Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2018

My Workers Memorial Day: Fight for Your Union, Fight for Your Lives

Monday, April 30th, 2018

I hope you’re all doing something to commemorate Workers Memorial Day — even if your own personal moment of silence and commitment to do more this coming year to ensure that workers come home safe and healthy at the end of the workday.

Last night I was interviewed on Houston’s  KPFT “Voices at Work” radio show about Workers Memorial Day and the daily  assault on working people. You can listen to it here (the April 27 show), if you have a half hour to burn.  I come on at about minute 30:00

Fight For Your Union

Today I’m in Lake Placid, New York, to give the keynote speech to one-thousand very enthusiastic health and safety reps from CSEA/AFSCME representing state and local workers in New York.  I won’t bore you with the entire speech here, except for one core message that no one should forget:

It comes as no surprise to anyone that the public sector has come under attack recently, and with it, everything that once made America great — great education, roads, infrastructure, health care — all seem to be things of the past.

As tax-cut mania sweeps the country, budgets are slashed, and with them the number of public employees who do America’s most important and most dangerous work.  Those public employees who are left are finding their wages stagnant, their benefits slashed and their working conditions deteriorating.  The only thing saving them — and the America we believe in  — is public employee unions.

You at CSEA have always stood up to those attacks and fought for better working conditions, pay and benefits for the important — and dangerous — work that you do. And now we’re seeing teachers in the reddest of red states stand up, walk out and strike for more education funding.  Is that great or what?

But now, the Supreme Court — at the behest of corporate America and right-wing ideologues — may be poised, with the Janus case, to severely undermine the power of public employee unions and with it, the entire labor movement. If that happens, I can guarantee you that not only will the quality of life in the United States suffer, but more workers — especially public employees — will get hurt and die in the workplace.

Sure, you have a right to a safe workplace. But ultimately your health and safety is safeguarded by your union.

So stand by your union! Fight for your union! And fight for your right to come home safe and healthy at the end of every day!

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on April 28, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

Why Hundreds of Georgia Bus Drivers Just Staged a Massive Sickout

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Robbie Brown loved her students. For 18 years, she drove them in her yellow bus to and from schools in DeKalb County, Georgia. And then, last Friday, two police officers showed up at Brown’s house with a letter. She’d been fired.

Brown is one of at least seven drivers sacked after staging a “sickout” to demand better pay and benefits. Last Thursday, nearly 400 school bus drivers and monitors in DeKalb County called in sick, aiming to pressure school district officials to boost driver pay, improve retirement packages and reclassify drivers from part-time to full-time employees. The drivers have 50 demands in all. Some paint a picture of a bus system in disrepair: Drivers say they need restrooms at parking lots, working intercom systems, air conditioning on buses. Other demands, like “fair treatment for bus drivers,” tell a story of workers who are tired of being pushed around.

While district officials say they fired “ringleaders,” drivers say plans for the sickout emerged informally, and spread by word of mouth. Drivers in DeKalb, which covers part of Atlanta, are not unionized, and as public employees in Georgia, they’re barred from collective bargaining and striking. But Brown, who’s 51, felt like she had to speak out.

“My mortgage is $1,000 a month, and there’s no way, even if I retire in 20 or 30 years, that I can afford to keep my home,” she told Scalawag Magazine. Brown’s retirement plan would net her only about $400 a month after she stopped working, she says. Many of her colleagues work well into their 70s just to keep the lights on.

“Once we get old enough to retire, we can’t pay the bills.”

The sickout, which continued through Monday, comes after months of meetings in which drivers voiced concerns over benefits and pay to district officials. And it follows waves of wildcat strikes by public school teachers across the South and West who are demanding better treatment and pay. It’s too early to tell what effect the DeKalb sickout will have, but supporters hope it will add fuel to a resurgent labor movement in public education. Closer to home, Brown hopes the action will pressure district officials to meet drivers’ demands, and perhaps provoke teachers, custodians and other workers in Georgia schools to fight for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

“They need to stand up,” Brown said. “If you stand together, if you make a chain link with your hands and hold on, it can be done.”

While a number of DeKalb teachers support the sickout, teachers in Georgia might be reluctant to jump on a picket line, says Verdalia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

“We don’t even have the word strike in our vocabulary here because there is no reason for our membership to strike,” Turner said. “Our plan is to continue to organize as issues come about … I hope all workers can get organized with an organization that they control and can run democratically.”

