Tuesday, May 03, 2005

AFL-CIO Kills Health and Safety Department


AFL-CIO staff wore black to work today, and for good reason. Coming only a few days after Workers Memorial Day, 169 positions were eliminated, including half of the four-person Health and Safety Department's professional staff. Deborah Weinstock and Rob McGarrah have been given notice that their positions will no longer be funded, although it is unclear when these changes will take place. What's left of the department -- Director Peg Seminario, Bill Kojola and Toni Keightley-- will be merged into the newly-created Government Affairs Department. 52 new positions will be created at the federation.

This is a sad day for workers, for the labor movement and for all those who care about the health, safety and working conditions of American workers. Workers in this country are faced with going to work every day knowing that the government agency mandated to watch over their lives in the workplace is becoming increasingly irrelevant, the tort system (the ability of people to sue corporations that harm them) is under fierce attack, the advocates of reducing compensation for injured workers are winning in state after state, chemicals continue to pour into the workplaces that destroy workers' health with no government agency able to do anything about it, an asbestos compensation bill that promises to ensure that thousands of workers with asbestos disease don't get compensated is moving through the Senate, "new" issues like ergonomics, longer working hours, speed-ups, stress, work organization changes are being ignored -- and the only voice standing up to this mess -- or even recognizing that all is not well for the health and safety of American workers -- is being dismantled by its own family.

And as I asked before, how can working people and individual unions working alone be any match for the well funded combined power of the Chamber of Commerce, NAM, NFIB and individual industry associations who have the ability to hire high-priced attorneys, scientists – and legislators? Indeed, champagne corks must be popping in corporate suites all across America. The AFL-CIO's Health and Safety Department has been one of the only forces standing between workers' ability to come home safely at the end of ever day and complete corporate domination of workers' lives and health. And now it's gone.

So much for fighting for the living, and the dead are rolling over in their graves.

Jonathan Tasani at Working Life has more details about the AFL-CIO restructuring:

Field Moblization will be merged with the Political Department into a new department called Political Mobilization, with current Political Dept. head Karen Ackerman heading up the merged department; one of her deputies will be Mike Cavanaugh, who was the acting head of the Field Mobilization after Welch removed Marilyn Schneiderman last year. This is the area that took a huge hit. Every permanent position in the Field was defunded, except for a couple of positions working in Capital Strategies. At the management level, all deputy directors for regions were eliminated, as were all the regional coordinators.

A new region will be created--in the Southwest--to add to the other four regions. Gerry Acosta will head up the new region; Joe Alvarez, who heads up the Northeast region, is headed to a job at headquarters, with Paul Lemon being made acting director for the Northeast.

In addition, International Affairs will be folded and all the international work moved to the Solidarity Center, which will continue to be headed up by Barbara Shailor. A new department called Government Affairs will scoop up the previous departments of Legislative, Public Policy and Safety and Health. It's not clear to be at this writing what the staffing will be in those two departments but I'll pass it along ASAP. The magazine, American@Work, will be closed and public affairs will be downsized--that department was funded at $6.1 million last year so that number will likely come down some.

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