Archive for the ‘workplace safety’ Category
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Solis “brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families.”
Under Secretary Solis, the Labor Department became a place of safety and support for workers. Secretary Solis’s Department of Labor talks tough and acts tough on enforcement, workplace safety, wage and hour violations and so many other vital services. Secretary Solis never lost sight of her own working-class roots, and she always put the values of working families at the center of everything she did. We hope that her successor will continue to be a powerful voice both within the Obama administration and across the country for all of America’s workers.
In a statement, Solis said:
This afternoon, I submitted my resignation to President Obama. Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader.
Because President Obama took very bold action, millions of Americans are back to work. There is still much to do, but we are well on the road to recovery, and middle class Americans know the president is on their side.
Together we have achieved extraordinary things and I am so proud of our work on behalf of the nation’s working families.
This post was originally posted by AFL-CIO NOW on January 9, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Donna Jablonski is the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, she served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. She began my career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, she received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College.
I spent so much time on picket lines as a kid that when I thought my dad’s rules were too strict, I would run to build a sign on a stick and try to talk the neighbor kids into marching around the house with me. I learned early on the power of a picket to protest unfair treatment.
That right is more important today than ever. As our economy has shifted toward a more contingent workforce, companies are increasingly hiring workers as part-time or temporary, or labeling them as independent contractors. This leaves workers more vulnerable to abuse while also shielding companies from accountability. When warehouse workers unpacking Walmart goods in a Walmart-owned warehouse were cheated out of their wages, the retail giant responded that those workers were hired through a temporary agency and are not the company’s responsibility.
These kinds of working conditions make it all the more important that workers be able to share their stories with the public. Consumers have the right to know about the kinds of labor practices they are supporting when they shop at a particular store. In this economy, where workers have so little bargaining power, the ability to picket an employer to expose unfair conditions is more important than ever.
That’s what makes the recent California Supreme Court decision in Ralphs Grocery Co. v. UFCW Local 8 so important. The court upheld two provisions of California law that protect the right of workers to picket. The Moscone Act protects peaceful picketing and communicating about the facts of a labor dispute on “any public street or any place where any person or persons may lawfully be.” Labor Code Section 1138.1 restricts injunctive relief to stop picketing unless a company can show substantial and irreparable injury, the commission of unlawful acts and several other factors. Ralphs sought to invalidate those state statutes, which would have silenced California workers from such peaceful protest.
In upholding California law, the court maintained a critical protection for working people. What is at stake here is far more than where in a shopping center picketers are allowed to stand. The picket line was—and still is—an essential tool in building the American middle class. Workers standing together, making their case in the court of public opinion, helped bring about the eight-hour day, the weekend, prevailing wage, anti-discrimination laws and so many other protections. It also helped working people win wages and benefits that allowed them to buy homes, send their children to college and give back to their community through taxes, service and time.
In essence, the picket sign has enabled generations of working people to achieve the American Dream. Given the economy we face today, it’s time for the next generation to start making signs and marching to demand those same opportunities.
Stagehands in West Palm Beach, Fla., will secure regular work and share some $2.2 million in back pay after Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 500 and the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Artsreached agreement on a five-year contract that settles charges in a dispute that began in 2001.
The new agreement followed a strike last month that forced the cancellation of four performances of the touring musical “Jersey Boys.” Actors’ Equity (AEA) and other unions representing workers in the touring companyrespected IATSE picket lines. When the Palm Beach Post asked Local 500 business manager Terry McKenzie how the agreement was reached, the paper wrote:
McKenzie deadpanned, ‘Well, a strike had something to do with it.’
In 2000, the theater fired several IATSE members and withdrew recognition of the union after declaring an impasse had been reached in negotiations. In 2001, attorneys for the regional director of the NLRB concluded that Kravis had committed “massive and continuous violations” of federal labor law when it unilaterally withdrew recognition of the union, refused to negotiate, discharged union-represented department heads and other major violations.
