Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘workplace violence’ Category

Caring for Our Caregivers: Workplace Violence Hearing Highlights Job-Related Assaults for Health Care and Social Service Workers

Friday, March 1st, 2019

Workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for working people in the United States: It causes more than 450 homicides and 28,000 serious injuries each year. Workplace homicide now is responsible for more workplace deaths than equipment, fires and explosions. Two of every three workplace violence injuries are suffered by women.

Health care and social service workers are at greatest risk of violence on the job because of their direct contact with patients and clients. They are five times as likely to suffer a workplace violence injury as workers in other occupations.

Violence against health care and social service workers is foreseeable and preventable but the Trump administration has refused to act. That is why Rep. Joe Courtney (Conn.) introduced legislation last week that would require the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard to protect these workers. The standard would reduce violence by requiring employers to develop workplace violence prevention programs that identify and control hazards, improve reporting and training, evaluate procedures and strengthen whistlebower protections for those who speak up, which lead to safer staffing levels, improved lighting and better surveillance systems.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, held a hearing to highlight this severe and growing problem and the need for an OSHA standard to protect working people. Patt, an AFT member from Wisconsin, testified about her traumatic experience of assault as a registered nurse. She and her colleagues had tried to speak to management and press for improvements, but their voices were not heard. Then she was attacked by a teenage patient with a history of aggression at a county mental health facility. He kicked her in the throat, collapsing her trachea, requiring intubation and surgery. She suffers severe post-traumatic stress disorder and can no longer work in her dream job as a nurse. It was not a random event, but a predictable scenario that could have been prevented with a clear plan and better-trained staff.

Watch the hearing.

Here are other union members’ experiences of violence on the job that could have been prevented with an enforceable OSHA standard:

Helene: An AFT member and psychiatric nurse in Connecticut for 16 years in an acute care hospital who attempted to hand a patient his pain medication when he punched her in her jaw, knocking her to the floor and breaking her pelvis. Helene was unable to return to work for six and a half months, had to go through rehabilitation and physical therapy, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. This patient had a history of violence, including previously attacking a social worker, but there was no system in place to alert her.

Brandy: A National Nurses United (NNU) member and registered nurse in California for 18 years in general pediatrics who was assigned to a 14-year-old patient with a diagnosis of aggressive behavior. When Brandy entered the patient’s room, the patient had his mother pressed against the closet door with his hands around her neck. Brandy called for security and additional staff assistance. They were able to safely remove the patient’s mother, but the patient threw a chair at Brandy, who was trapped between a wall and a bed. Brandy suffers from tendonitis in her right elbow, which makes it difficult to do simple everyday tasks such as opening jars, typing and hanging bags of fluids at work. Appropriate violence-prevention controls include ensuring that large furniture and other items that can be used as weapons are affixed to the floor in rooms with aggressive patients.

Eric: An AFSCME member and security counselor at a Minnesota hospital who has administered treatment to the mentally ill for nearly a decade. Eric was assigned to monitor a highly assaultive patient who continually attacked his fellow patients. The patient then turned his assaultive behavior on Eric and punched him in the right eye, causing him to instantly lose sight in the impacted eye. Eric managed to restrain the patient until his co-workers arrived to assist. Eric was rushed to the emergency room via ambulance where they discovered he had a blow-out fracture of his orbital bone and a popped sinus. He received 17 stitches, and his eye socket has never fully recovered. The hospital did not have a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program that would have prevented this.

John: A United Steelworkers (USW) member and certified nursing assistant in California for 18 years who tried to change a male veteran’s wet bed when the patient became agitated and attacked John, breaking his arm. He was out of work for four weeks. John didn’t know the patient was prone to violence. At his facility, workplace violence comes from patients, visitors and other employees. There is at least one incident every week, ranging from slapping to breaking arms or punching. After John’s incident, the employer began requiring a note on the patients’ charts when they are prone to agitation or violence. Sometime later, the employer also began using red blankets on the beds to denote a combative patient so all employees would know when they interacted with the patient.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 27, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Reindel is a senior health and safety specialist at the AFL-CIO.

New Bill Seeks to Protect Health Care and Social Service Workers from Workplace Violence

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for health care and social service workers. Nurses, emergency room doctors, social workers, psychiatric facility aides, and other health care and social service workers frequently face violence that leads to serious, life-altering injuries, loss of productivity and death. In 2016, working people petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a workplace violence standard and, in 2017, OSHA granted that petition; yet there has been no action by the Trump administration to develop a national standard to protect workers from violence.