In DeKalb County, employment incentives discourage teachers from organizing, according to a teacher in the district. She spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about retaliation. Some teachers are complacent, she said. And because enough teachers want to leave the classroom for the administrative ranks, where they can expect much higher salaries, it’s difficult to whip up support for collective protest, the teacher, who is a member of the Georgia Association of Educators, explained.

“The way the system has been created, it incentivizes keeping your head down and following the rules,” she said, adding that “there’s no indication of a walkout, a sickout, or a protest.”

Yet strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma have shown that teachers in states hostile to organized labor, and battered by funding cuts, can win material gains through collective protest. It’s worth remembering that the teacher strikes began in only a handful of counties in southern West Virginia, weeks before there was public chatter about a state-wide work stoppage. Even though the driver sickout only affected one Georgia county, 42 percent of DeKalb’s drivers refused to work last Thursday. If drivers win some of the improvements they’re asking for, it could be an early sign that drivers, custodians and other non-teacher staff can use direct action to successfully push for better labor conditions in the right-to-work south.

It’ll be a tough fight, though. While a DeKalb spokesperson told Scalawag that district officials have been developing a timeline for addressing driver concerns, the DeKalb County Superintendent condemned the sickout last week, saying the action put students in danger. “This is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated,” Superintendent Stephen Green told reporters at a press conference last Thursday, saying they will now require doctors’ notes from drivers who call in sick. “Your actions will have consequences and there will be repercussions for putting our children in harm’s way.”

For Brown, who has three children of her own, the suggestion that drivers would intentionally endanger their students is “totally ridiculous.” “I love my kids, I know all my kids’ names,” she said. She’s sad to think she might not see them again. “That’s the biggest regret I have — that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to them.”

Drivers have been raising concerns about pay and conditions for over two years. In recent months, a committee of drivers and bus monitors met regularly with district higher-ups, and drivers flooded recent DeKalb County Board of Education meetings with questions and complaints. On April 17, two days before the sickout, drivers met with Superintendent Green to discuss their demands. When drivers didn’t get concessions they’d asked for, they informed district officials about a planned sickout, giving them time to alert parents about possible delays. The district’s decision to subsequently fire alleged “ringleaders” prompted drivers to seek assistance from outside organizations, including Atlanta’s General Defense Committee, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union.

On Thursday, fired drivers held a press conference calling on Superintendent Green to rehire Brown and her colleagues. They were joined by still-employed drivers, parents of DeKalb students, and members of supportive organizations.

Melanie Douglas, a fired driver, censured Superintendent Green for behaving contrary to what DeKalb schools teach students about the importance of free speech. “The message is if you speak up about injustice, if you use your First Amendment rights, then we will strike you down,” she said.

A district spokesperson told Scalawag Superintendent Green has no plans to rehire fired drivers, but did meet with members of the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee on Thursday. “The district has been open, is open, and will continue to be open to sitting down and thinking about issues and how to solve them,” the spokesperson added.

But during the press conference, Douglas said the superintendent was trying to “sow division between the fired and still-employed drivers.” Another fired driver, Marion Payne, said he wasn’t confident the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee would advocate for rehiring drivers. “They’re afraid to death. They might not say anything,” he said.

A current driver, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed that retaliation has not entirely chilled their efforts. He said drivers may yet resolve to take further action if their demands are not met.

Drivers are also consulting with lawyers about possibly contesting the terminations in court, according to Sara Khaled, a community organizer working with the drivers. “But we’re hoping we can resolve this outside the court to get the drivers hired again and get some of their original demands met,” they added.

Whatever comes of it, the sickout is history-making. It’s the first work stoppage by school bus drivers in Atlanta since 1980, when drivers shut down schools in Fulton County. And it comes on the heels of several successful organizing efforts by bus drivers elsewhere. In February, Seattle school bus drivers staged a week-long strike, forcing management to expand benefit packages and provide comprehensive healthcare coverage. Also in February, city transit workers in Atlanta went on strike to protest unfair labor practices, ultimately prompting their employer to agree to improvements in their contract. (Crucially, drivers in DeKalb insist that their action was not a strike.)