Kravis appealed the decision to the Bush–era full NLRB, which took five years before the board ruled that the center violated the law when it ejected the union and fired union workers. But the center appealed to a federal appeals court, which upheld the NLRB ruling.
In 2009, the Kravis Center, under court order, returned to the bargaining table, but in 2011 and 2012 committed further labor law violations, according to charges filed by IATSE.
The new agreement withdraws all pending charges and the NLRB says Kravis also recognizes the union as the bargaining agent for stagehands working on Kravis productions and agrees to obtain workers through the Local 500 hiring hall. The contract also reinstates three department heads whose positions had been eliminated. Said McKenzie in a statement:
The union looks forward to building a positive relationship that contributes to the success of the Kravis Center and gainful employment for the people we represent.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on January 4, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse.
My Fair Share is a cross-post from Working America’s Dear David workplace advice column. David knows you deserve to be treated fairly on the job and he’s available to answer your questions, whether it is co-workers making off-handed comments that you should retire or you feel like your job’s long hours are causing stress.
What can you do about not being paid a fair wage for the work you do? I make a lot of money for the company I work for feeding a robot up to 4,000 packages per hour. How do I get some of the money I make for the company through high production paid to me?
“We make it, they take it.” If the last 40 years have anything to teach us, it’s that if we leave it up to them, too many bosses don’t feel like they need to share fairly—if they even share at all. Check this out. It used to be that as worker productivity increased, so did a worker’s wages. But sometime in the 1970s that stopped being the case. Today, even as most workers are struggling in a stagnant economy, big banks and corporations are posting record profits. If you’re feeling squeezed, it’s not your fault.
As long as you’re being paid at least the minimum wage, there’s no legal requirement that a wage be “fair.” So who should get to decide what’s “fair”? You already know what can happen when the boss gets to be the decider—so the key is not to leave it only to your boss! And to act collectively.
It starts by you getting together with at least one other person at your workplace who feels the same way you do. Do this first—there are certain legal protections that kick in for you once this has happened. Meet up someplace outside of work, and compare notes. Who else can you talk to who would stand with you? Make a list, get folks together again and ask others what improvements they’d like to see at their workplace. This has been said before, but these are all important first steps. Together you may decide that you are ready to take something up with your boss right away. Or you could decide that you will be more successful negotiating if you first form a union. This process might take some time, and it’s worth it to move cautiously. Whatever you decide—you are stronger acting as a group than if you act alone.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 30, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: David at Working America focuses on answering submitted questions about workplace fairness and workplace rights around the country. Working America is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is the fastest-growing organization for working people in the country. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America uses their strength in numbers to educate each other, mobilize and win real victories to improve working people’s lives.
First, they lose pay because the vast majority (more than 80%) of low-wage workers do not have any paid sick leave to take time off to recover. Second, not only does the pay check shrink, but because of inadequate workers’ compensation laws, they must shoulder a bigger portion of their health care costs with those smaller paychecks. That means workers and their communities must bear a larger share of the $39 billion (in 2010) that workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation.
A new policy brief, “Mom’s Off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” examines the growing problem.
Using information from a study, by University of California, Davis, economist J. Paul Leigh, on the number and cost of injuries and illnesses among low-wage workers, Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and SPHHS researcher Liz Borkowski explore how workplace injuries and illnesses impact the lives of low-wage workers. Says Monforton:
Workers earning the lowest wages are the least likely to have paid sick leave, so missing work to recuperate from a work-related injury or illness often means smaller paychecks. For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a few missed shifts can leave families struggling to pay rent and buy groceries.
Leigh’s study classifies about 31 million people—22% of the U.S. workforce—in 65 occupations for which the median wage is below $11.19 per hour as low-wage workers. The janitors, housecleaners, restaurant workers and others earning that wage full-time will bring home just $22,350 per year—an amount that means a family of four must subsist at the poverty line
In 2010, 596 low-wage workers suffered fatal on-the-job injuries and 12,415 died from occupational ailments, including certain kinds of cancer. Another 1.6 million suffered from non-fatal injuries, and 87,857 developed non-fatal occupational health problems such as asthma. The costs of the 1.73 million injuries and illness amounted to $15 billion for medical care and another $24 billion for lost productivity—the cost when injured or sick workers cannot perform their jobs or daily household duties.