Some key facts about workplace violence:

  • It is responsible for more than 850 worker deaths and 28,000 serious injuries each year and is on the rise.
  • One of every six workplace deaths each year are from workplace violence.
  • It is now the second leading cause of death on the job.
  • Health care and social service workers are at greatest risk: They are nearly five times more likely than other workers to suffer a workplace violence injury.
  • Last year, workplace homicides doubled for health care and social service workers.
  • Two of every three workplace violence events are suffered by women.
  • Workplace violence is foreseeable and preventable.

Today, Reps. Joe Courtney (Conn.) and Bobby Scott (Va.) introduced legislation aimed at protecting health care and social service workers from workplace violence. In a letter supporting the legislation, Courtney said:

To address these rising rates of violence, I am introducing the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. This legislation will require the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to issue a workplace violence prevention standard requiring employers in the health care and social service sectors to develop and implement a plan to protect their employees from workplace violence. These plans will be tailored to the specific workplace and employee population, but may include training on de-escalation techniques, personal alarm devices, surveillance and monitoring systems, or other strategies identified by the employers and employees to keep workers safe. While OSHA has already issued voluntary guidance to employers on how to prevent violence in these workplaces, data from [the Bureau of Labor Statistics] as well as personal testimony from workers about continuing violence shows that voluntary guidance is not sufficient. An enforceable standard is required to prevent the types of violence that are prevalent in too many of our hospitals, nursing homes and social service settings.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on November 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars

Getting Heard on Workplace Violence

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Image: Richard NegriI was recently with the Nurse Alliance of California for its annual Legislative Conference. It is always an honor for me to share information with nurses about online tools we can and should employ as activists. Although I think my breakouts at the conference went over well, one of the themes of the conference — which many of you know I’ve been somewhat absorbed with — is workplace violence and workplace violence prevention. My goal here is to tie in information about this important subject matter and couple it with the online tools in our educated union member tool box.

With the advent of workplace violence among the top issues we face every day, would you agree that it is incumbent on us to start up and/or maintain the drumbeat about this discussion?  When one of our sisters or brothers gets brutally beaten or killed on the job, our reaction is immediate and strong, but how can we get to talking up a storm on this every day of the week? In part, this is about getting us mobilized around a few entry points to the discussion; in part it is to help us focus on some online venues we can take advantage of to get the conversation off the ground. Are you in this with me?

What I Know…

If you have been a nurse for a couple of weeks or a nurse for the last 30 years, violence on the job is never very far from you. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of legal protections in place. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes workplace violence as a hazard, but has no federal regulations in place requiring employers to deal with the problem. While some states, like New York, have some laws in place (thanks to the Public Employees Federation (PEF) and other unions) if there is no accountability, the laws are just bundles of paper in a drawer somewhere.

Various papers, studies, scholars, union leaders, and other folks reiterate this point: Workplace violence is an epidemic that many outside our facilities or day-to-day life have no clue even happens, much less how often it happens. More healthcare professionals are either assaulted or killed on the job than any other profession or trade.

For many of us, it is tremendously difficult to talk about something if we don’t have a concrete definition of what “it” is. What does that mean? We can all talk about what we think and feel after a co-worker is beaten on the job. We can all attend rallies, services, light candles, shake our heads … but what is “it”?  What is the definition of workplace violence?

Jonathan Rosen, MS CIH, Director of the Occupational Safety & Health Department for the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), facilitated an amazing breakout session on workplace violence at the California legislative conference. One slide in his presentation defined workplace violence very succinctly:  “Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.”

Maybe as you read that, you thought about the countless times you felt threatened, were threatened, or were verbally abused at work. It’s likely that more than half of you have had first-hand experience with violence on the job.

This is probably not breaking news, but there are papers and studies out there that reveal that healthcare providers often do not report violence that occurs on the job. Another of Jonathan’s slides cited a National Crime Victimization Survey: “58% of harassed employees do not report incidents. Fewer than than half of workers report assault to the police. Only 25% of rapes at work are reported.”

Having the Discussion and Reporting the Problem(s)

Government statistics underestimate the true extent of violence at the workplace because:

* Data is collected on “battery” or incidents resulting in physical injury or death. Threats, verbal threats, and harassment are not reported to government agencies.

* In some jobs, assaults are so common that they are dismissed as “part of the job.”

