a tragic, but all too common event in confined space, trenching and electrical incidents. Everyone's first instinct is to jump in and rescue your buddy -- often with fatal consequences.

Of course it's not easy to sit and watch someone die -- even if you understand that you could just as easily become a victim:
"The crane was on fire and we had three fatalities laying on the ground," Telford Fire Chief Joseph Rausch said.

Paramedics, police and firefighters called to the plant had to stand by for 10 minutes until utility workers could shut off the power.

"It's tough standing here doing that," Rausch said. "We had to protect our guys. [The crane] was energized, so we couldn't just rush in here."
This reminds me of a story.....

A few years ago, humorist Dave Barry wrote a column making fun of OSHA for citing a company whose workers had jumped into a collapsed trench to (successfully) rescue workers from another company who had been trapped when the trench collapsed. Barry cited it as just another example of government stupidity.

Although I thought the OSHA citation in this case was probably unnecessary (and was later dropped), as it was another company's employees trapped in the trench, I sent a letter to Barry defending the principle of the citation and the OSHA standard, and describing the frequency of deaths among rescuers in confined space and trenching incidents. I also enclosed some news clips and a NIOSH report. He wrote me back almost immediately, replying "Yeah, well if it was your friend, I bet you'd jump in too."

Well, that's the point, Dave. I'd want to jump in. Which is why OSHA has standards (so that no rescue is needed in the first place) that require, among other things, that workers to be trained NOT to jump into a trench or confined space, and that employers need to be cited even if such attempted rescues seem like "good Samaritan" actions.

(Check out OSHA information on trenching here and confined spaces here.)

Here is a happier story where the men who helped rescue their co-worker from a trench were luckier.

Which reminds me of another story....

I was training a bunch of New England public works employees about trenching hazards around ten years ago. I asked for a show of hands how many of them had received safety training. Most of them raised their hands. I was surprised as most of them were from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, states where public employees don't have any OSHA coverage, and they didn't seem familiar with the OSHA regs.

But knowing from experience that there's training and there's training, I asked what their training consisted of.

"Sure, they train us," one of the local presidents replied, "They train us how to dig someone out when the trench collapses on them. And we've had to do it a bunch of times."

Two morals to this story: First, when you're trying to find out what kind of training workers have received, don't just stop with the question "Have you been trained?" What did the training consist of? How was it given? Did they train you about this? About that? Did you have an opportunity to ask questions? You get the idea.

The second moral is that while "rescue" training is necessary in these cases (as often more unprepared rescuers are killed than original victims,) OSHA standard and the majority of our efforts need to be focused on prevention. Rescue is a sign that preventive measures have failed.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Reflections on Knoxville

As I wrote the other day, I've been taking a couple of classes in Knoxville this week.

(Knoxville being in Tennessee, Al Gore's home state, the state that he just took for granted in 2000, the state that would have put him over the top and saved us from this endless national nightmare. But I digress.)

I drove because I wanted to have my bike down here with me. Nothing worse than being trapped in a sterile hotel, in a strange city, not knowing anyone, without a bike. I tend to sit around, watch T.V., eat and get fat.

Some observations:

-- I'm taking two classes: Incident Investigation/Root Cause Analysis, and Human Factors. Good instructor, interesting classes. Most of the other students are corporate health and safety directors, not the crowd I usually hang out with. But they are, to a man (they're all men) very supportive of OSHA, and not outwardly hostile to unions (this even before I revealed my pedegree), even though none of their workplaces is organized. Some are even Democrats.

Admittedly, this was a self-selected group or else they wouldn't be in these classes in the first place. But it confirms my belief that the world would be a better place if the big corporations, and small-business associations like NAM and the NFIB let the health and safety directors (instead of the government affairs slugs) determine business' national health and safety agenda in Washington. (It would also be a better world if pigs could fly.)

Not that this is really much of a revelation. Many have heard me rant and rave about how, during the ergo wars, we would talk to company health and safety directors who thought that ergonomics was great and their ergo programs had saved their company millions, and how those nice boys and girls from OSHA had helped them put together a program -- only to get a fax from their corporate headquarters complaining that OSHA was rushing ahead on ergonomics before there was any science and an ergonomics standard would surely bankrupt them. If I was king of the world....

-- This part of Tennessee is beautiful. I drove up to the Smokeys yesterday and rode my bike around the 11 mile Cades Cove (twice) where I saw lots of deer with antlers and two bears. I also spent a couple of late afternoons doing my Lance Armstrong impersonation around western Knoxville. It took me a while to find out where the bikers ride. In riding around the less biked part of town, I also observed the quaint Knoxvillian custom of using bikers as target practice for beer cans flung from moving vehicles -- usually pickup trucks. Luckily, their aim is not great (probably because they had previously ingested the contents of the afore-mentioned beer cans.)

All in all though, it was a good idea to bring my bike.