Meanwhile, Brown’s future remains uncertain. “I am applying for jobs,” she said, a little wistfully. “My license is a Class A, and I’m thinking of driving trucks, even though I love my kids and I loved my eighteen years.”

This article was published at In These Times on April 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Williams is a writer based in Durham, NC. He covers issues from environmental justice to southern culture, and has published work in The New York Times, The Nation, HuffPost, and other local and national outlets.

15 Things You Need to Know from the 2018 Death on the Job Report

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

For the 27th year in a row, the AFL-CIO has produced Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect. The report gathers evidence on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers.

Passed in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act has saved the lives of more than 559,000 working people. President Barack Obama had a strong record of improving working conditions by strengthening enforcement, issuing key safety and health standards, and improving anti-retaliation and other protections for workers. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has moved aggressively on his deregulatory agenda, repealing and delaying job safety and other rules, and proposing deep cuts to the budget and the elimination of worker safety and health training programs.

These are challenging times for working people and their unions, and the prospects for worker safety and health protections are uncertain. What is clear, however, is that the toll of workplace injury, illness and death remains too high, and too many workers remain at serious risk. There is much more work to be done. Here are 15 key things you need to know from this year’s report, which primarily covers data from 2016.

  1. 150 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions.

  2. 5,190 workers were killed on the job in the United States—an increase from 4,836 deaths the previous year.

  3. An additional 50,000 to 60,000 workers died from occupational diseases.

  4. The job fatality rate increased to 3.6 per 100,000 workers from 3.4 per 100,000 workers.

  5. Service-providing industries saw the largest increase in the job fatality rate. The rate declined in manufacturing and mining and was unchanged in construction—all industries that receive the greatest oversight from OSHA or the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

  6. Employers reported nearly 3.7 million work-related injuries and illnesses.

  7. Underreporting is widespread—the true toll of work-related injuries and illnesses is 7.4 million to 11.1 million each year.

  8. The states with the highest job fatality rates were Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota.

  9. Workplace violence deaths increased significantly. The 866 worker deaths caused by violence in 2016 made it the second-leading cause of workplace death. Violence also was responsible for more than 27,000 lost-time injuries.

  10. Women are at greater risk than men; they suffered two-thirds of the lost-time injuries related to workplace violence.

  11. There is no federal OSHA standard to protect workers from workplace violence; the Trump administration has sidelined an OSHA workplace violence standard.

  12. Latino and immigrant workers’ safety and health has improved, but the risk to these workers still is greater than other workers.

  13. Older workers are at high risk, with 36% of all worker fatalities occurring among those ages 55 or older.

  14. The industries with the most deaths were construction, transportation, agriculture, and mining and extraction.

  15. The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous—estimated at $250 billion to $360 billion a year.

The Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress have launched a major assault on regulatory protections and are moving aggressively to roll back regulations, block new protections, and put agency budgets and programs on the chopping block. The data in this year’s Death on the Job report shows that now is a time when workers need more job safety and health protection, not less.

Columbia grad students go on strike to protest university’s efforts to block unionization

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

More than a year after graduate students at Columbia University voted to unionize with the United Automobile Workers, hundreds of students participated in a walkout Tuesday to protest the university’s refusal to bargain with them.

The students plan to stage a week-long strike during what is the university’s most hectic time, when students and professors are preparing for finals and the help of graduate teaching assistants, fellows, and research assistants is critical.

They claim that the university has “repeatedly ignored” the majority support among graduate students for the Graduate Workers of Columbia University-United Automobile Workers (GWC-UAW). This, despite the fact that efforts to unionize have been ongoing for more than three years.

The conflict between the university and its students regarding unionization is rooted in a fundamental disagreement about whether or not graduate students are university employees — students argue that they are, and the university contends that they’re not.

The distinction is not merely an issue of semantics, but one of rights, better wages, and improved working conditions. According to a January 2018 report by the Economic Policy Institute, graduate teaching assistants have taken on heavier workloads, have more responsibility when it comes to teaching and grading, and assume much of the research that ends up winning the universities grants and prestige.

“And yet the pay they receive rarely rises to the level of a living wage,” the report stated.

The EPI report found that between 2005 and 2015, the rise in graduate assistant and non-tenure-track faculty jobs surpassed that of tenured and tenure-track jobs, with the former currently making up approximately 73 percent of the academic workforce.