* Other possible sources of information about violence — like hospital records or police reports — often fail to provide information about whether the injury was or was not work-related.

* Employers discourage employees from filing workers’ compensation claims for assault. In addition, many injuries do not meet the criteria for receiving workers’ compensation.

The reasons why our workplaces at times explode into violence add up to a growing list. According to the Safe Work, Safe Care Project, patients can become violent as a result of mental disorders, substance abuse, a past history of violence, head injuries, and confusion. The Project’s list includes about twenty issues — these are just the top five.

But why are we hesitant to report instances of violence on the job?  Many of us may have heard about the OSHA General Duty Clause — but, what is it?  It’s important!

OSHA’s General Duty Clause and EVERY Employer’s RESPONSIBILITY!

Every employer in the United States is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for its employees. The good news for us is this:  THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.  That, sisters and brothers, that is the law.  It is your right as a worker.

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that an employer:  “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

This is what we refer to as the OSHA General Duty Clause.

In September 2011, OSHA issued procedures for its field staff to use when responding to incidents and complaints of workplace violence. We believe that this directive will help inspectors use the General Duty Clause when they can.

Start the Conversation with Thousands and Thousands of Nurses

Here are our talking points:

1) Workplace violence defined: “Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.”

2) The Department of Justice says that fewer than half of all non-fatal violent workplace crimes are reported to the police.

3) Some known causes for under-reporting workplace assaults include:

“Part of the job” syndrome

Fear of blame or reprisal

Lack of management/peer support

Feeling it’s not worth the effort

4) OSHA and the OSHA General Duty Clause:

There are no OSHA standards regarding workplace violence (ain’t that something?) — however…as mentioned, in September 2011 OSHA issued directives for field staff when investigating incidents of workplace violence.

And …you have the right to a place of employment that is free from recognized occupational hazards which cause or are likely to cause serious harm, illness, or death.

5) Violence is recognized occupational hazard!

This blog originally appeared in Union Review on May 14, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

In the Wake of Oslo Attacks, a Path Forward for Labor?

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Michelle Chen“For all dead comrades, not a minute’s silence, but a life of struggle.”

—Olav Magnus Linge, Norway’s Socialist Youth

The labor movement has always derived its power from its ability to mobilize people as a collective whole. But that potential to catalyze social action, and to resonate across lines of color and nationality, is precisely what makes the movement a political target around the world. And that’s why the attack on young progressive activists in Norway was both shocking and yet not unpredictable.

When taking aim at the Utøya summer camp of the Labour Party Youth Movement (AUF), the killer knew exactly what he was destroying: the next generation of young people who would challenge right-wing ideologies. Though it was a relatively mainstream political gathering, the camp symbolized the kind of inclusive society that extremists like Anders Behring Breivik view as a key obstacle to their agenda of engulfing Europe in racist barbarism.

The attack could have been directed at a cultural symbol of “foreignness” in Norway—an immigrant neighborhood or a religious institution, perhaps. But what made the camp a more ideal target was that it encouraged transcendence of cultural allegiances and envisioned a society that could move past ethnic and sectarian conflict. That is, labor was attacked because its strength stems from solidarity rather than divisiveness and exclusion–the political currency the far-right trades on.

The bloodshed in Oslo appears to have injected fresh urgency into campaigns for workers’ rights and social equity. The Norwegian trade union coalition, LO, has posted statements of support from other unions around the globe, including some in places where assaults on economic and human rights are more routine, like Palestine, Syria and Colombia.

In a collection of solidarity messages on the International Transport Workers’ Federation website, Victor Moore of Australia’s Rail Tram and Bus Union said the victims “shared a dream of hope for the future and support for the cause of labour.” Reflecting on labor’s history of youth organizing, he added:

we remember also the many sacrifices and acts of courage by youth across the globe in support of democracy and trade union rights. Trade union solidarity knows no borders and is a powerful force for hope and change.

M. Raghavaiah, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen, said the “barbarian acts” resonated with past attacks in Mumbai, which spurred citizens and workers’ organizations “to come together and put up an act of substance” by aiding in the post-crisis recovery.

Although Breivik, who had been linked to the right-wing Progress Party, saw Labour as a whole as too tolerant of immigrants and Muslims, the AUF was known for more radical leanings than the mainstream Labour Party. According to Britain’s Socialist Worker Party paper, the AUF often publicly criticized the government’s policies on issues like Norway’s refugee community and involvement in the Afghanistan war under NATO.

