Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Monday, December 15, 2003


Alan Dalton

When I start new jobs (which has been happening quite a bit over the past few years) or need to figure out why I'm doing what I'm doing, I often write an imaginary obituary for myself. It helps me set some goals and figure out where I want to be at the end of this stage in life’s journey.

I didn’t know Alan Dalton, but his would not have been a bad obit to leave with.



Saturday, December 13, 2003


Iowa: Dean vs. Gephardt/Union vs. Union

Things seem to be getting more bitter between the industrial unions campaigning for Gephardt and the service/government unions pushing Dean.
"It's trench warfare now," said Larry Scanlon, political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who moved here last week from Washington to help coordinate his union's efforts on behalf of Dr. Dean. "It's hand-to-hand combat."

In recent weeks, supporters of Mr. Gephardt, a longtime ally of organized labor, have bombarded their active and retired members with phone calls and a direct mailing blitz of about 60,000 campaign brochures. They have been holding meetings and sending out weekly faxes. About 25 of their members are now working here full time.

Dr. Dean's union supporters, who endorsed him just last month, are moving aggressively to counter those efforts. They argue that Dr. Dean has more money, more energy and a better chance of winning, even though he has not always supported labor's causes. This week, the government employees union, which represents 30,000 workers here, sent out the first of its own direct mailings and has promised to send workers door to door in coming days.

The federation boasts of having more cash and technology, despite its later start. The union has promised to spend more than $1 million in the state and has already moved 90 full-time staff members here this month. It is also arming its workers with hand-held computers so they can quickly update the master database of supporters as they knock on doors and make calls.

Mr. Gephardt's union supporters acknowledge that they may be outspent by their rivals, but they argue that the sheer size of their combined memberships will ultimately give them the advantage on Jan. 19, when the caucuses are held.
I don't know. I sometimes wonder if all the money spent on Dems fighting Dems in the primaries might better be saved for the ultimate battle next year.

But no one asked me.




Friday, December 12, 2003


Public Employees to Senator Graham: Go Forth and Agitate

From the Congressional Quarterly Mid-Day Update:
The Gainesville (Fla.) SUN reports that workers at Gainesville Regional Utilities' Deerhaven Generating Station discovered a new guy had joined their ranks Wednesday, as they used monstrous earth movers to shove around about 100,000 tons of coal for the plant's coal-fired system. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., showed up for one of his famous "workdays," which he began in 1978 before he was elected governor of Florida. This time, on his 394th workday, the paper said "Graham, 67, handled the mechanical contraption expertly -- much to the surprise of onlookers. 'I grew up on a farm where you got a lot of experience driving equipment,' Graham said." He said he intends to continue his workdays though he plans to retire from the Senate after next year.
The Sun also reported that Graham recently worked as a road construction worker on Interstate 4 in Orlando.
“Our basic infrastructure is getting old,” said Graham, who peered out from under a bright yellow hard hat that read “Bob.” He also wore jeans and a black canvas work shirt that had been delivered to his hotel the night before.

“We need a comprehensive program to help maintain the systems we already paid for,” he said.
Well, that's nice. I have a few suggestions for the Senator's next workday.

***

Senator Bob Graham
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510


Dear Senator Graham:

I was happy to hear about your latest "workday" at the Gainesville Regional Utilities' Deerhaven Generating Station. It's good to know that you're attempting to see what it's like to do the work that average Americans do every day. I was also happy to read that you understand that our nation's aging infrastructure is in dire need of maintenance.

I have a suggestion for your next workday. As you are undoubtedly aware, public employees in Florida aren't covered by OSHA (as they're not covered by federally approved OSHA programs in 25 other states). I'd like to suggest that you try out some average public employee jobs and let people know what it's like to work in hazardous situations where you have no legal assurance of a safe workplace.

For example, on your next workday, go down in a 12 foot deep trench that is not shored or sloped. Climb down into a manhole or other confined space that has not been monitored for hazardous chemicals or oxygen deficiency. Go work on a locked, understaffed, overcrowded mental health ward or maybe in a high security prison. Go drive around in some old city vehicles with defective brakes. Maybe you could bring a few Florida state legislators and Governor Bush with you.

Assuming you live through the experience and that you think that this nation's public employees don't deserve to work and die under such conditions, please consider spending whatever time you have left in the public eye fighting for OSHA protections for public employees. They do the jobs that this country demand to make life safe and enjoyable. Safe workplaces are the least they deserve.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Jordan Barab

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A Little Holiday Wal-Martian "Cheer"

To get you in the mood, click here.




Thursday, December 11, 2003


The Reagan Dime? A Sensible Alternative

My speechwriter friend Jim Grossfeld has come up with a sensible compromise to the Reagan Dime dilemma:

In the spirit of compromise he suggests proposing that Congress authorize reissuing $500 bills (which the government stopped printing many years ago), but replace the martyred William McKinley with the $500 Gipper.

An obvious advantage to this approach is that it the working masses who live in the world of lower denominations (where people actually have to count their nickels and dimes) would never have to touch the currency with the Gipper's likeness on it. Only those who actually liked the guy would be likely to ever encounter him on the bill.

Makes sense to me.






Dr. Frist and Senator Hyde

Anyone who is familiar with occupational safety and health in America knows that most physicians can't even be trusted to ask a sick person where he or she works, much less be able to diagnose an occupational disease. It is hardly surprising, therefore, the the political sense of most physicians is equally warped. Add a dose of Republicans politics and what do you get: Senate Majority Leader Bill First.

Dr. Senator First delivered a speech recently extolling the virtures of the industry sponsored asbestos liability legislation that attempts to get the liable companies and their insurers off the hook.

This was too much for Paul Brodeur, author of Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial. Brodeur's response was published exlusively at the NYCOSH Website. It's short. Read it all. Just one small excerpt:
There are so many medical mistakes and misstatements in Frist's speech before the Senate that one wonders where he studied medicine. For example, he declares twice in his remarks that a distinction must be made between asbestos lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, and that caused by cigarette smoking. He then cites figures showing that some 90% of asbestos-disease claimants are current or former smokers. Can he be so uninformed as not to know of the extraordinary synergism between asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking – i.e., that non-smoking asbestos workers develop lung cancer seven times more often than workers not exposed to asbestos; that cigarette-smoking workers not exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer seven times as often as non-smoking workers; but that cigarette-smoking workers who are exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer fifty to seventy times as readily as workers who neither smoke nor are exposed to asbestos?

Send this monumentally ignorant politician/physician back to medical school.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Legacy of Bhopal: Lessons Learned?

This is one of the better articles that emerged from the 19th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe last week.
Recently, it's become even harder to track the chemical industry, since it has been working with the Bush Administration behind the veil of homeland security to conceal information about the "worst case disaster" for its facilities and the health threat posed by its products. But the picture that is emerging is a frightening one.

According to federal government sources, there are 123 chemical facilities nationwide that could kill at least one million people if they accidentally exploded or were attacked by terrorists. Some of these
chemical factories are located in major American cities and put as many as 8 million lives at risk. Yet the chemical industry continues to resist any meaningful regulation that would require it to replace the most dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives. A recent "60 Minutes" expose vividly showed that many facilities lack even the most basic security protection, yet the government is spending billions of our tax dollars looking for chemical terrorists overseas.

We don't have to look in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. They are right here, in our neighborhoods, in our food and in our bodies.






Iraq: Unions = Terrorism?

More news from the labor front in Iraq. On December 6, dozens of US troops in ten armoured cars raided the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions temporary headquarters in Baghdad, smashing windows, seizing documents, and even tearing down posters and banners condemning terrorism. Eight IFTU leaders were arrested, but were released the following day, unharmed.

No reason or explanation was given for the raid.

Labourstart is organizing a letter-writing campaign to the Bush Administration asking them to investigate this incident and to respect international law which requires occupying powers to respect the rights of workers to form free and independent trade unions.



Tuesday, December 09, 2003


OSHA Does Well on FY 2004 Funding

OSHA is scheduled for an increase in funding once Congress finally passes the Labor Department appropriation, as part of the huge Omnibus Appropriations bill.

OSHA will get $461 million for fiscal year 2004, an increase of almost $10.5 million over FY 2003 actual spending levels. The conference agreement between the House and the Senate would give OSHA $10.778 million more than was approved by the House Appropriations Committee, but it provides about $2.5 million less than the Senate's $463 million request.

OSHA's enforcement program would receive an increase of $4 million, while Compliance Assistance would go up by $6.126 million. At $16 million, OSHA's standards program would remain flat (and dead.)

The happiest news is that the training grant program will remain at $11.102 million, after the Bush Administration tried for the fourth year in a row to eliminate the Susan Harwood triaining program and substitute a $4 million program that would focus on CD's and webpages instead of direct worker training.