-- 500 miles is a long way to drive -- even if you want a bike with you -- especially without the benefit of whiny, complaining, fighting kids and back-seat-driving wife (all of whom I love and miss terribly). What saved me was a tape of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, which is about Great Britain. If you've never read anything by Bill Bryson, you should. He's not only informative, but extremely funny -- one of the few authors who can make me laugh out loud. (He's also written A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything) In addition to entertaining me, it had the added advantage of making me appear crazy to anyone passing me -- especially the ubiquitous, speeding, trying-to-stay-awake semi truckers who infest I-81 -- who warned each other on their CB's to stay away from the crazy guy in the Windstar.

I must get a book-on-tape for the trip home.

Update: My British correspondant, Rory O'Neill informs me that Bryson was a scab in the London Times newspaper dispute. Hmm. I guess I'll have to be more careful.....

What's a Blog?

Many of you think this is a web page. "Nice web page," you say. Actually, this is not a web page. It's a Blog. What's a Blog you ask? Read this article. Also note the picture of my blogger buddy, Susan Madrak of Suburban Guerrilla whom I read (and link) regularly for her wit, political wisdom and her ability to find good articles and blog postings. (She notes that she's a lot cuter than pictured. I can relate. I am also a lot cuter than I look.)

No More Overtime Rights: Try it, You'll Like It.

An AP article about the Bush administration's proposed overhaul of (take-away-our) overtime regulations is almost funny -- in a sick sort of way. The proposal would allow employers to take away overtime for millions of mostly white-collar workers.

What's so "funny?"
The Bush administration maintains that the new rules will merely give companies the option to cut overtime pay for certain workers. Many employers may choose to continue paying for work above 40 hours a week for other reasons, a Labor Department official said.

"Employers often want to retain the best employees to remain competitive," said Victoria Lipnic, an assistant Labor secretary. "So, just as the employers pay these employees well above minimum wage and provide many employee benefits ... they can choose to continue to pay them overtime."
Yeah, and they'll want to pay you more and give you health insurance and good pensions, and probably want you to join unions as well. Next thing, they'll pass a law "merely" giving companies the "option" not to provide a safe workplace. They can still choose not to kill their employees. And if the employer doesn't choose to pay overtime or minimum wage or provide a safe workplace, the employees can always walk right out the door and find a better paying, safer job. Right?

And then there's this:
The proposed rule changes also could eliminate overtime pay in a wide array of other occupations - from nurses to cooks to retail managers - if they are deemed to be "learned professionals" in the fields.
Now I'm sure many people would be happy to be considered "learned professionals" if it didn't mean getting paid less. Is this any way to encourage people to get more education and training?

This is so stupid, I'm (almost) at a total loss for words:
The rules do not offer workers exempt from overtime pay any guarantees of a 40-hour work week, said Alexander Colvin, an assistant professor of labor studies and industrial relations at Pennsylvania State University.

But Lipnic said they have other protections. For example, employees who do not qualify for overtime wages must be paid the same amount every week, even if they work less than 40 hours a week or the quality of their work is below standard.
So don't worry all of you nurses, corrections officers, and cooks. Even if you're working 60 hours a week and being paid for 40, you now have the theoretical "right" to work less and do a really bad job.

Vicky, Vicky, who are your press people? They're clearly working too many hours. One piece of advice. If Secretary Chao asks you to use these arguments to sell the new regs to an audience of actual workers, RUN LIKE HELL.

Take Back Your Time Day

But someone has a good idea: October 24 is Take Back Your Time Day. "TAKE BACK YOUR TIME DAY is a nationwide initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment."

Noting that we work longer hours now than we did in the 1950s nearly nine full weeks (350 hours) LONGER per year than our peers in Western Europe do, Take Back Your Time Day argues that:
Overwork threatens our health. It leads to fatigue, accidents and injuries.

It reduces time for exercise and encourages consumption of calorie-laden fast foods. Job stress and burnout costs our economy more than $200 billion a year.

Overwork threatens our marriages, families and relationships as we find less time for each other, less time to care for our children and elders, less time to just hang out.

It weakens our communities. We have less time to know our neighbors, supervise our young people, and volunteer.

It reduces employment as fewer people are hired and then required to work longer hours, or are hired for poor part-time jobs without benefits.

It leaves many of us with little time to vote, much less be informed, active citizens.

It leaves us little time for ourselves, for self-development, or for
spiritual growth.

It leads to growing neglect and abuse of pets. (Not to speak of our children and elders)

So what's happening on October 24?
On Friday, October 24, 2003, thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans will JUST SAY NO to the overwork, over-scheduling and overstress that threaten to overwhelm our lives. They'll take the day or part of it off work, and join in hundreds of activities to initiate a much-needed national conversation about work/life balance and how we can reclaim it.