Representatives of the International Socialists are reportedly planning a mass mobilization in the wake of the attacks that will include Oslo’s LO, with hopes that AUF members will also “continue their political activities in honour of the victims. … We want a demonstration in solidarity with the AUF, but also for a multicultural society, tolerance and unity against racism.”

In the wake of such unimaginable horror, a path forward through direct action is difficult to contemplate, particularly when many unions in highly industrialized countries tend to focus on bread-and-butter workplace issues. Yet some hope the Oslo attacks could reinvigorate militant labor activism.

To socialist commentator Dave Stockton, it isn’t the state of Norway per se that needs protection from the right, but rather, “the values of international solidarity,” which encompass Norwegian Muslim communities as well as peoples struggling against oppression in Palestine and across the Middle East. In the labor movement at home, Stockton pointed to “the need to organise our own stewards, our own security, our own defence against the far right who will aim to use the crisis to rally ever more enraged people to their ranks.”

So far it’s not clear what shape this united front would take, but the discussion does give new valence to strategic mass mobilization. And it sheds light on ongoing threats that fueled the political climate from which Breivik emerged.

The Socialist Worker pointed out that among the many groups and outlets that inspired Breivik’s rhetoric (on both sides of the Atlantic), the ultra-right wing English Defence League had a special place. Weyman Bennett of London-based Unite Against Fascism told the paper, “There’s a network of Nazis across Europe who support and sustain racists like Breivik. What happened in Norway shows we have to redouble our efforts against the racist ideology of Islamophobia.”

Writing from London, author and activist Alan Woods said labor’s most effective tactic against the extreme right would be organizing on the street, rather than alignment with the official law enforcement response. Norway’s government, he argues, has pivoted to the right along with other European leaders, and an act of terror should not drive people to duck obediently behind the state.

The Labour leader, having correctly emphasized that this was an attack against the Labour Movement, then went on to say that the matter should be left in the hands of the police. This is a mistake. The state cannot be relied upon to provide effective defence against the fascists. The state intelligence services have ignored the activities of fascist groups, and a section of the state always has fascist sympathies. …

The Labour Youth, the Youth Wing of the trade unions, and the Youth of the Socialist Left party should immediately link up to form self-defence committees, linked to the trade unions and the shop stewards committees….

The organised working class must learn to depend only on itself. Only the Labour Movement can combat the menace of fascist and right wing groups. But to do so effectively, it must respond to every fascist provocation by mobilizing the full might of the organised working class. The Norwegian Labour Movement is very powerful. It must use its power to teach the fascists a lesson. The Norwegian trade unions should call a 24-hour general strike to protest this attack.

We’re used to seeing strikes and demonstrations in the day-to-day business politics of unions, while grassroots organizing is increasingly distanced from bureaucratic leadership structures. Can labor effectively  militate toward ideals of justice, democracy and equality in the face of terror? Now that so many youth have perished in the name of those principles, labor can turn a time of mourning into a moment for reaffirming its purpose.

This blog originally appeared in These Working Times on July 27, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

Workplace Violence Is Not Part of the Job - A Nursing Phenomenon

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Image: Richard NegriDeborah Bonn, the director of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, recently sent an email to more than 500 SEIU nurses about the recent cluster of tragic events facing nurses around the country. These events put a spotlight on the extent of violence against nurses and other healthcare workers.

The problem is that even though these violent acts were widely reported, they have unfortunately since fallen off the radar.

In October 2010, there were two tragic news items originating in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • A psychiatric technician, Donna Gross, was killed on the job at Napa State Hospital. A mentally ill patient at the facility allegedly strangled her to death.
  • Two days after Ms. Gross was killed, Cynthia Palomata, a nurse at the Contra Costa County jail, was killed by a violent inmate who lost control and beat her with a lamp.

In Bonn’s letter to RNs, she wrote,

“Unfortunately, workplace violence won’t end by media attention alone…we should NOT BE OK with going to work knowing there’s a real possibility of getting hurt, traumatized or killed.”

Bonn says that nurses need to bring home the seriousness of workplace violence by telling their stories. As a nurse and union leader, she agreed to share her story with the public.

During my in-hospital nursing career, I was stabbed in the back with a fork by a patient, suffering from DT hallucination, who was hiding behind a door while doing hourly rounds on the night shift.

