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Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

Lost pregnancies at a Verizon warehouse show the urgent need for a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

In a Tennessee warehouse supplying Verizon customers with their phones and tablets, pregnant women are routinely worked to the point of losing their pregnancies, lifting boxes up to 45 pounds through long shifts in heat that can reach more than 100 degrees. And there is no law that says their employer can’t do this to them. Sure, there’s the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but even when it’s enforced, it has loopholes you can drive a 747 through. 

If companies “treat their nonpregnant employees terribly, they have every right to treat their pregnant employees terribly as well,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who has pushed for stronger federal protections for expecting mothers.

That’s why Democrats keep introducing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to strengthen protections for pregnant women. But Republicans won’t consider it, not that this stops them from proclaiming themselves to be protectors of family values.

Early miscarriages are very common and are typically associated with chromosomal abnormalities rather than anything a woman in early pregnancy might do. But that’s not what the New York Times is reporting on here. Several of the cases cited in this article involved later pregnancy loss, well into the second trimester when miscarriages are much less common, and even into stillbirth territory. One of the women interviewed for the story delivered a baby at 20 weeks that lived for 10 minutes. “My husband and I watched her die,” she said. This is much, much less common, and when it comes after a woman has worked for hours lifting heavy boxes, against her doctor’s advice and after her employer has refused to give her light duty, it should be a crime. That’s not all, either. After a worker in the same warehouse died on the job, “In Facebook posts at the time and in recent interviews, employees said supervisors told them to keep working as the woman lay dead.”

Verizon said “We have no tolerance—zero tolerance—for this sort of alleged behavior,” except, apparently, to the extent that it has been tolerating the behavior right up until a newspaper started reporting on it. The company says it is investigating the workers’ claims.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on October 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Sickened Kingston coal ash workers claim company hid health risks, tampered with air monitors

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

The trial in one of the nation’s worst workplace negligence cases began this week in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee. The workers assigned to clean up the massive coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant are finally getting their day in court.

After the jury was seated, it didn’t take long for witnesses to cast management of the coal ash clean-up in a bad light. A worker for Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the contractor put in charge of site cleanup, testified that the company was more worried about public perception than worker safety.

A company supervisor told the worker, Robert Muse Jr., to report any other workers who were wearing respiratory gear to clean up the coal ash and that the employees would be dealt with. Jacobs Engineering did not want to give the appearance that the coal ash was something the public should worry about.

Nearly 10 years have passed since 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled from a retention pond adjacent to the TVA Kingston coal-fired power plant in eastern Tennessee. The spill was the worst coal ash disaster in U.S. history; it occurred in the early morning hours of December 22, 2008, when a retaining wall failed at the huge coal ash retention pond.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected the Superfund program in 2009 as the best regulatory vehicle to address the coal ash disaster “due to its comprehensive human health and ecological risk assessment process and its proven ability to actively engage and involve multiple stakeholders in large, complex environmental cleanup projects.”

Home and land owners have already been able to receive compensation for damages from the spill. The TVA finished its major cleanup work of the site at the end of 2014. The federal power agency reported spending more than $1 billion on the cleanup project. It sent 41,000 rail cars of ash to a landfill in Alabama.

The Kingston coal plant, with a generating capacity of almost 1,400 megawatts, is still in operation. The plant burns about 14,000 tons of coal a day, an amount that would fill 140 railroad cars.

But long after the cleanup has finished, impacts from the contamination are still being felt.

Many of the workers were forced to leave their jobs after they got sick during cleanup, not knowing at the time that breathing in the coal ash had made them sick. And nearly a decade after the devastating coal ash spill in Roane County, Tennessee, more than 30 clean-up workers are dead and more than 250 are sick or dying — all from illnesses and diseases reportedly linked in medical studies to the toxins from coal ash.

The workers now are suing Jacobs Engineering, the contractor put in charge of cleanup of the site, alleging the firm lied to them about the dangers of long-term exposure to coal ash, denied them protective gear, and tampered with testing that was designed to keep both the public and the laborers safe.

One of the employees for the company hired to clean up the spill told the court on Wednesday that if he and his fellow workers had known what was in the coal ash, they would have quit their jobs.

The case has consolidated the claims of 70 different workers involved in the cleanup project managed by Jacobs Engineering. The jury trial is taking place in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, about 35 miles northeast of Kingston.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages for “physical injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish, increased risk of disease, fear of disease, medical expenses, medical monitoring, and compensatory damages in any amount or amounts fair to be determined by a jury at trial.”

In its defense, Jacobs Engineering’s attorney is contending that the workers are lying about the steps the company took to cover up the contamination and — even if the workers are not lying — Jacobs Engineering had no duty to protect them.

The Knoxville News Sentinel brought greater public attention to the plight of the workers assigned to cleanup up the toxic waste from the site. The newspaper, which has won awards for its coverage, examined why so many cleanup workers at the site were getting sick and dying. In her coverage of the cleanup, reporter Jamie Satterfield learned that workers weren’t warned of the dangers of the coal ash and were, in fact, told the coal ash was perfectly safe.