The date falls nine weeks before the end of the year, making the point that we Americans now work nine weeks more each year than Western Europeans do.
So go for it. But remember, as Vicky Lipnic would probably remind you, you can only take part of the day off if you don't have a right to earn overtime.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Minneapolis Cab Driver Action Update

The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote today that
about dozens of Somali cabdrivers drove in a caravan to the State Capitol to honor Salah and Ahmed Ahmed, a driver shot to death last month, and to meet with state and city officials.

Salah, 28, was shot in the head about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 8 at the intersection of 24th St. and 18th Av. S. in the Phillips neighborhood. He had called his pregnant wife to say he had several suspicious passengers.
Their action seems to have generated some promises of action. We'll see:
About 60 drivers -- joint lessors of about 30 taxis -- participated in Monday's caravan from the scene of Salah's death to the scene in north Minneapolis of the July 10 killing of Ahmed and on to St. Paul.

After a meeting with the drivers' leaders in the office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, officials of the state and the city of Minneapolis vowed to seek ways to finance upgraded protection in taxis.

State Public Safety Commissioner Rich Stanek said that could involve equipping cabs with global positioning systems, video cameras or bullet-resistant shields between the front and back seats.

"I will look for federal and state funds to leverage for that," he told cheering cabbies wearing white T-shirts saying "Stop Killing Cabdrivers/We Serve But Not Protected." Pawlenty was in Indianapolis at the National Governors Association annual meeting.
But it also generated a slightly different response:
While most speakers at a rally at the scene of Salah's slaying focused on calls for government assistance, Minneapolis firearms dealer Mark Koscielski passed out leaflets offering a $40 discount for his state-certified handgun course, a prerequisite for a permit to carry guns in public.

"The Police Can't Protect You!" the leaflets said. "DON'T BE A VICTIM! ARM YOURSELVES, PROTECT YOURSELVES!" Many of the drivers picked up a copy.

Monday, August 18, 2003

On The Road

I'm in Knoxville this week taking a class, so blogging will be a bit on the low and slow side.

The Weekly Toll

The has been a particularly pathetic week with workplace fatalities ranging from the youngest (age 16) to the oldest (age 62) -- crushings, electrocutions, falls, confined space asphyxiations, traffic accidents, explosions. All in all, a typical work in America's workplaces.

To put this all in political perspective, check out the interview with AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Peg Seminario. This sums up where we are:
We've got 2,000 job safety inspectors in the country responsible for overseeing and enforcing the safety and health laws in more than 6 million workplaces.

OSHA actually has fewer staff today than it did in 1980. The workforce and the number of workplaces has grown, but the agency's resources have not grown.

I missed this tragedy, which was picked up by Susan Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla:

Child labor laws fail boys killed on job

Three 16-year-old boys have died in work-related accidents in Washington this week, prompting calls for stronger enforcement of laws governing underage workers.

On Wednesday, 16-year-old Josh McMahon of Lynnwood was crushed to death at a wrecking yard.

Tyler Rausch and Cody Forrest, former teammates on the Jenkins High School football team, died Tuesday while they were working on the farm owned by Rausch's parents south of Colville.

The 16-year-olds were found dead in a silo filled with alfalfa "haylage" cattle feed.

"We need more field staff to work on consultation and enforcement of the law. Employers know the chances are too slim to be found out, so they continue to abuse the law," says Randy Loomans, the Washington Labor Council's education and safety director.

More here and here.

Hospital says investigation into doctor's death continuing

HOUSTON -- Large pieces of white plywood covered an elevator at Christus St. Joseph Hospital's patient tower Monday where a physician died this weekend when he became trapped in doors as the elevator moved.


Nikaidoh, of Dallas, was stepping into the second-floor elevator about 10 a.m. Saturday when the doors suddenly closed, pinning his shoulders. A portion of his head was severed when the elevator began rising.

A female hospital employee witnessed the accident and spent about 20 minutes trapped inside the malfunctioning elevator until firefighters rescued her.

Flores said the physician's body then fell down the elevator shaft to the basement.

Pearland worker killed while atop power lines

Nicholas Garland, 22, a North Houston Pole Co. employee, was performing routine maintenance on a high voltage line near NASA Road 1 and Sarah Deel about 9:30 a.m., Aug. 6, when he was shocked with about 130,000 volts of electricity.

Dump truck driver won't be charged in death of worker
Associated Press

GAFFNEY, S.C. - A dump truck driver who struck and killed a worker at a road construction site will not be charged, the Highway Patrol says.

Buford Phillips, 57, was backing up a state-owned dump truck hauling 8 tons of asphalt Monday morning when he hit 46-year-old David Allen Stapleton, a flag man for the state Transportation Department.

Phillips said the alarm that was supposed to sound when he backed the truck up was not working when he struck Stapleton.

Wayland man dies after fall from ladder

WAYLAND, MA -- A Wayland man died yesterday after he fell off a 20-foot ladder while working on the historic Grout-Heard House on Cochituate Road.