I’ve also been kneed in the chest by a belligerent patient – an incident which left me in severe pain. After a chest X-ray that was ordered by my private physician because the hospital doctor did not feel one was warranted, I learned my ribs were just bruised from the patient’s attack.

If this is not enough to convince you we need change, I can tell you about the time I was stabbed in the arm with a needle by an elderly demented patient, who grabbed the needle from me after I had given her insulin.

There was also the time I got kicked so hard by a patient that I was thrown against the wall and knocked unconscious to the floor – that was more than just a bad day on the job!

Is this what nursing has become? Was I supposed to just accept these acts of workplace violence as a ‘hazard of the job’ and expect nothing would change?

Believe me, I’ve endured many other attacks in my career besides the ones I describe here. In each case, the facility gave me the impression that this was just part of the job. The facility, in not so many words, told me that we are responsible for the patients and therefore, I was responsible for all these events!

How can we make this workplace violence stop?

For one, we need to keep it on our radar long after the traditional mainstream news drops the story.

Second, we need to hear from nurses everywhere with what their experiences have been – and what they think is the remedy to fix the issue.

SEIU has set up a form for nurses to share their experience so that we can then share their stories with others.

If you’re a Registered Nurse, tell us about your experiences with violence on the job in your hospital or care facilities at http://nursealliance.onlineactions.org/wpv

*This blog originally appeared in SEIU Blog on Feb 2, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

NFL Collision: Management Control vs. Player Safety

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Roger BybeeHere we have a multibillion-dollar industry. Where does their responsibility begin? Say you’re a kid and you sign up to play football. You realize you can blow out your knee, you can even break your neck and become paralyzed. Those are all known risks. But you don’t sign up to become a brain-damaged young adult. —Dr. Julian Bailes, neurologist who has studied football-caused brain damage

John Mackey is remembered as the founding president of the NFL Players Association union and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. Mackey is generally seen as the best tight end in the sport’s history, combining an unmatched combination of strength, speed, and great hands hauling in passes from the Baltimore Colts’ legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas.

But now the past tense is often used when talking about Mackey, 69, who has been afflicted with concussion-induced dementia for more than a decade, reducing him to a shell of his former self. “John was a phenomenal athlete who defined the tight-end position and was a great leader,” recalls his long-time friend and colleague Ed Garvey, who formerly served as the Players Association director and masterminded the stunningly successful 1982 players strike.

The tragedy of Mackey was one of a string of highly-publicized cases that has eventually forced the NFL to end many years of intransigence on the issue, and come to grips with the debilitating brain damage resulting from the thousands of collisions players undergo thoughout their careers.

Watching the deterioration of Mackey has been particularly painful for Garvey, who worked closely with him in leading the NFLPA. “John was
a great strategist and a great orator who could inspire people,” says Garvey. “By the time he was done talking to players, they were ready to break down the walls to get to the bargaining table.”

NFL OWNERS ERECT BARRIERS TO DEALING WITH CRISIS

But the NFL owners erected formidable walls to deal with the issue of chronic brain injuries resulting from the constant high-speed collisions of NFL play and the frequent concussions they often produce. Repeated concussions result in memory loss, depression, disorientation and moments of uncontrollable rage.

Admitting the syndrome of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) —manifested in dementia, the early onset of Alzheimer’s, and episodes of bizarre and anti-social behavior—drew fierce resistance for years from the NFL and its owners. The NFL used panels of doctors utterly lacking qualifications in brain physiology to deny and minimize the effects of concussions, much like how the lead-paint industry systematically concealed the devastating effects of lead poisoning on children.

GAME PROMOTED ON BASIS OF ITS VIOLENCE

All the while, the league was actively promoting the game on the basis of its violent collisions, “smash-mouth football,”  and constantly-replayed “greatest hits”—often involving vulnerable players in mid-air being grotesquely speared helmet first and slammed to the turf, as Garvey points out.

Meanwhile, the players’ helmet surfaces became harder and harder, rendering them more devastating weapons, enhanced by increasingly larger faceguards as well. “Generally, it’s just evolved where helmets get harder and faceguards got bigger,” Garvey notes, with helmet-first contact stressed by coaches and more serious head injuries resulting.

Where football players in the early NFL wore only light leather helmets without face masks and therefore sought to avoid head-to-head collisions, coaches of the modern era taught and expected players to lead with the new super-hard plastic helmets in order to make the most devastating block or tackle possible.

