Wednesday, October 29, 2003

If It Ain't Broke, Break It

OSHA Training Grants Can Do Good; Let's Cut Them

"One thing they're teaching is not only training, but how to fight for our rights," Hernandez said. "It was awesome. Really awesome."

That statement is from Juan Carlos Hernandez,
a 22-year-old Mexican immigrant, was working as a line cook at a restaurant a couple of years ago when he sliced his index finger with a knife.

His manager rushed him, bleeding and in pain, to the hospital, sat with him while he waited, and paid for his stitches. And then he took him right back to the restaurant to resume his work.

"I thought he would drive me home to my house," Hernandez, dumbfounded, recalled one day last week. "He drove me back to the restaurant and said, 'Do what you can do.' "....

After the accident, he returned to the restaurant in pain, his hand wrapped in bandages, unable to lift boxes or hold a knife. The battle with his manager continued for days, he said, until he quit.
Hernandez was lucky enough to be part of the Latino Occupational Safety and Health Initiative, a project with New Labor, a New Brunswick worker training group and Rutgers University, funded by a $212,000 OSHA training grant.

The project has had some success helping workers -- most of whom are day-laborers -- who are difficult to reach.
New Labor ... has done what few other groups have been able to: It's become a gathering point for
the Spanish-speaking work force by offering English classes, social functions and, recently, workplace safety training.
Now let's take a moment and put all this in context. OSHA has been attempting, since the beginning of the Bush Administration to replace the $11 million worker training grant program with a $4 million web-based program. In fact, this scaled back training program was somehow justified as a major expansion of their immigrant outreach program. According to Assistant Secretary for Labor, John Henshaw,
Safety and health training grants are another tool OSHA will use to address the unique problems of non-English-speaking workers. In its FY 2003 budget, the Agency proposes to change the focus of its training grant program. Workplaces have changed significantly, and are employing an increasing number of workers from a myriad of cultures with different languages, literacy and educational levels. OSHA will provide grants to non-profit organizations and professional organizations, colleges, universities and community colleges as well as faith-based and community-based organizations. Grants will enable these groups to establish programs to train employees and small business employers in selected occupational safety and health topics; programs that can continue after the grant has ended. Materials posted on the web will have broad applicability and allow for easy access and training at the convenience of both employers and employees.
Now tell me please how that statement corresponds with the reality that immigrant workers face:
"It's the type of employment, the temp agency and day labor scene, where employees may be digging ditches one day or in a chemical warehouse pouring bleach the next," said Michele Ochsner, assistant director of the Rutgers Occupational Training and Education Consortium. "Contract labor or day labor tends to fall through the cracks."
Happily, the Senate has restored the full $11 million every year, realizing that Henshaw's fantasy of immigrant workers coming home from their day jobs and settling down for the evening in front of a their computer for a little web-based training in whatever job they may be doing the next day makes little sense in the real world.

New Labor uses the "small group" method of peer training where "participants not only learn technical information and skills, but also the problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills."

As Juan Carlos Hernandez said at the beginning of this artice:"One thing they're teaching is not only training, but how to fight for our rights,"

Try learning that from a web page.