Police would not identify the victim, but Deborah McNeill said her husband, Richard A. McNeill, 52, of Matthews Drive, died working at the 12 Cochituate Road house yesterday.


Police said a preliminary investigation shows McNeill was on the ladder working on a second-floor gutter when he touched a power line and fell to the ground.

Auto Mechanic Crushed Under Car

BOULDER, Colo. -- A Boulder auto mechanic was crushed to death Thursday when he was caught beneath a vehicle on a service bay lift.

Officials said Gabrial Slagle, 23, was working at McCaddon Cadillac under a raised lift when a co-worker lowered the lift, killing Slagle. Investigators said the co-worker did not know that Slagle was under the lift when he lowered it.

OSHA investigating death at area oil field

Lawrence, KS -- Investigators from the Occupational Saftety and Health Administration and the Douglas County sheriff's department were at an oil field in southeast Douglas County Friday afternoon where a 33-year-old Osawatomie man died Thursday.

OSHA investigates carpenter's death

SAN ANTONIO -- A federal safety agency is investigating the death of a San Antonio carpenter.

Scott Phillip Fries, 32, was found on the ground Thursday in the 7000 block of Scotsdale where he and others had been working, according to a witness. He was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, police said.

Emergency personnel said Fries may have suffered a heart attack caused by electric shock, according to the preliminary report.

One killed, one injured in explosion at plant

The Associated Press, OCALA, Fla.
An explosion at a plastics processing plant killed one worker, left another hospitalized and forced the evacuation of dozens of other employees Monday, officials said.

The blast occurred about 8:30 a.m. in a hopper containing wood chips at US Plastic Lumber Ltd., which uses plastic waste to make building materials, furnishings, industrial supplies and other packaging materials.

Killed was Scott Stokes, 34, of Ocala.

Part of I-35 closed due to fatal crash

A portion of Interstate Highway 35 south of Des Moines was closed Friday as a crane involved in a fatal crash was removed.

Merlyn McIlrath, 61, of Roland, the driver of the crane, died in the accident near the Iowa Highway 92 exit at Bevington. (scroll down)

TB in MD on the UP

Sometimes I hate to be right.

At the end of May, OSHA trashed its proposed standard that would have protected workers against TB. OSHA Director John Henshaw justified OSHA's action by arguing that TB rates had fallen so much that the standard was no longer needed.

An article in today's Washington Post describes "A 17 percent rise in the number of active TB cases in Maryland last year -- with just a slight decline this year" that has put TB "back on the radar for public health officials."
After falling for a decade, the number of people infected with active TB in Maryland jumped from 262 cases in 2001 to 306 last year. This year, 140 cases were recorded through July.
Right now, Maryland public health authorities are practicing Directly Observed Therapy (DOT), sending nurses out to observe patients each time they take their medication. DOT not only increases the cure rate, but more importantly, by making sure patients take the complete course of medicine, prevents the development of antibiotic resistant TB.
Yet as Maryland grapples with a budget crisis, officials said spending for TB control probably would be cut by about $50,000 next year. The state plans to spend $2.28 million for TB control this year, including about $1.4 million in federal money.

"For a disease that we know how to diagnose and treat and prevent, it's ludicrous for the number of cases to be going up in Maryland. It's unacceptable," said Lee B. Reichman , executive director of the National Tuberculosis Center at the New Jersey Medical School, where many specialists have trained.
To repeat what I wrote in early June:

Ditching the TB standard probably could not have come at a worse time. The United States faced a near epidemic of multiple drug resistant TB in the mid-1980's and early 1990s because the public health system in this country let down its guard. According to the IOM:
Complacency led to neglect of basic public health measures including surveillance, contact tracing, outbreak investigations, and case management services to ensure that individuals completed treatments for latent infection and active disease. This neglect helped set the stage for the resurgence of tuberculosis when new circumstances emerged -- including the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the increase in multidrug-resistant disease (largely due to incomplete treatment), and expanded immigration from regions of the world with high rates of tuberculosis.
In hospitals across the country complacency translated into inadequate isolation rooms, ventilation systems that were not maintained, isolation room doors left open, infectious patients left to wander the halls and no training to recognize symptoms in waiting rooms. In correctional institutions the level of knowledge and control measures was virtually non-existent.

Now we may be faced with a new complacency fueled by an "all-clear" message from OSHA, falling national TB rates, and a public health system stressed to the breaking point by new homeland security demands, huge state budget problems and the Bush tax cuts eating up any chance of significant federal assistance.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Union Bashing 101

I’ve spent some profitable times over the past couple of decades taking classes and teaching at various labor education centers and have always admired the work that they do – especially in health and safety. They are indispensable for training future union activists and supplementing union efforts to train their members in a variety of labor issues. Check out the projects and publications at LOHP at Berkeley or LOSH at UCLA.