The House of Representatives passed the Omnibus appropriations bill yesterday, but the Senate will probably not vote on it until after New Year's. It is being held up over a dispute over the Bush Administration's new overtime regulations. The House also left town without passing an extension of unemployment benefits.

Bah Humbug, and Merry X-mas to you too, says Tom DeLay.

I think more Republican lawmakers need to understand what it feels like to be unemployed. Sounds like a plan.




Monday, December 08, 2003


OSHA, Heal Thyself

In yet another of its endless list of meaningless alliances with industry organizations that substitute for actual forward movement by OSHA, the agency has initialed an agreement with the American Heart Association that will involve the development of materials involving proper use of external defibrillators.

That's nice.

Maybe OSHA should start by defribulating its own standards program.





The Data Quality Act: Industry and Bush Officials Act As If They Really Care About Data Quality

This is long and appears somewhat complicated, but it's really a preview of the arguments that affected industries will be using to chip away at existing worker, consumer and environmental protections and keeping others from ever being enacted.

We last wrote about the Data Quality Act when a management lawfirm used it to argue for elimination of EPA's guidance warning workers about the dangers of asbestos-containing brake linings.

The DQA was written by business interests and buried in a giant appropriations bill in the waning days of the Clinton administration. It requires that government funded studies, on which regulations, guidance and informational materials are based, should be peer reviewed only by independent scientists. The dangers of the DQA are being discussed today all over Blogland, and even recently in the Wall St. Journal which incredulously asks "Who could possibly oppose this quality control? You'd be surprised. Some health officials, academics and consumer groups say peer review can impede regulations meant to protect public safety."

And why would there possibly be any opposition to "data quality?" The bottom line is this: Business/Bush interests are using the Data Quality Act to argue that only "studies" that are "peer reviewed" by businesses can be used by government when deciding whether to issue a regulation or informational documents. Anyone who has ever done work for the government agency addressing the hazard cannot be objective, according to the Office of Management and Budget, which takes care of most university scientists, leaving only the industry scientists to "objectively" evaluate the harm their products mayh be causing to workers, other users or the environment.

Misuse of science and peer review is particularly dangerous as business interests have been successful lately convincing politicians and the general public that all regulatory initiatives (from ergonomics to pesticide regulation) is based on "junk science."

A few excerpts from today's Blogs. First, from Chris Mooney:
As the testimony of former Clinton administration Energy official and George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels shows, the guidelines are very troubling. Michaels' complaint is that under the guise of "peer review," industry sponsored or funded attempts to undermine good science are going to get a big boost. That's for a number of reasons, one of them being the key question of who will be doing the peer reviewing.

The current guidelines say that as far as peer review goes, scientists who have worked for government have a conflict of interest and can't participate, but scientists who have worked for industry have carte blanche. As Michaels puts it, the suggestion "that academic scientists are more beholden to public funding agencies than corporate funders is on face ludicrous." And there's more. The peer review guidelines play into clever industry strategies for using the system of science to advance their economic interests.
More from CalPundit
The Data Quality Act, inserted quietly into an appropriations bill by a Republican lawmaker near the end of the Clinton administration, contains what appears to be a benign requirement: government funded studies should be peer reviewed only by independent scientists. The problem is that "independent" means scientists who are not also funded by the government, and as Anthony Robbins writes in the Boston Globe:
To grasp the implications of this radical departure, one must recognize that in the United States there are effectively two pots of money that support science: one from government and one from industry. (A much smaller contribution comes from charitable foundations.) If one excludes scientists supported by the government, including most scientists based at universities, the remaining pool of reviewers will be largely from industry -- corporate political supporters of George W. Bush.
The net result of the DQA is to reduce the influence of academic scientists and increase the influence of industry-backed scientists under the Alice in Wonderland notion that academic scientists are somehow less trustworthy. In plain English, scientists who work for tobacco companies ought to be the ones to review cigarette research and scientists who work for chemical companies ought to be the ones to pass judgment on environmental research.
So, this is all very bad stuff.

But, people are fighting back. GWU Prof David Michaels, who was mentioned above, sponsored a resolution adopted recently the American Public Health Association and highlighted in a Wall St. Journal article
Last month, the American Public Health Association announced its opposition to OMB's proposal, arguing that "public-health decisions must be made in the absence of scientific certainty, or in the absence of perfect information." And at a recent workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, it wasn't only the usual suspects, like Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, who voiced concern. So did pillars of the science establishment.

John Bailar, a leading biostatistician and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, described himself as "greatly concerned about the potential for mischief" in the proposal. Climatologist Warren Washington, chair of the National Science Board, said "there could be opportunities for directing science in a way that is not in the public interest." Because science entails judgment, Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard University told me, she doubts peer review such as OMB envisions would produce better regulatory science.
[Update: And while you're at it, more here by Eric Alterman.]

This is all a lot to read and digest right now. But we will be seeing it again and again as affected industries attempt to unravel whatever government protections now exist, and (should the good guys ever return to power), use it to fight the "scientific basis" of any new regulatory initiatives.

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Telemarketers are Workers Too

With the job market the way it is, the health care situation the way it is, people often have take any job they can get. Sometimes the only job they can get is telemarketer -- those obnoxious people who interrupt your dinner and few quiet moments at home.
Telemarketing is a viable option for my mother and the more than six million other Americans who work in the industry. According to the American Teleservices Association, the telemarketing work force is mostly women; 26 percent are single mothers. More than 60 percent are minorities; about 5 percent are disabled; 95 percent are not college graduates; more than 30 percent have been on welfare or public assistance. This is clearly a job for those used to hardship.
So be polite before you hang up.




Sunday, December 07, 2003


"Reaching" for the U.S. Chemical Industry

The European Community’s “REACH” (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) proposal, that will stop the practice of treating chemicals as innocent until proven guilty, is giving fits to the American chemical industry and the Bush administration. The U.S. is subtly threatening a trade war if American –made chemicals are banned in Europe.

Now Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is considering a way to avoid a trade war – adopt REACH in the U.S. If the U.S. restricts its own chemicals, Europe can’t be accused of trade restrictions for banning the same chemicals. Sounds like a great solution, no?

No, says the U.S. chemical industry. In fact, contamination of the U.S. regulatory system by REACH is the chemical industry’s worst nightmare. Globalization is only OK if it lowers world health and environmental standards, not if it raises them. Silly Senator.

Lautenberg and those knowledgeable about the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) feel that the EPA does not have enough power under TSCA to ban hazardous chemicals. The U.S. Court of Appeals even overturned EPA’s attempt to ban asbestos, an indisputable carcinogen because EPA had failed to prove that asbestos posed an “unreasonable risk.”




(R)etch and Sketch: Erasing American Jobs

Not to make holiday shopping a downer or anything, but…..
SHENZHEN, China — Workers at Kin Ki Industrial, a leading Chinese toy maker, make a decent salary, rarely work nights or weekends and often "hang out along the street, play Ping-Pong and watch TV."

They all have work contracts, pensions and medical benefits. The factory canteen offers tasty food. The dormitories are comfortable.

These are the official working conditions at Kin Ki as they are described on paper — crib sheets — handed to workers just before inspections.

Those occur when big American clients, like the Ohio company that uses Kin Ki to produce the iconic toy Etch A Sketch, visit to make sure that the factory has good labor standards.

Real-world Kin Ki employees, mostly teenage migrants from internal provinces, say they work many more hours and earn about 40 percent less than the company claims. They sleep head-to-toe in tiny rooms. They staged two strikes recently demanding they get paid closer to the legal minimum wage.

Most do not have pensions, medical insurance or work contracts. The company's crib sheet recommends if inspectors press to see such documents, workers should "intentionally waste time and then say they can't find them," according to company memos provided to The New York Times by employees.

After first saying that Kin Ki strictly abides by all Chinese labor laws, Johnson Tao, a senior executive with the privately owned company, acknowledged that Kin Ki's wages and benefits fell short of legal levels and vowed to address the issue soon.

He said that the memos might have reflected attempts by factory managers to deceive inspectors, but that such behavior "did not have the support of senior management."

***

Etch A Sketch is the same child's drawing toy today that it was in 1960, when Ohio Art first produced it in Bryan, Ohio. But efforts to keep its selling price below $10 on shelves at Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us forced the company to move production to China three years ago.

Today the same toy is made not just for lower wages, but also under significantly harsher working conditions. Kin Ki's workers, in fact, are struggling to obtain rights that their American predecessors at Ohio Art won early in the last century, though the workers are without the aid of independent unions, which remain illegal in China.