But as Monforton and Borkowski point out, workers’ compensation insurance either does not apply or fails to cover many of these costs, which can bankrupt families living on the margin. In some cases, employers do not have to offer this kind of insurance to employees.
And even workers who do have the coverage often get an unexpected surprise after an on-the-job injury or illness: Insurers generally do not have to provide wage replacement until the worker has lost between three and seven consecutive shifts. And workers at the low end of the wage scale are often discouraged from reporting on-the-job injuries as work-related—which leaves them with no insurance benefits at all.
According to Leigh, insurers cover less than one-fourth of the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses. The rest falls on workers’ families, non-workers’ compensation health insurers and taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid.
When low-wage workers miss even a few days of pay while recovering from an occupational injury or illness, the effects spread quickly,” says Borkowski.
They will usually have to cut back on their spending right away, which affects the local economy. And families with children might skip meals or cut back on the heat, money-saving tactics that can put vulnerable family members such as children at risk of developmental delays and poor performance in school.
The authors call on policymakers to address this public health problem more forcefully by improving workplace safety and strengthening the safety net to reduce the negative impacts caused by the injuries and illnesses that still occur. Says Monforton:
On average, more than 4,000 workers are injured on the job each day. If we make workplaces safer, we not only stop losing billions of dollars each year, but we also could reduce the pain and suffering and financial impact on thousands of low-wage, hard-working Americans and their families.
The reports are posted here: http://defendingscience.org/low-wage-workers.
This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 14, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is is a a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was “still blue,” he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse.
When I first read about the horrendous fire in Bangladesh, I immediately thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911 — more than 100 years ago. In many ways, nothing has changed. In some ways, some things have changed.
A Bangladeshi garment factory that was producing clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney, and other major Western companies had lost its fire safety certification in June, five months before a blaze in the facility killed 112 workers, a fire official told the Associated Press.
Separately, the owner of the Tazreen factory told AP that he had only received permission to build a three-story facility but had expanded it illegally to eight stories and was adding a ninth at the time of the blaze…
The factory didn’t have any fire exits for its 1,400 workers, many of whom became trapped by the blaze. Investigators have said the death toll would have been far lower if there had been even a single emergency exit. Fire extinguishers in the building were left unused, either because they didn’t work or workers didn’t know how to use them.
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.
The Triangle Fire tragically illustrated that fire inspections and precautions were woefully inadequate at the time. Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place stairs. They and many others afterwards believed they were deliberately locked– owners had frequently locked the exit doors in the past, claiming that workers stole materials. For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire escape in the Asch Building led nowhere, certainly not to safety, and it bent under the weight of the factory workers trying to escape the inferno. Others waited at the windows for the rescue workers only to discover that the firefighters’ ladders were several stories too short and the water from the hoses could not reach the top floors. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to burn alive.
Nothing has changed in 100 years — workers’ lives are thought of as expendable, corners are cut in the name of profit, whether the name is Triangle Waist Company or Wal-Mart.
What did change a bit in the wake of the 1911 fire was a renewed drive to unionize and strengthen health and safety laws. Out of the tragedy, workers mobilized.
Whether that will happen in Bangladesh is to be seen. It would be a great testament to those who died is, out of the ashes of the fire, workers organized to stop the survivors and others from being future victims of the greed of Wal-Mart and its global corporate ilk.
This post was originally posted on Working Life on December 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981). He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors. He has also written four books, including the Audacity of Greed.
Cheap. Low prices. Bargains. It’s the American way of recent decades–a promise we’ve been given by everyone from politicians to corporate marketing campaigns. And most people find it hard to see the devastating cost to us as a society. But, sometimes things happen at once that can give a very clear picture, if you look. For your consideration.