Well you can imagine my surprise to find out that labor studies centers are evil, according to a Wall St. Journal article, “Picketing 101,” by Steve Malanga of the right wing Manhattan Institute.

“Under AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, these departments have defined their mission chiefly as supporting labor and its organizing effects rather than educating students.” (Some – like me -- would argue that “supporting labor and its organizing efforts IS educating students)

The Manhattan Institute is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility. A longer article on the same topic can be found on their web site.

What examples to we have of the labor movement’s crimes in co-opting of academic departments and programs?”

-- U-Mass Amherst has an M.A. program in union leadership and administration – “in essence a school for union leaders.” (Horrors!) Amherst also has a course whose description, in part, reads “we live in ‘an era of crushing corporate power and aggressive opposition to unions.” (as personified perhaps by this article?)

-- Wayne State university provides technical support for “living-wage campaigns around the country which helped to spark successful efforts to raise the minimum wage for some workers in dozens of cities.” (What will they stoop to next?)

And if the subversive course material isn’t bad enough, labor programs go so far as to sponsor internships, which like the vampires of old, direct impressionable students “to do labor’s bidding.”

What do these possessed interns work on? Some help in organizing campaigns, and if hat isn’t bad enough, some of them are guilty of assisting campaigns that involve “forcing business to raise the sallies of some employees,” which somehow works “against the interests of taxpayers” (who are different from workers? I’m getting confused.)

In addition to warping their young minds and recruiting them into the union cult world, these programs also put out reports on “subjects key to the labor movement’s legislative agenda: free trade, globalization, living wage legislation, poverty…These reports, with their veneer of academic objectivity, appear to provide scholarly proof of labors most cherished contentions.”(Hear that John Ashcroft? Any more room in Guantanemo?)

But if it’s really tainted research he’s interested in, he should check out reports by the American Association of University Professors and the Center for Science in the Public Interest who have documented multiple examples of business-dominated university research programs.
The report also identifies more than 30 university-based research centers that draw substantial financial support from companies or corporate trade associations. Among those are several university centers on forestry funded by timber or paper industries and several centers on nutrition funded by food and agribusiness companies. All such centers let corporations put an academic sheen on industry-funded research, according to CSPI.

“People would be far more skeptical of a ‘Corporate Polluters Lobbying Association’ than an industry-funded ‘Harvard University Center on Important Issues,’” said [CSPI Director Michael] Jacobson. “Companies hope that a nonprofit’s or university’s good name will burnish their reputations. Call it ‘innocence by association.’”
More on the CSPI study here.

So what’s the goal of these subversive activities? “Labor programs state plainly that they exist primarily to promote unions and create a generation of activists. For example,
The labor program at UMass Lowell, for instance, uses its website to disseminate “action alerts” about local union campaigns, warning that a union local is under attack from a movie theater chain or imploring readers to assist an organizing effort at a local supermarket chain by downloading a form letter to send to the chain’s president. The labor studies program at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, sponsors intensely partisan radio programs, dubbed “Heartland Labor Forum.”
Well, excuse me, but don’t business schools exist primarily to promote American business. Check out the Wharton business school web page: “Wharton is dedicated to creating the highest value and impact on the practice of business and management worldwide through intellectual leadership and innovation in teaching, research, publishing, and service.”

And last time I checked, it was still just as legal to organize a union or go out on strike as it is to form a business.

But isn’t labor studies just as legitimate as African American studies or women’s studies? Of course not. “Unlike gender or race studies (both disciplines strongly supported by the Wall St. Journal and the Manhattan Institute), labor studies undeviatingly promote the interests of a tiny constituency: the union” (Actually, labor studies promotes the interests of a slightly larger constituency: workers. But let’s not get too picky.)

The longer article on the Manhattan Institute website goes into a bit of labor history. It seems that labor studies programs once served a useful purpose (just as at one time unions themselves served a useful (purpose):
When labor studies programs arose just after World War II, mostly in the “extension” or continuing-education divisions of universities, their aim was modest: to help create a better-educated generation of union workers to combat mob control, corruption, and communist influence. “If labor leaders could be better educated, it was thought this would lead to fewer confrontations and fewer strikes,” says Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
In other words, as long as labor studies programs were teaching workers to accept their conditions, not to confront their employers and never strike, they were OK.

How things have changed. Now we have
Queens College of the City University of New York, professors developed a labor internship program, the Solidarity Project, with help from the university’s Education Center for Community Organizing, whose purpose is to stimulate social activism and community organizing in students.
And the last thing a democratic nation needs is more social activism and community organizing.

Ah, the good old days:
Back in the sixties and seventies, when labor bosses were culturally conservative, supported pro-growth policies, and sent their hardhats to battle long-haired students over the war in Vietnam, who would ever have thought the day would come when union leaders would co-opt the professors?
Or vice versa.