China now makes 80 percent of the toys sold in America, according to United States government figures, and no industry here has come under greater pressure to adhere to global labor codes.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
An Ohio Town Is Hard Hit as Leading Industry Moves to China

RYAN, Ohio — For 40 years workers in Bryan made Etch A Sketch, a children's drawing toy that has outlasted almost all others, and to a significant extent Etch A Sketch made Bryan.
This town of about 8,000, tucked into the northwestern corner of Ohio, has a tool and die factory, a tire company and a candy maker. But Etch A Sketch, the signature product of the Ohio Art Company, was Bryan's mascot. It marched in Bryan's parades. It was the mayor's calling card and the town's alter ego.

"You tell people you're from Bryan and they look at you blankly," said Carolyn Miller, a longtime assembly line worker at Ohio Art. "You tell them it's the home of Etch A Sketch, and they smile."

That was true, at least, until a winter day three years ago, a week before Christmas, when Ohio Art executives called representatives of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers Union into head offices and delivered the news. The Etch A Sketch line was moving to Shenzhen, China. About 100 union employees would lose their jobs.




Saturday, December 06, 2003


The Weekly Toll

Overloaded cords sparked blaze

LANCASTER -- Firefighter Martin H. McNamara V, 31, died early Saturday after entering the basement of a dwelling located at 76 Mill St.

The house fire that killed a Lancaster firefighter last Saturday was likely ignited by a series of interconnected extension cords, according to State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.

Evidence of the extension cords, as well as a number of power strips, was discovered in the basement, where Coan suspects the fire began near the ceiling.


Md. agency probes worker's death
Case marks 4th investigation in decade for Princess Royale


OCEAN CITY -- Maryland Occupational Safety and Health officials are preparing to inspect the Princess Royale Oceanfront Hotel & Conference Center for the fourth time in 10 years after a four-story fall killed one man and critically injured another.

Michael Koch, 46, of Georgetown was pronounced dead at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin after falling 34 feet onto concrete around the hotel's pool, Ocean City police said.

Koch and Ivan Morales, 34, of Ocean City were putting up Christmas decorations when the scaffolding they were standing on collapsed. Both men were Princess Royale employees, according to a written statement released by hotel officials.

"Investigators believe these electrical cords created the heat that ignited nearby combustibles," said a press release issued by Coan's office Friday.

"The fire then spread ... up through the ceiling and the walls," Coan said in an interview, adding that the fire moved "fairly quickly and rapidly."


One killed, seven injured in bridge collapse

A 20-year-old construction worker was killed and several others injured when a section of a bridge under construction in south Napa collapsed around 1:50 p.m. Wednesday.

Richard Christopher Stevens, of Lodi, died at the scene.

A temporary section of the eastern span of the replacement Maxwell Bridge over the Napa River collapsed in a massive heap of wood and metal.

As crews cleared debris Thursday from a collapsed Napa River bridge, state investigators said the contractor on the project has been involved in 15 other serious accidents.

The death of a worker on the Napa bridge Wednesday was the second fatality since 1991 involving C.C. Myers Inc., Cal/OSHA inspectors said.


Road worker run over by tractor-mower dies

A Harris County Precinct 1 road worker was killed when a tractor-mower ran over him.

Michael Chapa, 39, was standing next to a driverless tractor that had been pulling a grass mower when it lunged forward in the 11600 block of Illene in northeast Harris County about 9:20 a.m. Tuesday. (scroll down)


Wall collapse kills builder

CAIRO, NY - A construction worker was killed Wednesday when a concrete wall collapsed on him, police said.

State police said Wayne Bartlett, 41, of Freehold was pulling forms from the foundation of a home on John Holzman Road Extension in Cairo when a section of the wall fell and pinned him.

Police said co-workers were able to free Bartlett, but he was pronounced dead a short time later at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, where he had been taken by the Cairo Ambulance squad.


Anchor cable kills tugboat deckhand

Portland, ME -- A 29-year-old deckhand was crushed by a cable Thursday as his tugboat was setting a massive anchor used to secure an oil rig in Portland Harbor.

Christopher Cordeau of South Portland was working aboard the Portland tugboat Pete just before 1 p.m. when a steel cable supporting the anchor suddenly pinned him against the tug's railing, authorities said.


Man electrocuted in tree-trimming accident

York, VA -- A Saluda man was electrocuted in a tree-trimming accident in York County.

County authorities say 31-year-old Stacey Cook was killed in the accident just after 11 a,m. Sunday.

Captain Paul Long with the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety says Cook was wearing a harness and was tethered to the tree, about 40 feet above ground, when he cut a large, long limb that fell down onto power lines.

Long says the limb became a conduit for 20,000 volts of electricity and hit Cook and killed him in the tree.


Falling tree kills Unity man

TROY, ME -- A Unity man who was cutting trees on a woodlot was killed Sunday when a tree fell on him, authorities said.

David Bushey, 40, was pronounced dead at the scene, the Waldo County Sheriff's Department said. Bushey was working alone at the site off North Dixmont Road.


Man installing window killed, another hurt

Hazel Green, WI - A construction worker died over the weekend while installing a window, police said Sunday.

Brett C. Runde, 28, of Cuba City died and Adam Pearce, 19, of Hazel Green was injured in the accident shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday in Hazel Green.

The pair were working on construction equipment that tipped over, ejecting them from a basket as they were installing the window, Hazel Green police said.


Construction accident kills worker

Fort Myers man electrocuted when live power lines knocked down


A construction worker was electrocuted Wednesday morning when a fellow employee knocked over a power pole with a backhoe in North Naples.

Jose Guadalupe Sanchez, 27, of Fort Myers, was killed in the 8 a.m. accident, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

The accident happened when the driver of a backhoe — who was moving cement pipes that are being installed along the road — accidentally hit the pole, causing live power lines to fall.


Garbage truck rolls over and kills sanitation worker

HARRIS COUNTY, TX -- An unidentified worker was killed when he slipped and fell from a garbage truck. — A garbage collector was killed Tuesday afternoon during a tragic accident.

It happened in northwest Harris County in a neighborhood near Sutter Park and Canyon Trail. The unidentified worker slipped and fell off the back of the garbage truck as it was backing up. The driver didn't realize what was happening because the workers were in his blind spot.


Construction Worker Kills After Slip From Roof

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A construction worker died after he slipped on an icy roof and fell 35 feet, authorities said.

William Ross Farkas, 48, of Fayette City, Fayette County, had been checking windows at a construction site Tuesday morning. Farkas was taken to Mercy Hospital, where he died about one-half hour after the fall.


Piedmont Worker Killed At Work Site
Victim Dies At Scene


Piedmont, NC High Point police said 24-year-old Joel Ramirez Sanchez died Wednesday while working at Stone Resource Inc.

Investigators said pieces of stone being transported by a crane detached and struck Sanchez.


Woman Dies 7 Months After Accident

YORK, Pa. (AP) — A woman died almost seven months after she was injured at a Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff Co. plant in West Manchester Township, authorities said.

Deborah A. Yarnell, 52, of Wrightsville, was pinned against a set of shelves by a forklift that tipped over backward April 29, York County Chief Deputy Coroner Mary Breighner said.


Repairman crushed to death in factory
He was fixing a machine at Tate Access Floors in Windsor Township.


Terry A. Houser, 42, of North Codorus Township, died Monday morningwhile repairing a machine for his employer, Tate Access Floors, of Windsor Township, York County Chief Deputy Coroner Mary Breighner said.


City Worker Killed

A Scranton city worker was killed by a recycling truck. Police say Jerry Malone,50, was at the rear of the truck. He had jumped off to pick up two recycling bins when he began pinned under the rear axle of the truck. He was trapped for nearly 20 minutes. Police say neither the driver of the truck nor the other worker saw how Malone became pinned under the truck.

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Ditch Dutch's Dime

Bizarre Cult Attempts to Put Leader on U.S. Coin

I frequently have conversations like this.

Airline Person: "To where would you like to fly sir?"

Me: "Washington D.C."

Airline Person:"Which airport? Reagan, Dulles or Baltimore Washington?"

Me: "National"

Airline Person:"Which one is that?"

Me: The one that's not Dulles or Baltimore. You know, DCA?
Or this one

Me: Take me to the airport please.

Taxi Driver: Reagan?

Me: National

Taxi Driver: Uh, that's Reagan, right?

Me: No, that's National (Followed by a discourse on the crimes of Ronald Reagan lasting the rest of the trip to National.)
You see, when the Republicans floated the idea of changing the name of Washington National Airport to Reagan National Airport, I laughed. I laughed because it seemed so ridiculous. I laughed because it would be so ironic: the President who busted PATCO having the capital's airport named after him. Hah!