“The simple explanation for this increasing reliance on graduate and non-tenure-track faculty is that they are far less costly to employ,” the report reads.

In a statement last week, Columbia University provost John H. Coatsworth said “we believe it would not serve the best interests of our academic mission—or of students themselves—for our student teaching and research assistants to engage with the University as employees rather than students.”

Coatsworth noted that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has “repeatedly reversed itself on the status of teaching and research assistants over the past 15 years,” and called for a judicial review of the “still-unsettled question.” The most recent decision came in 2016, when the NLRB ruled that student teaching and research assistants at private universities are employees with the right to form a union. That ruling is expected to be reversed again under the current Trump administration.

Other universities across the country, including Harvard University and the University of Chicago, have also recently taken steps toward unionization. Harvard graduate students voted to unionize with UAW last week.

“This growing momentum makes clear that Columbia’s efforts to block our democratic rights here on our campus cannot hold back the rising tide of academic workers seeking to improve our conditions and make our universities more just and inclusive for all,” a statement posted on the GWC website on Monday reads. “Columbia administration needs to get on the right of history and negotiate with our union.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Colorado Republican bill would jail teachers for walking out

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Colorado teachers are getting ready to join the wave of teacher walkouts to fight for pay raises and increased education funding—and two Republican lawmakers want to jail the teachers for their activism.

The bill, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail, the bill language reads.

The bill also directs school districts to fire teachers on the spot without a proper hearing if they’re found in contempt of court and also bans public school teachers from getting paid “for any day which the public school teacher participates in a strike.”

Presumably state Rep. Paul Lundeen and state Sen. Bob Gardner have not read the polls showing widespread support for teacher walkouts and an even more widespread sentiment that teachers are underpaid. Or maybe they have read the polls and they just don’t care how unpopular their jail-the-teachers bill would be.

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

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

Toiling Over a “Puddle of Blood”: Why These Warehouse Workers Are Standing Up to Abuses

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lent his support to the historic Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. Today, the safe working conditions that strikers fought for in 1968 remain elusive for low-wage workers in one Memphis warehouse.

Workers at the XPO Logistics warehouse in Memphis announced in early April that they had filed a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging rampant abuse, including sexual harassment. On April 3, workers held a rally with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) to coincide with the filing of the EEOC complaint.

The complaint was triggered by an XPO worker’s death that co-workers attribute to company policies which restrict workers from leaving the job. In October 2017, Linda Neal, 58, died at work after passing out on the job. Workers allege that a supervisor denied Neal being given CPR by a co-worker. Medical reports confirmed that Neal died of a heart attack caused by cardiovascular disease.

XPO Logistics, based in Connecticut, has warehouses across the country and a market value of nearly $9 billion. The company provides transportation, delivery and logistics for Verizon, Ikea, Home Depot and other retailers. The Memphis warehouse has more than 300 permanent employees and more than 400 temporary workers.

Lakeisha Nelson, who has worked for XPO since 2014 and was close to Neal, tells In These Times, “[Neal] was a mother figure to a lot of us, and we had to become family in that building. We had to work over the puddle of blood that was left behind the next morning, and that hurt me to my core.”

Nelson believes company policy played a role in Neal’s death, recalling that an XPO supervisor would not allow Neal to leave work when she expressed she was feeling ill.

“She told them she wasn’t feeling well and this was just XPO’s policy,” says Nelson. “I don’t blame the supervisor, he was just doing his job. This is what he has to do in order to keep his job—don’t let anyone go home.”

“The only thing that’s important to XPO is them making money, and if it takes our lives to get their money, then our lives are expendable,” says Nelson. “And they tell us all, if you don’t like the way we do things, find another job. It’s very, very easy to get fired there.”

Staff workers have filed multiple complaints regarding safety hazards and dangerous working conditions, but little has been done by management to address them, according to Nelson.

Nelson says the building and ceiling are caving in while workers face harsh temperatures inside that fluctuate with the weather, and that sweaters are only allowed if they are purchased through the company.

The forgotten women of #MeToo

Sexual harassment at the company is another issue that has gone unsolved, despite attempts to get Human Resources involved, according to Nelson.

The warehouse has a history of sexual harassment. In 2015, New Breed Logistics, which was acquired by XPO in 2014, lost a $1.5 million dollar suit after a male supervisor sexually harassed three female temporary workers who were then terminated for refusing his advances.