Malanga’s article is clearly an attempt by the Manhatten Institute to foment a taxpayer revolt against these publicly funded programs. Malanga quotes a small businessman viewing a Living Wage who was “shocked to learn that some of those out on street corners agitating in favor of the [Living Wage] law were fulfilling course requirements. ‘As a [California] taxpayer, I'm funding the U.C. system. This isn't the kind of activity I want to fund.’”

Of course, if taxpayers really want to revolt, they could look down the road a few miles from where I’m writing to the public George Mason University and its rabidly anti-union, anti regulatory Mercatus Center. Mercatus is best known for counting up the costs of regulations every year (leaving out the benefits) and for sponsoring anti-regulatory “studies” such as one I quoted a few months ago that argues that OSHA Kills.

So why is labor studies important? As California AFL-CIO President Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary- Treasurer of the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, says:
"We are in danger of becoming two Californias: the privileged, highly paid executives and professionals, and the rest of us -- the teachers, the construction workers, the farm laborers, the garment workers, the retail clerks, the child care and nursing home staff. Many of these people are immigrants and minorities who are having great difficulty making ends meet. The University of California should study these jobs and the problems of these workers and offer well-informed advice to policy makers in labor, business, and government. The result will be new policies, partnerships, and employment institutions that contribute to an economy in which prosperity is shared and opportunities are opened to all."
Update: Check out Tapped and the Joe Kenehan Center for other perspectives on this article.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Suicide by Work or Death by Stupidity?

Sometimes you gotta wonder…..Last January, NY subway conductor Janell Bennerson was killed when her head slammed into a fence as she leaned out of the cab. The New York Transit Authority has now determined that her death was her own fault because she leaned out too far and kept her head out longer than the TA requires to watch the platform.

The union is disputing this conclusion, noting that there had been trouble with the train's doors before the accident.
It is clear and undisputed from the evidence how conductor Bennerson was being diligent in observing the doors due to recurring door problems," said Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint. "It seems the TA can not restrain itself from instinctively blaming the victim and evading responsibility.
Oh yeah, and the report also notes that the steel fence was only 18 inches from the train's side and there was a near-blinding glare at the time of the accident. But those were only contributing factors. If she had just been more careful…

Even though it was her fault, “TA spokesman Paul Fleuranges denied that the agency was blaming Bennerson for her own death, calling it a ‘tragic accident.’”

Employer Cuts Pay to Workers At High Risk Of Violence

Here's a workplace where someone dies almost every day and management is trying to cut their pay. Go figure. I doubt if they'll strike, but this probably is not good for morale. More here.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

More Workplace Stress, Less Profit

We all know that workplace stress is bad for you. But there is more and more evidence that it is costly to your employer and society as well.
It is estimated to cost U.S. industry a staggering $300 billion a year in absenteeism, health costs and programs to help workers manage stress as unemployment rises and companies cut staff.
I’ve written before about Americans’ vanishing vacation time. But get this: “An International Labor Organization study showed that Americans worked the equivalent of an extra 40-hour week in 2000 than they did 10 years earlier.”

Beyond Arnold: Californians Also To Vote On “Colorblind” Racial and Ethnic Policy

The recall of Governor Grey Davis is not the only initiative in the upcoming California election. Voters will also be asked to vote on the "Racial Privacy Initiative"
The measure would prevent state entities from sorting people by race. Approval would mean that no government agency in California would be allowed to ask for details of race, ethnicity, color, or national origin on job applications. And the state could not use such data to classify people involved in public education, public contracting, or public employment.
It is being pushed by Ward Connerly, the same University of California regent who introduced Proposition 209, which barred racial and gender preferences for all state institutions. It is opposed by state and national civil rights organization, as well as the American Public Health Association which states that
Racial and ethnic health disparities persist in a number of key health conditions, in access to health care and in the quality of health care delivery. If we are to address these disparities, we need the vital information currently collected by our public health agencies and other public institutions to better understand why these disparities occur and ways we can eliminate them.

People die prematurely because of inequalities in health care and health status. Knowledge of these differences provides important insight into ways to connect the problems, save lives and improve health.
As Jessie Jackson put it, “It's just really stupid. No one who can see would fight for the right to be blind.”

Hanford HazWaste Workers Worry About Their Health -- For Good Reason

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has a powerful, but frightening article about hazardous working conditions among the workers cleaning up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where 177 tanks hold 53 million gallons of A-bomb chemical and radioactive waste.

Many workers have complained about chemical exposures. But as in many workplaces in this country,
Many workers are afraid to come forward and complain, Hanford watchdogs and whistle-blowers say. Electricians such as Young can earn up to $90,000 a year, and work at the nation's largest nuclear cleanup site is steady.

But for some, the fear of being sickened by the gases has finally trumped the fear of losing their jobs. They're afraid the exposures are responsible for a suite of health problems, ranging from black tongue to numb gums. And there's the specter of hidden diseases that strike years later.
One of the more amazing sections describes workers having to fight to be able to wear respirators:
Earlier this year, one worker was sent to the hospital with a swollen, sore throat after breathing strong vapors. In May, another worker asked for leaking seals to be replaced at two tanks where employees have sought medical attention because of the gases. Officials said they're working on the problem.