And then I realized that it was really about to happen. I quickly mounted a national campaign to stop this atrocity -- about two hours before Congress passed the legislation changing the name.

I soon began plotting revenge, creating the image seen way, way down at the bottom of this site (scroll all the way down) and fantasized about creating a sticker, signing up co-conspirators and clandestinely plastering National Airport. Alas, although I'd be a national hero, I didn't think my kids would appreciate missing soccer games to come see me on visitors days at the local pokey.

So, you can imagine my alarm at the latest ludicrous proposal by the Reagan cultists -- the Reagan Dime. I mean, it's bad enough putting him on any coin, but putting him on a coin replacing Franklin Roosevelt is the height of vindictive arrogance (or arrogant vindictiveness).

A bill putting Reagan on the dime was introduced by Congressman Marc Souder (R-IN), allegedly in response to the controversial CBS mini-series on Reagan that got all the cultists up in arms. Souder has 89 co-sponsors -- mostly fellow conservative Republicans -- for his "Ronald Reagan Dime Act." Rep. James McGovern (D-NY) has counted with a bill keeping Roosevelt on the dime. He has 80 co-sponsors.

“'If they want to find another way to honor Ronald Reagan I’m happy to join with them, but leave the dime alone, that’s all I’m saying,' said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass."

I wouldn't. He's already go an airport and a huge building in Washington. More than enough, thank you very much.

Interestingly, Nancy Reagan is apparently opposed to putting he husband on the dime, and is sure that Ronnie would oppose it as well.

You may be laughing now, but mark my words: laugh not, lest ye be carrying Ronald Reagan in a pocket close to your genetalia for the rest of your life. The current push may die down, but Reagan is 92 and suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Once he goes to the great elephant graveyard in the sky, anything could happen.

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Only Saws Can Prevent Forest Fires

Know what the best way to prevent forest fires is? Cut down all the trees. That seems to be the strategy the Bush Administration is taking according to the Daily Grist.
President Bush signed his "Healthy Forests" initiative into law yesterday, a move that, never mind the name, left many environmentalists feeling sick. The Bush administration says the law will prevent fires by increasing the amount of logging permissible in forests, especially near populated areas, but enviros say the measure amounts to a holiday gift for the timber industry. The president further undermined his credibility among environmentalists by simultaneously adopting a rule that would remove protections for endangered species to speed forest-thinning projects. The federal Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before proceeding with thinning projects -- but the new rule would allow federal biologists to unilaterally decide that no endangered species would be affected by a proposed project.
More here.



Friday, December 05, 2003


Labor Rights in Iraq

I've written a couple of times about the fate of labor unions in Iraq under the U.S. occupation. US Labor Against the War has started a Campaign for Labor Rights in Iraq. Check it out



Thursday, December 04, 2003


Journey Through Wal-Mart Country

Susie Madrak of Suburban Guerrilla (always a must read) found this article by Rick Perlstein in the Village Voice. Pearlstein took a trip through conservative small town Illinois to talk with people about Bush. These are people, as Pearstein says, don't critically read several newspapers a day."

He found, as expected, some bad news, but also some good.

On one hand, in a bar he found John and Scott, who are inalterably convinced that 9/11 and everthing following were the fault of Bill Clinton.
John and Scott are dead wrong, of course: Clinton knew there was danger to Americans from a terrorist group called Al Qaeda and did do something about it, if perhaps not all the right things, whatever those might have been; Bush knew of the danger before the World Trade Center attacks and probably did less. Playing catch-up, he used the war on terror as pretext for an invasion of Iraq, and well-informed Democrats knew exactly what was going on: that unilateralism and lack of planning for a post-war settlement would lead us into disaster. But there's not much you can do about macho fantasies like Scott and John's; you can't force voters to critically read several newspapers a day. This is, simply, the reality that those who would wish to see George Bush defeated have to work with.
On the other hand, there was this
"I'm very conservative," Eric Anderberg of Dial Machine says, in the boardroom of the machine-parts factory his family built in 1966. "Always voted Republican. But I'm extremely concerned with what I hear from this current administration." Eric is 32, fiercely political, and articulate. He's called over two of his older industrial-park neighbors, Don Metz of Metz Tool and Judy Pike of Acme Grinding. Family manufacturers like these were the foundation of the modern conservative movement, reacting against the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower in the '50s. Now they are a wedge in the Republican coalition. I ask if they could imagine supporting, for president, a Democrat. Don Metz, who in his golf shirt looks like he just came back from a midday round, doesn't hesitate: "No problem. Somebody steps forward and says we're going to make manufacturing a priority in this country." They would even donate the legal maximum of $2,000.

The reason is economic near-devastation. Unemployment around here has increased by half in the last three years. In Rockford, it approaches 12 percent. Factories are closing as production is shipped off overseas. (The mantra of "high tech" is unlikely to impress Rockford; one of the most wrenching recent production shutdowns was at the plant that produced a motor for the Segway scooter.) "Service jobs" have replaced some of the work. But where they materialize, with rotten hours, pay, and benefits, they end up destroying families instead of saving them. And it makes these people livid, because it all seems so stupid and unavoidable.
And Wal-Mart isn't pulling the wool over everyone's eyes.
Don notes that an employee at his plant, non-union, starts at $16 an hour and makes as much as $100,000 a year: "sends his kids to private school, he drives a nice car—does that sound like a Democrat to you? . . . Our people, in the past, didn't want government interfering with their life. . . . What happens to these people is that they find out they can't become a Wal-Mart associate . . . at $7.50 an hour without completely undermining their lives."

Here's a riddle: What do shuttered factories manufacture? Democrats. Or at least they might, if the national Democratic Party had the balls to do what needs to be done.

Don again: "If Eric and his family decided to shut this place down, he's not going to end up on a food line. Neither am I." It makes them mad all the same. Mad enough to do something about it. Downsized factory workers and their well-off former bosses: What a wonderful coalition it would be.

Meanwhile, the rock-headed jingoes at the motorcycle track can afford to focus their fears on weapons of mass destruction because they don't have to worry about job destruction. They're truck drivers. They're the ones shipping product to the Wal-Marts.

It all comes together, as a Marxist might say, at the point of production. The last stop of my visit is the shop floor, where a young man Eric's age tells me about the place where he used to work, and his father before him, and his grandfather before him: a paper plant that shut down a few years back. But he's no protectionist either: "I have no problem with a company that uses overseas goods—if they're going to return some of that investment to the American worker, which can in turn spend that here."

He has a particular company in mind. The one that may end up, if Dial Machine has to close, as the next stop down the line.

"I won't go to Wal-Mart. My problem is that the company made $7 billion in profits. And yet they pay their workers substandard wages." Health co-payments are so expensive, he notes, that less than half sign up for the "benefit." This worker fears Wal-Mart more than he fears weapons of mass destruction. Because he knows which one is more likely to end up in his future. Americans who fear Wal-Mart more than apparitional WMDs (and apparitional dreadlocked drug dealers) are proliferating every day—and must be made to proliferate more, for the sake of our nation. This is the Democratic Party's hope: convincing Red America they can provide an economy that's safe for the whole family.



Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Injured Workers Will Lose in California Workers Comp "Reform"

There's little doubt that California's $29 billion workers compensation system is in trouble. It charges California employers among the highest premiums in the country but provides workers with disability benefits that rank among the nation's lowest. But often forgotten beneath the dollars and debates are the injured workers.
While politicians downtown haggled over a workers' comp system that everybody agreed could use a fix, Jodi Greggs rested her aching back in the crowded waiting room of a nondescript office five miles away.

"I went to school, worked hard to get a degree so I could support myself, and then I wind up in a situation where I'm so broke it's ridiculous," said Greggs, who hasn't been able to work since the back injury she suffered five years ago. "I shouldn't have to feel like I'm a welfare recipient because I got hurt at work."

Although nobody disputes the severity of Greggs' injury, or that it was work-related, or that she is entitled to permanent disability benefits, her case has remained mired in the workers' compensation system for five years. Most of the squabbling has been over her medical care and treatment prescribed by doctors that insurance attorneys think is excessive.

Before her injury, Greggs said she enjoyed "a pretty decent life." She was "madly in love" with the man she'd married a year earlier. (They are still married.) She liked to hike and bike and practice amateur photography. She had a good job with a big company.

These days, she doesn't do much of anything except stay in bed. When she gets up, it's usually to go to the doctor, or to the pharmacy, to fill a cornucopia of prescriptions to relieve her physical and psychiatric pain.

She gets mad at the suggestion by advocates of workers' comp changes that cases like hers might be milking the system for unnecessary benefits.

"They don't know what my life is like," Greggs said. "They don't understand how hard it is. They need to be put in my shoes for a day. They need to come into my home and live this life."
Scharzenegger has made workers comp reform one of his top priorities. Funny thing though, all of his proposals seem to go against injured workers.