The state of Tennessee began its investigation into the treatment of the cleanup workers in early 2017. Satterfiled’s newspaper in July 2017 published its first series of stories on the probe.

During cleanup, Jacobs Engineering placed monitors around the site to monitor the toxicity of the ash. The company said it closely monitored levels of toxic chemicals at the site. It said the levels were never high enough to cause injuries. The site had levels of chemicals below the EPA’s set level of permissible exposure, the company’s lawyers said.

But on Wednesday, Muse, one of the workers at the site, testified about how Jacobs Engineering tampered with the monitors.

The company would order workers to wash coal ash from the stationary monitors and keep the area around them wet, which would lower the toxicity of the test results. Workers also captured secret video of Jacobs Engineering staffers banging out ash from the cartridges of the monitors placed around the site to monitor the toxicity of the ash, the News Sentinel reported.

During the trial, the jury will be asked to decide whether the toxic chemicals at the site were capable of causing the workers to get seriously ill.

“The workers are claiming that they have been harmed,” Sidney Gilreath, a personal injury attorney who has worked on similar cases, told 10News. “And they are sick, there’s no question about that. The question is did the working in the fly ash cause that harm.”

Because many of the plaintiffs have different illnesses, he said it will be more difficult to show Jacobs Engineering is liable for the deaths and illnesses.

The trial is expected to last for several weeks.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate and environment reporter at ThinkProgress.

UAW Appeals Volkswagen Vote Over Threats from Republican Officials

Monday, February 24th, 2014
Laura ClawsonThe UAW is appealing its narrow loss in the recent union representation vote at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, citing Republican politicians’ threats against jobs if workers unionized. The union is asking the National Labor Relations Board to hold a new election. For his part, Sen. Bob Corker remains on the offensive, blasting the union as being “only interested in its own survival and not the interests of the great employees at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen facility nor the company for which they work.” Because threatening to block support for VW’s expansion if workers did unionize shows that Tennessee Republicans were entirely focused on the workers’ interests, don’t you know.It’s very uncertain whether the UAW’s appeal will be successful. Lydia DePillis points tocompeting precedents. On the one hand:

… the Board has seen the reverse situation, in which politicians endorsed a union. In 2011, for example, the Communications Workers of America won an election at Affiliated Computer Services, which New York State had retained to set up its EZPass system for road tolls. The company objected, saying that a U.S. congressman and a New York State senator had influenced the election by making statements in favor of the union — and also by pointing out that they sat on committees that oversaw the company’s business.The Board disagreed, ruling that “public officials, even public officials involved in the regulation of the employer’s industry, like other third parties, are not required to remain neutral and may properly seek to persuade employees.”

On the other hand:

… in 2000, the Board ruled that politicians in the Northern Mariana Islands had sullied an election by targeting non-residents who voted to join a hotel union. The D.C. Circuit reversed its decision for lack of evidence, but didn’t touch the principle that lawmakers had the power to create an untenable environment of fear.

Getting a new vote is a long shot, and winning it is an even longer one, given the dedication to intimidation shown by Republicans and outside groups, as well as the fact that some significant chunk of the plant’s workers would be unlikely ever to vote for a union, given the anti-union environment of the south. The threats from Corker and other Tennessee Republicans were all upside down—they weren’t going to face any personal penalties, and they had the opportunity to make a difference in a close election.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on February 24, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

Tennessee Republicans Celebrate Union Loss at Volkswagen by Talking Subsidies

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Laura ClawsonSen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) threats against jobs may or may not have changed the outcome of a union election at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, in which the UAW lost a narrow victory. We’ll probably never know exactly how many workers decided to vote against unionizing after the Republican senator claimed that if they voted no, Volkswagen would quickly expand production at the plant. But Corker is certainly pleased with himself:

Corker, who had originally announced he would refrain from making public comments during the election, changed course last week after he said the union tried to use his silence to chastise other critics. Corker said after the vote that he was happy he joined the fray.“I have no idea what effect we may or may not have had,” Corker said. “But I think I would have forever felt tremendous remorse if … I had not re-engaged and made sure that people understand other arguments that needed to be put forth.”

“Other arguments that needed to be put forth” equaling Corker’s assertions, plus other politicians’ similar threats. In fact:

Corker said the day after the vote that he and other state officials planned to restart discussions with Volkswagen officials this week about state subsidies for expanded production in Chattanooga.

Those are subsidies that were explicitly threatened if workers had voted to unionize. There were, of course, other factors in the loss. As Erik Loomis points out “There were almost certainly several hundred no votes from the beginning” in a workforce with a lot of white southerners. Douglas Williams and pseudonymous organizer Cato Uticensis also argue that the UAW made significant organizing errors.

Whatever the combination of causes leading to the 712 to 626 loss, though, Tennessee Republicans made clear that their opposition to having a significant workplace organized is strong enough to threaten jobs over. Which makes total sense: Republicans want workers weak and scared. Defeating unions and keeping jobs scarce both contribute to that goal.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on February 17, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

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