Elizabeth Gedmark is a senior staff attorney for A Better Balance, an organization that promotes paid leave and other family-friendly policies, and which is supporting the Memphis warehouse workers. She says that low-wage workers are particularly at risk of harassment. 

“The notion that you can just quit and leave your job when you’re faced with sexual harassment or discrimination does not apply to a low-wage worker needing to get by living paycheck to paycheck,” Gedmark tells In These Times. “If she does file a complaint, she faces a very real likelihood of retaliation.

“They’re very much a part of the global #MeToo movement that’s not just about movie stars or wealthy women, it’s really about these women being put front and center, the hard-working, average women who too often go unnoticed.”

Next steps

Restrictive scheduling and time-off policies are also affecting XPO workers’ personal lives. Nelson claims that workers often do not know when their shift will end and have little to no notice of overtime.

Elizabeth Howley, 38, is the operational administrator for the Memphis warehouse and has been at the company for six years. Howley has also expressed concerns over poor working conditions, claiming workers have been forced to deal with bugs, snakes and other creatures infesting the workplace. But, she says, the strict hours are what have most driven emotional stress in her personal life.

Howley says that most of the women working at the warehouse are single mothers, and being separated from their families and children for long periods have taken a toll on them. When Howley’s oldest son dropped out of high school, she says, she was unable to get out of work to help get him back into school. 

“I’ve lost so much time with my children in the past five or six years being with this company and it hurts because my kids are in need of me and I can’t be there for them,” Howley tells In These Times. “I had to apologize, saying ‘I’m sorry, son, I don’t have PTO time to get you back into school.’”

The Memphis XPO warehouse workers are currently working with IBT to address these issues and improve the safety conditions and end the harassment that continues in their workplace. They are in the early stages of organizing, and IBT General President James P. Hoffa has pledged to back them in their union drive. They have also earned the support of civil and women’s rights groups such as the NAACP and National Women’s Law Center.

“Maybe by exposing XPO and the conditions that they make these workers work under will bring about a change,” Felicia Walker, an international organizer for IBT, tells In These Times. “These are human beings, not animals. There are laws to protect animals from that treatment, what about humans?”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Mica Soellner is a journalist currently based in Washington D.C. She has written for a variety of global outlets and is interested in pursuing stories about issues in the workplace.

Production Over Safety at Tesla: “People are getting hurt every day”

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX and Tesla is a seriously strange and driven guy. That can be a good thing in some circumstances and even amusing if it’s your next door neighbor or crazy uncle. But when you own a major car company, it can mean workers getting hurt or killed. Last May we wrote about a report chronicling Tesla’s poor safety record. And things apparently aren’t getting any better.

After interviewing more than three dozen current and former employees and managers — including five former members of its environment, health and safety team —  and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, a major investigative piece by Will Evans and Alyssa Jeong Perry at Reveal and the Center for Investigative reporting found that Tesla is ignoring major health and safety issues in their Fremont, California plant and is making the company’s injury numbers look better than they actually are by repeatedly failing to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated OSHA reports.

Why? Production over safety:  “Everything took a back seat to production,” according to Justine White, a former safety lead, “It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed.”

Almost every day there is an article describing Tesla’s failure to meet its self imposed deadline for delivery of its moderately priced Model 3. And Musk seems to be taking out on his employees.

Elon Doesn’t Want Signs

And second, as I mentioned above, Elon Musk is a seriously weird guy who doesn’t like yellow lines on the floor (that set pedestrian safety lanes to avoid fork lifts) or clutter caused by safety signs, or noise caused by back-up beepers. So unpleasant!

In her March 2017 resignation letter, White recounted the time she told her boss, Seth Woody, “that the plant layout was extremely dangerous to pedestrians.” Woody, head of the safety team, told her “that Elon didn’t want signs, anything yellow (like caution tape) or to wear safety shoes in the plant” and acknowledged it “was a mess,” she wrote.

So what are we talking about? Exposure to un-monitored toxic chemicals, heavy manual lifting because mechanical lifts are too slow, lack of training, musculoskeletal injuries and on and on. 

Elon didn’t want signs, anything yellow (like caution tape) or to wear safety shoes in the plant

There’s this:

Last April, Tarik Logan suffered debilitating headaches from the fumes of a toxic glue he had to use at the plant. He texted his mom: “I’m n hella pain foreal something ain’t right.” The searing pain became so unbearable he couldn’t work, and it plagued him for weeks.