Under the Schwarzenegger plan, injured workers would lose the right to be treated by their own doctor unless the employer agrees to it. They would be entitled to no benefits if their occupation was responsible for less than 50 percent of their injuries. Their injuries would have to be objectively verifiable, through X-rays or range-of-motion tests or other exams. Medical treatment would be based on a doctor's definition of "necessity," rather than whether treatment provided the injured worker with "cure and relief." And a new system of "independent medical review," in which outside doctors who never see the injured workers -- including claimants with issues like Jodi Greggs' -- would resolve disputes over treatment.

Juliann Sum, coordinator of the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California at Berkeley, characterized the Schwarzenegger package as "sweeping changes that are all in favor of the employers."






Arnold Plans To Terminate Labor Center

In yet another action proving that he has been sent on his mission by California business interests, Governor Arnold Scwarzenegger (Jeez, that's hard to write!) has announced that he plans to eliminate the University of California's Institute for Labor and Employment.

According to a fact sheet put out by supporters,
The Institute for Labor and Employment is the only statewide program within the University of California that specifically addresses the labor and employment concerns of California’s changing workforce. It provides a critical link between the university, the state’s workforce, and the labor movement.
Meanwhile, no university business schools have been slated for elmination. In fact,
The Anderson School of Management at UCLA, the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, and the Agricultural School at UC Davis each receive more state funding annually than the total received by the ILE in the past three years.
Although eliminating the Institute won't save much money -- the current $4 million budget will be cut to $2 million next year and then to 0 the following year -- the political value for Schwarzenegger is evident.
The institute drew the wrath of Republicans and other supporters of the recall of Davis this year when a staff member of the institute agreed to participate in a "How to Advocate Against the Recall" seminar sponsored by labor groups.
In addition, the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank has attacked labor education programs like the institute, charging that “Under AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, these departments have defined their mission chiefly as supporting labor and its organizing effects rather than educating students.”

More information here.





Iraq: Non-Union Corporate Paradise?

Another article by David Bacon (see here for the first one) about the suppression of Iraqi labor unions by U.S. occupation forces.
The new Iraqi state is a case study in the free market unleashed. The Bush Administration foresees two ways the Iraqi economy will be transformed, and it is taking measures to ensure that workers don't disrupt either one. First, it will privatize the old state enterprises that have employed most workers. Second, it will create favorable conditions for an army of (mostly U.S.) corporations to set up shop and repatriate their profits outside the country.

On September 19, the Coalition Provisional Authority published Order No. 39, which permits 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses, except for the oil industry, and allows repatriation of profits. Order No. 37, published the same day, suspends income and property taxes for the year, and limits taxes on individuals and corporations in the future to 15 percent.
Low pay and poor working conditions are encourging workers to organize:
Despite the hostility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the fall of the Saddam regime has led to an explosion of workplace organizing activity. Low wages are one motivation. The Iraqi government employs 70 percent of the workforce. The authority has set an emergency pay scale. Though The New York Times says wages are going up, that's not what I found. Most workers get about $60 a month, a small group gets $120, and a tiny minority (mostly administrators and managers) $180. This is the same wage scale that prevailed under the last few years of the Saddam Hussein regime.

***

Working conditions are exhausting and dangerous. At the Al Daura refinery, Detrala Beshab, president of the refinery's new union, notes that while the workday is officially seven hours, the day shift is actually eleven hours long, and the night shift thirteen hours. Since workers are paid by the month, there is no overtime pay.

***

No one in the refinery, except the fire department, has boots or gloves. Safety glasses are unknown. "Lots of us have breathing problems, and there are accidents in which people get burned," explains union member Rajid Hassan. If workers get hurt or sick, they have to pay for their own medical care, and they lose pay for the time they're off the job.
Despite organizing efforts, U.S. occupation authorities have refused to rescind a Sadaam Hussein law banning unions in publicly owned enterprises, which makes up most of Iraqi industry, until it is privatized.

But Iraqi workers have a few friends in the U.S.
Meanwhile, labor peace activists in the United States have begun to reach out to the new Iraqi unions. U.S. Labor Against the War, which brought together unions and labor councils that opposed the Bush intervention before it took place, is speaking up again. It has announced it will mount a national campaign to oppose privatization, get the 1987 law lifted, and expose the violations of labor rights in Iraq. "We need Congressional hearings into the union-busting actions by the U.S. occupation authorities in Iraq," says Clarence Thomas, of the San Francisco Longshore local. "If unions here knew what's being done in our name over there, they'd be outraged."




MEMORIAL DAY

On Dec. 3, 1984, more than 4,000 people died after a cloud of gas escaped from a pesticide plant operated by a Union Carbide subsidiary in Bhopal, India.



Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Who really killed Dr. Erlinda Ursua?

Who or what is to blame for the death of Dr. Erlinda Ursua, bludgeoned to death by a 37-year-old patient, Rene Pavonan, during an exam November 19 at John George Psychiatric Pavilion? Hospital administration, the California budget system or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Maybe all of the above.

As related in my recent posting, there had been plenty of signs that all was not well at the hospital, including several CalOSHA citations. In addition, the union representing workers at John George cited other problems.
Linda Joseph, staff director for Service Employees International Union Local 616, said the union had been urging management to improve safety measures.

The assaults and state citations "are a direct result of misplaced priorities," she said. "They have financial difficulties. Instead of looking at misplaced programs to save money, they just cut staff, and with limited staff they aren't able to cover."
Seems like the union was on to something. Now more details are emerging.
  • More than 100 violent incidents by patients were reported during 2002 at John George, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday after reviewing state Department of Health Services logs. Those incidents included assaults on patients or workers.

  • The hospital is overseen by the Alameda County Medical Center, which runs Highland Hospital and other health care services for poor and uninsured residents. The center faces an $80 million deficit and already has closed clinics and cut back services. County supervisors agreed this week to ask voters to raise the county sales tax in an attempt to stop further cuts.

Logic suggests that these financial problems led the hospital to bypass offers of assistance from the Alameda County Sheriff's Department .
Medical center officials were so concerned about the potential for violence at the hospital that they twice asked the Alameda County Sheriff's Department for proposals to increase security, according to Sheriff's Capt. Gary Schellenberg.

But officials never went ahead with those proposals. Efton Hall, interim chief executive officer of the medical center, said that the decision to reject the sheriff's security proposals wasn't based on cost, but that the medical center wanted to consider other options, including bids by outside security agencies.
Maybe. But the cost of stationing Sheriffs and deputies at the facility ranged from $1.3 million to $2.1 million for the cash-strapped institution.

On the other hand, the Sheriff's department didn't think that they couldn't have stopped the killing anyway, unless they were present in the room with the doctor. What was needed was an attendant in the room with the doctor and patient, which was one of the measures CalOSHA had recommended that the facility take.

CalOSHA had fined the facility for not having an injury prevention program (a requirement for all employers under California law) and not reporting violence-related injuries sustained by workers at the facility. The agency recommended that the hospital place surveillance cameras in the exam rooms and other areas of the hospital, never leave a staff member alone with a patient, and hire police officers to handle security.

As much as I'd like to join the union in trashing the management of the facility (and it’s likely that they may be somewhat at fault – I don’t know all of the details), I think the root cause of the problems at the hospital may go much deeper -- in California and around the natin.

As Paul Krugman described a while back,
California's slide into irresponsibility, in which politicians refuse to acknowledge any connection between the government services the public demands and the taxes that pay for those services, is being replicated all across America.
Krugman pointed out that it was initiatives that got California into this mess: Proposition 13, which cut property taxes, and later, Proposition 98, which mandated that the state replace educational funding cut due to Prop 13.

When voters, whipped into an anti-tax frenzy by right-wing radio talk/T.V. show wingnuts, as well as politicians seeking to ride the their wave, refuse to see the need to raise taxes to pay for needed government services, you end up with more needy people getting fewer services in understaffed facilities. While the underfunding has ramifications throughout society -- especially for the patients and their families -- it is the workers at the facilities who are literally putting their bodies, and in some cases, their lives on the front lines of these ideological battles.

Security guards and County Sheriffs are fine, but what's really needed is more staff -- adequately paid staff to provide proper therapeutic help, and adequately paid staff to provide support.

OSHA recommended that staff never be left alone with patients. But when the facility is underfunded and understaffed, that's simply not possible. For years, mental health staff have been injured and killed when overseeing numbers of patients without any backup. And how many employees are needed to attend to potentially violent patients? Think about it. Obviously, one is not enough.