First, a now well-known episode:
While Twinkies have a reputation for an unlimited shelf life, the company that makes the junk food may not.Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of cream-filled pastries like Twinkies and Ho Hos, said on Friday that it planned to wind down its operations. The decision comes a week after one of the company’s biggest unions went on strike to protest a labor contract.
“What’s happening with Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America, as Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor,” Trumka said in a public statement. “Crony capitalism and consistently poor management drove Hostess into the ground, but its workers are paying the price.”…“These workers, who consistently make great products Americans love and have offered multiple concessions, want their company to succeed,” Trumka said in the statement. “They have bravely taken a stand against the corporate race-to-the-bottom. And now they and their communities are suffering the tragedy of a needless layoff. This is wrong. It has to stop. It’s wrecking America.”
Second, some of those cheap goods people snap up at Ikea were made by slave labor:
Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. On Friday the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.
And, lastly, Black Friday is approaching–and Wal-Mart workers are asking for people to assist in their fight back against the Beast of Bentonville, the paragon of low-cost.
So, the lesson:
If we pull all those strands together–the destruction of the lives of thousands of workers who made Twinkies; the sweat that brought people the couch or bed they picked up in their car at Ikea; and the hard times hundreds of thousands of people have to endure to eke out a tiny paycheck from Wal-Mart–it tells the tale of America.
Cheap means the end of the middle-class, not to mention the mythical American Dream because cheap means minimum wage jobs, no health care, no pensions.
Low-cost means paychecks that don’t make it possible for a worker to get through the end of the month without seeing her or his financial debt grow larger.
Bargains are only beneficial to the fat-cat CEOs who pocket obscene paychecks because hidden behind that “bargain” price is an endless cycle of poverty and despair: to give millions of people “bargains”, CEOs manufacture products in low-wage countries or low-wage factories, and, the, they pay–or fire, in the case of Twinkies–workers every declining wages…and, then, those same workers don’t have enough money to buy much–so they are forced to, then, shop at the very low-wage stores–Wal-Mart being the prime example–that are the engine for the destructive cycle.
Just something to think about everytime we are assaulted by a TV ad, or coupon or billboard promising a bargain.
It isn’t more than a bargain with the devil of the bankrupt so-called free market.
This article was originally posted on Working Life on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor, and economy. In 2006, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.
During the last stages of the campaign, Mitt Romney falsely tried to claim that American manufacturers like Chrysler were moving production to China. As it turns out, at least one company is planning the opposite move: Foxconn Electronics, the notoriously exploitative Apple Inc. manufacturer, is reportedly testing the waters to open new plants in US cities. Foxconn attracted scrutiny earlier this year when its abusive labor practices in Chinese and Taiwanese factories were exposed in a series of New York Times articles.
According to Chinese newspaper DigiTimes, Foxconn is conducting evaluations in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities to possibly open plants focused on LCD television production. The company is also discussing a partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology that would bring American engineers to China and Taiwan to learn Chinese and study product design processes.
Foxconn became a household name in the US after a mostly exaggerated and false This American Life segment detailed its mistreatment of workers. Despite the mythology presented in the episode, certain core facts were verified. Foxconn workers live in overcrowded company dorms, working shifts of 12 or more hours, and risk serious injury in appallingly dangerous working conditions. As many as 137 employees fell ill after being forced to clean iPads with toxic chemicals, and 17 Foxconn workers committed suicide in the past five years. The company has also been accused of forcing student interns to assemble iPhones.
Under pressure, Foxconn raised wages for employees and reduced hours, but its still far from meeting basic labor standards. After the company admitted it was struggling to meet demand for the iPhone 5, rumors of a strike over “overly strict demands” emerged.
This article was originally posted on Think Progress on November 8, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Aviva Shen is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining CAP, Aviva interned and wrote for Smithsonian Magazine, Salon, and New York Magazine. She also worked for the Slate Political Gabfest, a weekly politics podcast from Slate Magazine. Previously, she was part of the new media team in Ohio for the 2008 Obama campaign. Aviva received a B.A. from Barnard College.