The outcome has been an epidemic of concessions, as a hard collision sends the brain bouncing against the inside of the skull, with each concussion producing more and more damage.

ENORMOUS PRESSURE BUILDS ON NFL

Only under enormous pressure from former players’ wives and families, the public and Congress did the NFL begin to deal with the problem of brain injuries. Belatedly, the NFL finally responded to a mounting wave of bad publicity caused by the disabling and destructive impact on much-beloved former players like Mackey.

Only after appalling cases of neglect became public—like the immensely popular former Pittsburgh Steelers star center Mike Webster, a victim of brain damage after 15 years in the NFL who became homeless and eventually committed suicide—did the NFL begin to address the problem.

The league and the NFL Players’ Association finally initiated the “88 plan” – named after Mackey’s number. Under the program, the league provides $88,000 per year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care. The NFL also finally adopted strict policies on monitoring players who had suffered concussions.

TOP-DOWN FIX: BLAME THE PLAYERS

This year, the NFL—led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, Jr.—has imposed a top-down “solution”—targeting the conduct of players who use their helmets as weapons.

But this step means fining and eventually suspending players who are simply engaging in the high-impact hits which they were constantly trained to inflict from the time they were eight years old playing in kiddies’ leagues, through high school, college, and NFL training camps—always with the threat of being benched or cut from the team if they failed to hit with maximum force at every opportunity.

“The players are put in very odd position,” observes Garvey. They risk losing their jobs if they fail to deliver as much pain as possible to opponents, while the NFL continues to market its violence as a central part of its appeal.

Moreover, the player-centered penalties conveniently sidestep theresponsibility of owners and coaches. “Coaches know their careers depend on winning, and they will teach whatever it takes to win games under the present rules, ” Garvey says. With the hard-plastic helmets a powerful weapon to use in blocking and tackling, the coaches are bound to demand helmet-first hitting that leads to concessions.

OWNERS SEE PLAYERS, EVEN STARS, AS REPLACEABLE

The owners could scarcely be more removed from the pain of players and the suffering of families of repeated concussion victims, Garvey says:

For the owners, they seem distant from the process, like the war in Afghanistan with someone else’s kids are out there being hurt and dying. The owners are relatively unaffected. They just bring in another player.

As John Mackey used to say, if you think of the NFL as a machine, it has replacement-parts factories known as colleges like Ohio State and USC and Wisconsin all over the country.

With a plentiful supply of eager and talented young players capable of making the fans forget the damaged and discarded super-stars of just a few weeks back, owners are content to make minor changes and blame the players for the concussions they suffer.

But the activism of families and players is certain to produce a vastly different game. The culture is going to change,” predicts Garvey. “Players and parents are realizing these injuries could be lifelong. Millions of youngsters are facing long term injury under the present setup—it will be a strange moment if Congress says we’re not interested in this.”

The long-term solution lies not in unilateral changes laid down from above by management, but by dialogue involving players and medical experts and coaches. “If you take the best medical minds and bring in players and coaches, you could come up with a series of recommendations that are better than what  Roger Goodell and Wellington Mara’s kid have done,” Garvey says.

Such discussions would cover equipment like the helmets, rules regarding hits on vulnerable players and medications to help treat concessions, among other issues.

But owners have seen all efforts to improve safety as encroachments on their essential management powers, says Garvey.

The introduction of plastic “Astroturf” by agri-business giant Monsanto was supposed to reduce ankle and knee injuries compared to natural turf, while saving money on maintaining football fields, the corporation promised. But the players soon discovered that being knocked to Astroturf was like landing on a thinly-covered concrete surface, meaning that players’ heads would be smacked against a totally inflexible floor again and again.

Further, knee and ankle injuries actually rose, because if a player’s cleats got tangled in Astroturf, there was no natural “give” as with natural sod. “But there was no way we could lead people out on strike over playing on Astroturf,” Garvey remembers.

“When we first talked about Astroturf, [the owners] went nuts,” Garvey says. “They said that it’s their game and they will make the rules.”

Garvey vividly recalls a discussion with the late Cleveland Browns owner Art Model about Astroturf. Modell responded by pointing to a nearby asphalt parking lot and declaring, “If I tell my team to go play on that, they had better do it.”

“We got together a team of medical experts with players and the owners wouldn’t yield, but it got discussion started,” says Garvey. Eventually, the NFL came to discourage the use of Astroturf.