Two? OK, so one get's attacked. If there aren't adequate alarms or video camera's (along with attendants to respond), that leaves one person to summon help and the other to deal with other patients until help arrives. Guess how many trained attendants the American Psychiatric Association recommends are needed to safely take down one violent patient. Five.

And how much help is available to come to the assistance of workers who are in trouble? What happens to their patients in an understaffed institution?

There are now two full time deputies on overtime pay posted at the psychiatric hospital. The hospital has added security guards, begun screening visitors and patients with hand-held metal-detection wands, flagging patients' medical records if they pose potential threats because of violent behavior, and attendants have been accompanying physicians into exam rooms.

That’s fine for now. But none of those measures are cost-free, and some area quite expensive for a cash strapped county medical center.

The proposed sales tax increase, if it passes, would provide a temporary solution.
The medical center provides care to the county’s indigent and uninsured and includes Oakland’s Highland Hospital—which serves the majority of Berkeley trauma and emergency patients and is the lone specialized medical care option for Berkeley’s estimated 9,000-11,000 uninsured residents.

The medical center has seen its $353 million budget busted by funding cuts, expense increases and swelling ranks of the uninsured they are mandated to serve.

Last year, 63,500 of the center’s 125,000 patients were uninsured. Coupled with increased expenses for employee benefits and drugs and reductions in government aid—including a $7 million cut from a federal program aiding public hospitals—the center has struggled to balance its books, said spokesperson Rachel Kagen.
But thanks to the Governator many more severe cuts to local health services are on their way.

Which brings us to Krugman’s second point
the state faces a huge deficit, and spending must be cut. But shouldn't the state also seek more revenue? During California's last crisis, Governor Wilson increased the sales tax and temporarily raised income taxes on top brackets. This time Governor Davis proposed doing more or less the same thing — but Senate Republicans refused to go along. Their counterproposal relied entirely on spending cuts — but, tellingly, offered no specifics about what, exactly, should be cut.
Arnold, Republicans in general, and the right wing talk jocks have made certain that in the public mind, budget cuts are gut, tax increases are kaput. And those opposing this line are running scared.

But the choice really isn’t simply between tax increases and tax cuts, between "big" government, and people getting to spend their "own" money.

The question is who will pay for the things that society demands to make life in this country civilized and livable? If those who already have more than enough money are to pay, then their taxes need to be raised. The other option is budget cuts and increases regressive sales taxes and “user fees,” in which case the poor and struggling middle class end up forking out the dollars, while those who don’t have the means to help themselves -- unemployed, the disabled, the mentally ill -- end up "paying" in form of fewer services.

In the meantime, workers are paying the price with their health and their lives. Callifornia, and a handful of other states that run their own OSHA programs, like Minnesota, Oregon and Washington occasionally cite employers for exposing workers to the threat of workplace violence. Federal OSHA, although it issued guidelines for health care, social services and retail workers, has not handed down a workplace violence citation since 1995, fearing that a General Duty Clause citation will be struck down by the Review Commission or the courts. Maybe it's time for OSHA to start working seriously on a workplace violence standard.

Who really killed Dr. Erlinda Ursua? She was just the latest victim of right-wing demogogy and anti-big government tax-cut zealots -- the same people who sponsored the California recall in the first place. So, Arnold, maybe this one isn't on you. But the next one is.

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FLASH! OSHA Does Something Right

OSHA has decided to appeal the "Ho Decision" by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission which overturned OSHA's “egregious penalty” policy, where the agency could fine an employer for each instance of a workplace violation even when they apply to the same standard.

Egregious citations are one of the only means OSHA has to bring significant penalties down on the heads of particularly bad employers who are fully aware that they may be killing their employees. Without the ability to inflict large penalties or to bring criminal violations, the Bush administration has succeeded in moving OSHA yet one more step toward becoming a completely toothless tiger.

The American Society of Safety Engineers supported OSHA's decision
"ASSE's members are concerned that the Ho decision improperly limits OSHA's ability to continue enforcement actions under the egregious conduct policy, a necessary tool for OSHA to make the worst employers accountable for their willful failure to protect workers from known safety and health risks," ASSE President James 'Skipper' Kendrick Kendrick stated in a letter sent to Assistant Secretary Henshaw today. "If allowed to stand, this decision would be an unacceptable step backwards in the federal government's ability to enforce this nation's occupational safety and health standards against those who deserve enforcement attention the most."




Arnold Strikes

Arnold seems to have learned an important lesson from George W: Run as a moderate, but govern the way business tells you to.
Schwarzenegger's second act in office was to halt all pending state government regulations for a review period of 180 days. Executive Order No. 2 also suspends or postpones the effective date of all regulations that have been approved but haven't taken effect, and requires a review of every regulation adopted, amended or repealed by the Davis administration -- nearly five years' worth.

There's some pretty heady stuff here. Caught in the cross hairs, to uncertain effect, are rules such as the first paid family-leave law in the nation and nurse-to-patient staffing ratios for California hospitals.

Other pending regulations deal with everything from privacy protection to energy efficiency and drinking water standards for toxic chemicals such as arsenic and perchlorate.

Scuttlebutt about the Capitol is that a bunch of business insiders got together after the Oct. 7 election of a business-friendly governor to take aim at new mandates they see as "job killers."
Organized labor is not pleased, to put it mildly:
"Reviewing regulations solely on the criteria of whether they're good for business is weak," said Nathan Ballard, an attorney with the California Federation of Labor. "Where's the balance? Where's the analysis based on whether these regulations are good for working people?

"Executive Order No. 2 looks great to the guys at the country club. But what about the folks who are working two jobs and trying to make ends meet? Is Gov. Schwarzenegger going to look into how his decree affects them?"
The L.A. Times reports that a group called the
The Thursday Group, a coalition of lobbyists for some of the most powerful industries in the state — including chemical companies, defense contractors, real estate developers and biotechnology firms — sent the governor a letter last week with a lengthy list of environmental rules that it did not like.

The memo, which was immediately circulated by environmentalists, raised objections over everything from air pollution regulations on consumer products to the California Coastal Commission.

It also voiced concerns regarding impending regulations on perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel that government scientists have linked to health problems, and a landmark law passed last year that makes California the first state to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions of cars.
The Thursday Group is also concerned with California’s flirtation with the “precautionary principle” which argues that chemical should be proven safe before people are exposed to them. Industry has already plotted to undermine the California movement.
That preemptive approach is a departure from the current practice in the United States, which largely consists of regulating potential pollutants only after they have been scientifically linked to hazards.

Under recommendations approved this summer by a task force looking to improve environmental conditions in poor and minority communities, the California Environmental Protection Agency is set to incorporate the precautionary principle into some of its procedures. Industry groups hope that Schwarzenegger reconsiders the issue.

"We want to take advantage of the opportunity to present our case on the precautionary principle, which we feel is a radical departure from the science-based procedures currently used by the state," said Tim Shestek, a Sacramento lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council. "We are concerned about the vagueness of the recommendations in the [task force] report, and we want to make sure there is a clear criteria that industry can meet."





Hard Times For Unions’ Bottom Line

Distressing AP article about belt-tightening at the AFL-CIO and some of its affiliate unions. AFL-CIO employees will take two “solidarity days” without pay next year instead of facing layoffs, while some AFSCME employees will give up their raises and first class plane tickets (which I somehow missed out on when I worked there.) AFSCME President Gerald McEntee has promised that the savings will go to next year’s “do or die” elections.

On the same note, UNITE announced earlier this week that it was closing its Manhattan-based Immigration Project which has offered immigration-related legal services to its members for the past 20 years due to the program's high operating cost.

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Ergonomics in Washington State: Something Wicked Westward Came

The Washington Post’s “Regulator” column caught up on the ergonomics situation today in an article that included the usual industry B.S.
The defeat of the Washington state rule "sends a strong signal that even in a relatively liberal state, voters are willing to listen and see that they don't need this regulation and, hey, maybe it will kill jobs. For it to be adopted by the general public is fairly unprecedented. It sends a shot across the bow to other state legislatures thinking about passing regulations in this area," said Randel Johnson, the Chamber's vice president for labor issues.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. The real signal this sent (as we’ve said before) is that voters in even liberal states with high unemployment are vulnerable to industry’s lies fearmongering about the loss of jobs and health care.

The only thing really new in this article was revelation fo the industry’s conspiracy theory:
Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, said, "The very people in OSHA who wrote the ergonomics rule moved to Washington state. They brought the ergonomics rule with them and refined it here."

Several Clinton administration Labor Department officials involved with the federal ergonomics rule did move to Washington state, but were returning home after stints with the federal government.
Michael Silverstein, who was director of policy at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is the assistant director for the state's Department of Labor and Industries, which began work on the rule in 1998. In Washington, Silverstein worked under Joe Dear, who was assistant secretary of OSHA and a force behind promoting a federal rule.