CH2M Hill officials defend their policy not to provide masks to everyone whenever they want them, saying they can do more harm than good.

The masks can be hot, making workers in the Eastern Washington desert vulnerable to overheating. They can obstruct vision, inhibit communication, and make workers more prone to trips or falls.

To receive an air-purifying mask, workers must have a medical checkup, be properly fitted and get approval from an industrial hygienist.

"They may or may not be issued a respirator depending on the situation," said Rob Barr, manager of environment, safety and quality with DOE's Office of River Protection, which oversees the tanks.
Reading the article, I'd be nervous too, espcially with the assurances that "'The only health effects we see ... are immediate effects,' said Buffi LaDue, an epidemiologist with the foundation. 'It clears up within 45 minutes to an hour or so.'"

Now where have we heard that before?

Nevertheless, workers are encouraged not to worry:
The U.S. Department of Energy, which is responsible for overseeing the Hanford cleanup, and the contractor responsible for the project, CH2M Hill Hanford Group, insist that tank-farm workers are safe.

They say there is no evidence of long-term health effects from the gases, there is adequate monitoring of the vapors, and protective masks are available when warranted. A committee was created last year to answer questions about the vapors.
This is the Bush Department of Energy speaking. Are these people you would tend to trust about long term health effects, especially cancers, which can take 20 to 30 years to show up?

In the "lessons (not) learned" department, the article notes that
This spring, Hanford workers dating to the 1940s finally began receiving checks from the federal government to compensate them for radiation-related cancers and other debilitating ailments. So far, $5.3 million has been paid to 40 current and former workers, while more than 450 have had their claims denied.

Afraid of becoming the next generation of casualties, Young and others want easier access to masks that filter air, or to have masks with air pumped into them or supplied in a tank.
Read the article. Then scroll down to the article on the European "precautionary principle" and ask yourself where you'd rather be working if you're interested in getting to know your grandchildren.

Nursing Home Fined For Unsafe Needles

"Safety is a Priority"

To OSHA's credit (and it's hard to find much to give them these days), they have issued an appropriate $102,000 "willful" violation to Beaver Valley Nursing & Rehabilitation Home in Beaver Falls, PA where
Managers required workers to use banned needles, exposing them to increased health risks from blood-borne diseases
According to OSHA,
A willful violation exists under the Act where the evidence shows either an intentional
violation of the Act or plain indifference to its requirements.

The employer committed an intentional and knowing violation if:

An employer representative was aware of the requirements of the Act, or the existence of an applicable standard or regulation, and was also aware of a condition or practice in violation of those requirements, and did not abate the hazard.
In this case
Even after acknowledging in internal safety meetings that the needles broke OSHA regulations, managers continued to require workers to use the banned needles, the agency said.

That represented "willful violation" of regulations requiring safer, protective needles, and resulted in a $70,000 fine, said OSHA spokeswoman Leny Uddyback-Forston.

"There were times employees would bring this up (that) they should be using safe devices and these safe devices were not used," said Edward Selker, assistant director of OSHA's Pittsburgh area office.
Unsafe needles weren't the only problem:
OSHA also cited the home for rejecting a union representative's request to view safety records.

"They told us they could not provide us with the information and that we were not entitled to that information," said Kevin White, organizer for Service Employees International Union District 1199P, which represents about 100 workers.

Health care facilities have been required since 1999 to use syringes with guards and sheaths, safeguards designed to prevent workers from "needle sticks" that could transmit such blood-borne diseases as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

Other violations included improper training, inadequate medical counsel to workers after needle sticks and failure to replace overfilled needle disposal bins.
In its defense, facility administrator John Papasodero said in a faxed statement that safety is "a priority" at the Beaver Valley nursing home.

And I'm sure there are signs on the wall that prove it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

MSHA Issues Quecreek Mine Accident Report

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued a final report on the Quecreek Mine accident that trapped nine miners in the mine for 77 hours.
A federal report more than a year in the making concluded inaccurate, abandoned maps caused last summer's Quecreek Mine accident.

But the Mine Safety and Health Administration report issued Tuesday also cited the coal mine's owner, PBS Coals Inc., mine operator Black Wolf Coal and Musser Engineering for negligence. MSHA also castigated state permitting procedures for weaknesses that contributed to the accident that nearly killed 18 Somerset County coal miners.
Fines have not been determined yet, although
Unlike the state, which recently issued a report with no findings against the mine owners, their consultants or the mine operator, MSHA issued negligence violations against PBS, Black Wolf and Musser for failing to provide accurate, certified abandoned mine maps.
The report, which has not yet been seen by the United Mine Workers, is not without controversy:
MSHA also dismissed a Pennsylvania Deep Mine Safety engineer's contentions that PBS representatives showed him a more accurate map of the abandoned mine, but refused to file a copy of it with the state and consistently ignored his warnings that they had not provided a final certified abandoned mine map. Although the Pennsylvania Inspector General's Office issued a report stating that engineer Tom McKnight's statements appeared credible, Lauriski said his team could find nothing to support them.