MANAGEMENT CONTROL ABOVE ALL ELSE

Essentially, the NFL owners have perceived the introduction of brain injuries and other safety issues as an intrusion on sacrosanct management prerogatives and a challenge to their customary dictatorial rule.

But by now, public horror over the fate of much-beloved heroes like John Mackey and Mike Webster and anxiety about their children’s long-term health are fueling a full-scale challenge that will inevitably crack the owners’ vise-like grip over decisions affecting player safety.

Moreover, with more and more medical research on football-caused brain damage coming forth outside the NFL’s control, the league’s responsibility for their players’ long-term health is becoming undeniable.

“The liability issue now just jumps out at NFL owners,” Garvey argues. “If juries start awarding huge awards to permanently brain-damaged players, then the NFL will really have to sit up and take notice.”

This article was originally posted on Working In These Times.

About The Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

We Need to Combat Workplace Violence

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Image: Dick MeisterOrganized labor and its allies are rightly alarmed over the high incidence of on-the-job accidents that have killed or maimed many thousands of workers. But they haven’t forgotten – nor should we forget – the on-the-job violence that also afflicts many thousands.

Consider this: Every year, almost two million American men and women are the victims of violent crime at their workplaces. That often forces the victims to stay off work for a week or more and costs their employers more than $60 billion a year in lost productivity.

These crimes are the tenth leading cause of all workplace injuries. They range from murder to verbal or written abuse and threatening behavior and harassment, including bullying by employers and supervisors.

Women have been particularly victimized. At least 30,000 a year are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted while on the job. The actual total is undoubtedly much higher, since it’s estimated that only about one-fourth of such crimes are reported to the police.

Estimates are that more than 900,000 of all on-the-job crimes go unreported yearly, including a large percentage of what’s thought to be some 13,000 cases annually that involve boyfriends or husbands attacking women at their workplaces.

The Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents many of the victimized workers, cites that as an example of the job violence problem that is often distorted by media coverage that “would lead us to believe that most workplace violence involves worker against worker situations.”

The union says that has focused many employers “on identifying troubled employees or disgruntled workers who might turn into violent predators at a moment’s notice. But in fact, 62 percent of all violence at worksites is caused by outsiders.”

As you might expect, those most vulnerable to the violence are workers who exchange money with the public, deliver passengers, goods or services, work alone or in small groups during late night or early morning hours in high-crime areas or wherever they have extensive contact with the public.

That includes police, security guards, water meter readers and other utility workers, telephone and cable TV installers, letter carriers, taxi drivers, flight attendants, probation officers and teachers. Convenience store clerks and other retail workers account for fully one-fifth of the victims.

The American Federation of Teachers is so concerned that it has provided each of its 1.4 million members a $100,000 life insurance policy payable if the teacher dies as the result of workplace violence.

The major violence victims also include health care and social service workers such as visiting nurses, and employees of nursing homes, psychiatric facilities and prisons. They suffer two-thirds of all physical assaults. Many of the victims regularly deal with volatile, abusive and dangerous clients, often alone because of the understaffing that’s become all too common.

It could get even worse, at least for some workers. The RWDSU warns that today’s troubled economic times create additional threats. The danger is especially great for retail workers whose stores are likely to face increased incidents of theft, some involving gun-wielding robbers.

The RWDSU and other unions have been pushing for recognition of workplace violence as an occupational as well as criminal justice issue. That would put it under the purview of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state job safety agencies.

The federal and state agencies could then issue enforceable regulations designed to lessen the on-the-job dangers of violence, as they do for other hazardous working conditions. A few states do that already, but only for a very limited number of industries.

OSHA has issued guidelines for workers in late-night retail jobs, cab drivers and some health care workers, but the guidelines are strictly voluntary. Although the unions’ top priority is for legally binding regulations, they also are pressing employers to meanwhile voluntarily implement violence-prevention programs.

Currently, only about one-fourth of them have such programs or any guidelines at all. The RWDSU’s Health and Safety Department is offering to help the other employers develop programs.

We have federal and state standards, laws and regulations designed to protect working Americans from many of the serious on-the-job hazards they face daily. Yet we have generally failed to lay down firm guidelines for protecting workers from the workplace violence that’s one of the most dangerous hazards of all.

*This post originally appeared in Truth Out on February 11, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Dick Meister is a former labor correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle and has covered labor and politics for a half-century as a newspaper, radio, television and online reporter, editor and commentator.

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