Dear also came back to the state and became chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who supported the rule. Silverstein's wife, Barbara, an ergonomist who was special assistant to Dear at OSHA, now heads the research arm of the state agency.
Most chilling is McCabe’s final quote: "I think what we did has national implications," said McCabe. "If we can do it here, it can be done anywhere."

Let's make it not be so.

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Save Our Overtime

Click here to sign the petition to stop the Bush Administration from issuing new overtime rules that will stop 8 million workers from getting the overtime pay they have rightfully earned.

You will recall, both houses of Congress passed resolutions stopping the Bush administration from issuing the regulations. But Bush bullied the Conference Committee into deleting the restrictions, even though the Conference Committee is supposed to reconcile differences in House and Senate versions of legislation.

Congress has adjourned, but will be back one more time to pass the appropriations legislation. Make sure your Senators and Congresspersons don't go home for Christmas without saving overtime.



Monday, December 01, 2003


The Real Scandal of 9/11?

Interesting article in the NY Times Sunday about the EPA's response to 9/11. The author maintains that EPA's misinformation about the safety of the air quality after the attack was not so much a coverup, as an inept response to a situation that neither the agency or the White House was eqipped to handle.

Of more interest is the following paragraph:
Other scientists and health experts say the focus on indoor air takes the focus off what some believe will ultimately emerge as the real scandal of 9/11, the fact that wearing a respirator at ground zero was voluntary.

At the Pentagon, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration took an enforcement role in protecting workers. In New York, OSHA was only in advisory mode, which meant that even in October and November, when the rescue efforts were long over, no one could walk through the site and kick people out for not wearing respiratory protection. Thousands of people became ill from working at the site.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003


Dean vs. Gephardt, Union vs. Union

The L.A. Times has an interesting article about the conflicts among unions in Iowa resulting from the service sector unions' endorsement of Dean and the manufacturing unions' endorsement of Gephardt.
John Campbell is a blue-collar philosopher who routinely steps off the factory floor at the Firestone tire plant here to marshal fellow foot soldiers in the United Steelworkers Union on causes close to their hearts, minds and wallets.

The 47-year-old high school dropout often joins forces with Judy Lowe — a no-nonsense single mother and an organizer for white-collar government workers — to knock on doors, dial telephones and stage cold-weather rallies to get out the vote for politicians sympathetic to working families.

For years, Iowa's industrial and service unions have generally acted as one clan, one unified political force. But the effort to choose a Democratic candidate to oppose President Bush in the 2004 election has caused fissures in this traditionally ironclad solidarity.



Friday, November 28, 2003


A drop of lemonade in a truckload of lemons

Bill Borwegen of SEIU reports that something good came out of the otherwise disappointing Medicare/Prescription Drug bill -- coverage under the bloodborne pathogens standard for public employees not covered by OSHA -- an issue that AFSCME and SEIU have been championing for years.
Tucked into the massive Medicare giveaway bill is a provision that would require public hospitals not currently covered by the OSH Act (about half of all the states; those without federally approved state plan OSHA programs) to meet the agency's bloodborne pathogen standard -- including the safer needle provisions -- by July 1, 2004, or face civil monetary penalties mirroring those under the OSHAct.

This requirement would be in addition to any state safer needle laws in these non-state plan states. For hospital workers in about a dozen states (AL, AR, CO, FL, ID, IL, LA, MS, MT, ND, NE, SD & WI), this will be the first time that they are covered by these types of protections.

Section 947 on pages 627-629 states that: "In the case of hospitals that are not otherwise subject to the OSHAct, to comply with the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard under section 1910.1030 . . .A hospital that fails to comply . . is subject to a civil money penalty . . [in] an amount similar to the amount of civil penalties that may be imposed under the OSHAct for a violation of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard.

. . The amendments made by this section shall apply to hospitals as of July 1, 2004."




This is getting tiresome...

Yet another fatality in a trench collapse. Another wife without a husband, another kid without a father. This isn't rocket science guys. People are dying.
A 32-year-old man was buried alive late Tuesday afternoon when the wall of a trench on which he was standing collapsed.

While a rescue attempt was launched almost immediately, the effort had to be abandoned moments before more of the wall fell in, burying the victim under 10 feet or more of the thick, wet, heavy clay, town police said.
Which is why, as with confined space accidents, you're not supposed to jump into a deep trench to try and rescue someone, or you may become another victim.

And, as usual, this was no "freak accident."
The day after a mudslide took a man's life, rescue workers who tried to save him said the trench he slipped into lacked safety features....Donald Koons Jr., 32, of Schoharie, [an employee of JRP Inc.] apparently was trying to install foundation drains into an 11 foot trench when officials said the ground gave way, burying him underneath the heavy wet soil.
Just to give you an idea of what happens to the human body when buried in a trench collapse
"It's been very wet over the last month," [Colonie Police Chief Steve] Heider said about the unstable earth. He said the soil was so wet and heavy, the five-gallon pails used to bring up the dirt weighed more than 50 pounds.

"It's a very dense, heavy clay soil," he said, adding that Koons probably suffocated because of the weight of the dirt around his chest. The actual cause of death will be determined by an autopsy.

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Thursday, November 27, 2003


Turkey Follies

For a little Thanksgiving humor, check out Whisky Bar. Read the comments too.




Questions

As I relax and read the paper during this Thanksgiving holiday while the kids oversleep and then fight about the hotel room T.V. and we never get anything done even though it's a beautiful day in New York City, a few questions come to mind.....

Why does "free trade" seem to mean a race to the bottom? Environmental improvements (e.g. California regulation of MBTE or REACH in Europe) are bad because they restrict trade of hazardous chemicals. Using government's power to negotiate down pharmaceutical prices is bad because it hurts the U.S. pharma industry.

No one's allowed to restrict the sale or use of any poisons because it might disrupt free trade? I mean, sure, free trade may be good in theory. It's always good to sell exports, and comparitive advantage and all that. But is it more important than people's health or working conditions?

And if so, why can't North Korea claim that these stupid nuclear non-proliferation treaties keep it from selling nukes to Sadaam where ever?

Why is it good for a bunch of private sector companies to try to negotiate better prescription drug prices, but not not for the government (which has more ability, being big) to negotiate down prescription prices -- either here or in Australia? The new Medicare/Prescription Drug bill not only neglects government's ability to negotiate lower prices, it actually prohibits the government from negotiating lower prices.

OK, back to my paper....





Medicare Turkeys

Some people may really believe that the private sector does everything best. Some people may still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy (except for Charlie Norwood (R-GA) who accused OSHA of killing the Tooth Fairy when it issued the bloodborne pathogens standard). Others, however, look at the facts.

This belief allegedly applies to the battle between Medicare, the government program, and private sector competition being promoted in the recently bludgeoned through passed Medicare/Prescription Drug bill. As Senator Bill Frist said:"We just think that competition through the private sector, through bulk purchasing and negotiation, is a more effective means to hold down prices."

But, according to a column by Jeff Madrick in the NY Times:
The problem is that 30 years of comparisons between Medicare and private health insurance provide no evidence for Senator Frist's assertion. To the contrary, the best analyses to date suggest that Medicare may will hold down health care costs better than private industry does.
Not only that, but the private sector is much less likely to cover the elderly who are prone to poor health. And, of course, the elderly, being old, are often prone to poor health.
As a result, despite competition and government subsidies, many of the poor or less healthy elderly would probably be left with plans that provide inadequate care.
Which is why this country needs a government health care program -- at very least for the elderly (which I someday in the waaaaaaay distant future, plan to be), if not for everyone.
If Congress and the president keep going in this direction, it will undermine the philosophy of protection and inclusiveness that guided the passage of Medicare in the first place, and so much of the rest of America's social legislation. Is this a decision Americans understand they are making? They are probably taking for granted that Congress has done the research. It hasn't.
Happy Turkey Day.



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Wednesday, November 26, 2003


U.S. Workers: A Vast Exploitable Mass Worthy Of A Colonial Backwater?

You know how globalization is supposed to eventually raise all boats? NOT!

Harold Myerson writes about normally civilized (e.g. good health and safety conditions, progressive benefits, pro-union, etc.) Swedish company, H&M clothing, goes native (exploitive, anti-union and cruel) when it comes to the U.S. And other European companies are doing the same thing.
So it's come to this: When European employers look to the United States, they see roughly the same thing that U.S. employers see when they look to China: millions of low-wage workers who have all but lost the right to organize and a government intent on keeping things just the way they are.

The erosion of worker power and the growth of employer supremacy here have transformed the bottom half of the U.S. workforce into a vast exploitable mass worthy of a colonial backwater.