Safety experts from the United Mine Workers said they had yet to see the MSHA report but were concerned that the Inspector General's report was getting short shrift. Lauriski, who noted his team was not given the Inspector General's report until the final days of its probe, insisted MSHA did everything it could to investigate it.
More here on the report and here is a previous report about the mine.

Preventing illness and environmental catastrophes instead of paying afterward, if ever.

First they play footsie with Saddam, then those Eurosocialist-surrender monkeys attack capitalism-as-we-know-it.

Here is yet another excellent article by Sam Lowenberg in the American Prospect about the European precautionary principle, "a doctrine enshrined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty among European Union members, governments should protect their populations against risk, even before all the data are compiled," and how they're whipping American companies into shape. I've written about this before, but in a nutshell, those pinko Europeans are
Crafting legislation that by 2005 will require the industry to conduct extensive safety tests on 30,000 common chemicals. At least 1,500 are expected to be banned or severely restricted in their use as a result. The industry estimates that the testing alone will cost it more than $7.5 billion
The most interesting parts of the article are the descriptions of U.S. companies' futile attempts to use the same tactics that succeed here to kill the European regulations. Their problem begins with the whole precautionary principle:
The doctrine is a prescription for government intervention before harm occurs. By contrast, Washington generally doesn't pass broad regulatory overhauls unless there's concrete evidence of harm. U.S. laws that put new burdens on industry -- such as the Superfund or the recent accounting reform -- tend to be attempts to clean up disasters.
The Euros claim that prevention actually saves money:
Proponents claim that the chemical-testing legislation will save companies money in the long run. Dr. Michael Warhurst, who works on the issue for the World Wildlife Fund, argues that the tests will keep especially dangerous chemicals off the market and thus preempt many large lawsuits. He points out that product liability lawsuits cost U.S. industry about $180 billion a year, or 1.9 percent of the gross domestic product
Of course, American companies have another way to avoid spending money on product liability lawsuits: It's called "Tort Reform".

Another quaint cultural difference: The Europeans don't shy away from the fact that the regulations will be costly -- 14 billion and 26 billion euros by the year 2020.
But, by the Europeans' count, this is a small price to pay for the benefits gained. The European Commission estimates that the strengthened regulation of chemicals will result in a drop of 2,200 to 4,300 cancer cases per year, with a savings over 30 years of 18 billion to 54 billion euros in occupational health costs alone.
In America, on the other hand, we avoid such costly regulations by something called "cost-benefit analysis" where we only count the costs and not the benefits.
Clearly they have all of their priorities mixed up:
Last year, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, complained in a Wall Street Journal Europe op-ed that European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.
Let me repeat that for those of you who spaced out for a minute: European regulators did not take enough business input into their decisions and that they were concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade.

OK. So what cultural psychopathology underlies this clearly deviant behavior?
The current conflict between corporate America and the European Union cannot be fully understood unless one considers that the bribery and corruption that have long plagued European politics are dwarfed by what is legal and accepted in Washington. In the United States, lobbyists can kill legislation at almost any point in its progress. They can keep it from ever being heard in committee and they can cut its funding after it's been passed. Whether the issue is tobacco, health insurance or nuclear power, corporate lobbying tactics in Washington are standard: Give tens of thousands of dollars to candidates, hire former officials who used to regulate the industry, and utilize mass mailings and front groups to produce an appearance of grass-roots support, known in the business as "Astroturf."
Read the article. It's important information that only rarely makes it into the mainstream press. And it gives us over here something to shoot for -- changing the mindset of the American public and the politicians that supposedly represent them, but who actually live in terror of being accused of "concentrating too much on environment and health at the expense of growth and trade."

P.S. You know what pisses me off? (Yeah, I know, everything.) In this country, the slightest whiff of regulation elicits immediate cries of "bankruptcy," "bad business climate," "suffering small businesses," etc. But you know what? When Europe finally issues all of these regs, the U.S. companies will happily participate and whine all the way to the bank.

Why? Because as Lowenberg points out, "they want to do business in Europe's 340-million-person market -- or in its half-billion-person market next year, when the European Union is slated to add 10 new member countries. "

On the other hand, these activities give me a bit of hope that conditions in the U.S. don't really have to be this crazy for all eternity. Even if it's a somewhat difficult these days to change things on this side of the Atlantic, it's at least good to know that an alternative reality exists on this earth and not just in our imaginations. (Oh give me a break, you idealistic twirp!) Blech! I gotta go....