Something to chew on as we give thanks for the marvel that once was America.



Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Every Day Is Workers Memorial Day

This is a workplace health and safety site and I write frequently about workers dying on the job, almost always from causes that could have been prevented by simple compliance with common OSHA standards. But we talk too often in terms of statistics, or names, or snippets from newspaper articles. Then the people are forgotten and we move on until all-too-soon, it happens again.

It is all too rare that the reality of death in the workplace comes home -- what it means to the family and friends of those who lost a loved one. I received the following note the other day from the sister-in-law of a worker who had been killed in a trench collapse that I had written about previously. It's not an easy read, but ultimately, it's the sorrow and anger that these tragedies generate that give us the energy to keep on fighitng. This letter brings home what we're all fighting for much better than I ever could. (At the request of the family, I've changed the names.)
I read with interest the article you wrote about trench deaths. I say with interest because John Stevens was my brother-in-law. My only sister's husband. Needless to say, she is devastated. He was her soul mate. They did everything together. My heart is broken because he was more than my brother-in-law. My family dropped in-law a long time ago and just considered him a brother. He was my protector and friend. When I was going through my divorce and lost my home, it was John who suggested I and my two sons move in with them. I was a single mom at the time and he didn't let anyone mess with me or my kids. I guess you could say he was my kids surrogate dad.

Enough of the personal stuff. I am pissed. He didn't have to die. Nor did the man from Zanesville that died recently. He left behind a 17 year old son who was his best friend. He won't get to see his son graduate next year or walk him across with him at his football game for parent's night. I talked to her for about three hours one day on the phone and she, too, is devasted.

The report from OSHA has been filed and all they received is mainly a slap on the wrist. Three citations for $5000 a piece. $15,000 for a man's life. They were only cited for "serious" violation, when they could have been cited for "willful" violation. If you have been in business for as long as they have, have project specs that state how deep a trench can be without shoring, and you still don't provide the protection, isn't that "willful"? And in turn, the grief-stricken (Ha) project engineer was quoted in the paper as saying that they will fight those citations and get them migated down.

What a slap in the face! I feel OSHA is not doing their job! I went to OSHA.gov and for the same citations in a Rhode Island worker's death, they were fined $89,000! Their manual does not specify between states. I want to go around publicly, via news, TV, whatever and call OSHA on their citations and explain to the public why they do what they do. Nobody is safe if the laws aren't enforced.

Oh, and the "police investigation", I have a copy of and if ever there was room for improvement, this is it. They didn't take any statements from witnesses, have the accident directions ass backwards, and so forth. 6 pages of nothing. I know you say public workers have no investigation, no fines, so on. That is a shame. But this hasn't been any better. They just went through the motions to say they did it.

Keep up the good work. Maybe sometime down the road our paths will cross and we can work for a common goal.

I'm sorry I am blowing off. My sister actually e-mailed your article to me because she doesn't sleep anymore, so she surfs the web and vegetates. I not only lost my brother-in-law, but I am watching her die a slow death and there is nothing I can do for her.

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Electrocutions at L.E. Myers: Safety Last?

Good, long article from the Chicago Tribune on electrocutions at L.E. Myers. I recall reading an artilce about L.E. Myers in the Wall St. Journal about a year and a half ago. They had implemented a new safety program, heavily laden with one of the most intricate safety incentive programs I've ever come across, and laced with reminders to workers that they have families (in case they forget and go get themselves killed.)
Blake Lane was 20 years old when he died, jolted by 2,400 volts of electricity in 1999 while working atop a 120-foot steel tower in Mt. Prospect.

A rookie in the power-line construction industry--it was just his second day as an employee of electrical contractor L.E. Myers Co.--Lane touched a wire that he did not know was carrying current.

Authorities later charged that Lane was a victim of a company that has failed for decades to adequately enforce safety measures at its far-flung work sites.

Rolling Meadows-based L.E. Myers has a long history of on-the-job deaths, accidents and safety violations. At least 35 employees have died--17 by electrocution--in the three decades the government has been keeping workplace safety records.

The deaths and accidents at L.E. Myers raise questions about the company's commitment to safety as well as about the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, created by Congress in 1970 to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.




Comments (Again)

My old comment generator has crapped out again. You get what you don't pay for.

So I have a new one. Use it. The only problem is that the comments behave like pop-ups, which means if you have a popup blocker, they won't come up unless you hold down the while clicking on the comment link.

Oh, and my apologies for those of you who left excellent comments over the past couple of weeks. Thank you for your contribution, but they're lost in cyberspace, vanished, irretrievably.

Life's complicated.




Rush Accuses Republicans of Traitorous Nixonian Politics

Rush Limbaugh may be off the drugs, but his mind is still altered. He's upset about the prescription drug "sellout" by the Repubilcans who have forgotten that they're supposed to be for limited government, just like that other Republican sellout, Richard Nixon.
Let me just continue with this. I know Bush has cut taxes, but the Republicans haven't done anything to stem the growth of government, and it's in this respect that this administration reminds me of Nixon. Remember, under Nixon EPA and OSHA were created. Nixon also put federal police powers behind affirmative action. And he imposed wage and price controls.....There is no party in the Congress representing the whole concept of limited government and individual liberty. The view that says the Constitution must be followed and the federal government's scope and size must be limited, there's nobody in power that represents that view. Well, there are 12 or 14 in the House. There's some people around, but they get bowled over. Now, it may be good politics for the moment, but it could be crippling to the Republican Party in the future. I mean, look, it's hard to argue that the Republicans believe in limited government when they're responsible for this prescription drug entitlement, the EPA and OSHA and affirmative action. It's hard to make the case that they're for limited government.
Yeah, throw the bums out.




Doctor Killed by Mental Patient

Dr. Erlinda Ursua, 60, was bludgeoned to death by a 37-year-old patient, Rene Pavonan, during an exam at John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro, California last Wednesday. Ursua was found on the floor of the exam room and died from blunt-force trauma, according to the autopsy.

No one on the unit was aware of the attack until a staff member noticed Pavon clutching a piece of medical paperwork that patients don't normally have access to and checked the exam room.

One of those unexpected, unfortunate, but unavoidable things? Not exactly. This had been forseen and efforts had been made to prevent it:
Cal/OSHA, the state's workplace safety agency, investigated John George in 1998 and earlier this year in response to violent workplace assaults and complaints about substandard measures to prevent workers from getting hurt.

The investigations resulted in five citations and $30,000 in proposed penalties for John George's not having an injury-prevention program in place and failing to report two nonfatal assaults on workers, one last December and the other in April.

In July, Cal/OSHA officials took the unusual step of suggesting measures the 80-bed inpatient facility could take to improve worker safety, including hiring trained peace officers as security guards and installing video cameras in exam rooms.
The union representing workers at John George was also involved in efforts to make the facility safer.
Linda Joseph, staff director for Service Employees International Union Local 616, said the union had been urging management to improve safety measures.

The assaults and state citations "are a direct result of misplaced priorities," she said. "They have financial difficulties. Instead of looking at misplaced programs to save money, they just cut staff, and with limited staff they aren't able to cover."
Tragically, before her death, Ursua had discussed being nervous about working at the facility
Shortly before Ursua was killed, she told her husband that after more than 25 years she was getting tired of the work and was feeling "uneasy" at the facility, a close family friend said Friday.

"She said the patients were becoming more difficult and she talked about the budget cuts," said Dr. Lene Martinez of Fremont, who knew Ursua both professionally and personally for more than 15 years.
Background: As mental health facilities closed in the 1980's and pscychiatric patients were deinstitutionalized, sent home or put into community facilities, the rate of violence against social workers began to rise, as did the number of violent attacks against workers in the remaining mental health facilities which had become increasingly understaffed at the same time their patient population was becoming increasingly violent.

I watched this happening to ASFCME members and we, along with SEIU, AFT and the nurses association, appealed to federal OSHA to consider workplace violence to be a workplace hazard under OSHA's jurisdiction. Until the Clinton administration, these appeals were ignored. "We deal with hazards coming from machinery and chemicals, not people. Anyway, there's nothing you can do to predict or prevent violence, except possibly increase staff, and that's out of our jurisdication. "

California, ahead of the curve as usual, took the lead in this area, coming out with innovative guidelines in 1993 that suggested practical measures to address workplace violence in mental health and social service workplaces. In 1997, Federal OSHA issued Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers and in 1999, Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments. OSHA handed down several General Duty Clause citations against health care facilities in the late 1990's, but has not actively pursued cases in several years because it is extremely difficult to win challenges to citations under the General Duty Clause.

OSHA has never seriously entertained the possibility of a workplace violence standard. Perhaps the time has come.

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