But Logan’s inhalation injury, as it was diagnosed, never made it onto the official injury logs that state and federal law requires companies to keep. Neither did reports from other factory workers of sprains, strains and repetitive stress injuries from piecing together Tesla’s sleek cars. Instead, company officials labeled the injuries personal medical issues or minor incidents requiring only first aid, according to internal company records obtained by Reveal.

And this:

When building Tesla’s other cars, former workers said they had to sacrifice their bodies to save time. Some workers, for example, lifted heavy car seats over their shoulders because the mechanical assists designed to ease the load were too slow, said Joel Barraza, a former production associate.

“People would carry a seat because they’d be like, ‘Oh, I gotta get this done.’ I personally carried a seat,” Barraza said. “They’re supposed to move. Move it on, move it on, keep the line going.”

White, the former safety lead, also said workers sometimes lifted seats manually, but Tesla, in a statement, said it doesn’t happen.

A former Tesla safety professional … said the company systematically undercounted injuries by mislabeling them

And this:

A former Tesla safety professional … said the company systematically undercounted injuries by mislabeling them. “I saw injuries on there like broken bones and lacerations that they were saying were not recordable” as injuries, said the safety professional, who asked to remain anonymous. “I saw a lot of stuff that was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ ”

Even where supervisors labeled an injury job-related, it often didn’t get recorded on OSHA logs:

For a dozen examples provided to the company by Reveal, Tesla stood by its decision to not count them. It said workers may have thought they were injured because of their jobs, and supervisors may have assumed the same. But later, Tesla said, a medical professional – sometimes contracted or affiliated with the company – determined there was no connection to work.

 “It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed.”  – Justine White, former Tesla safety lead

And then there are injuries suffered by temporary workers. Companies must count those injuries if they supervise the temps:

At one point, though, White said she asked her supervisor why the injury rate seemed off, and he told her they weren’t counting temp worker injuries.

“They knew they were reporting incorrect numbers,” White said. “Those workers were being injured on the floor and that wasn’t being captured, and they knew that.”

Tesla began to fix that problem in 2017, former employees said, but it’s unclear how consistently.

After workers requested the company’s injury logs last year, Tesla amended its original 2016 report to add 135 injuries that hadn’t been counted previously. The company said it changed the numbers after it discovered injuries that hadn’t been shared with Tesla by its temp agencies.

Average Isn’t Good Enough…Until It Is

Now, we wrote about the health and safety problems at Tesla last year after Worksafe, a California-based organization that works to prevent injury, illness, and death, issued a report finding that the rate of serious worker injuries at Tesla’s Fremont, California plant was approximately double the auto industry rate for 2015. Tesla rebutted that in 2017, Tesla’s overall injury rate was dramatically better in the first quarter of the year. And Musk later stated that even being “average” wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to be better than average:

Last year, Musk claimed in a staffwide email and at a shareholder meeting that the company’s injury rate was much better than the industry average. A company blog post said that to be average would be “to go backwards.”

Then Tesla apparently did hit reverse.

“Our 2017 data showed that we are at industry average, so we’re happy about that,” Shelby said, explaining the earlier claims as a “snapshot in time.”

A Calculated Disinformation Campaign Driven by Extremists

So how did Tesla respond to the Reveal investigation? Maybe something like “thanks for pointing out these serious problems. We will do whatever is necessary, no matter the cost, to fix them?”

Not exactly. More like a statement accusing Reveal of being a tool in an ongoing unionization drive and portraying “a completely false picture of Tesla and what it is actually like to work here.”

“In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.”

Well at least they didn’t call the Reveal journalists “slime bags.”

The UAW has been trying to organize the plant for some time. The authors of the article noted that “Some of the workers who spoke to Reveal have supported the unionization effort, while many others – including safety professionals – had no involvement.”

Volks Redux

And one more thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article. You all may remember last March when Congress repealed OSHA’s Volks regulation that would have allowed OSHA to continue enforcing a requirement that employers maintain accurate injury and illness records for a period of five years.  What that means is that in this case, let’s say OSHA launches an inspection of Tesla on May 1 and finds dozens or hundreds of cases of chronically and deliberately inaccurate recording of injuries and illnesses over the past five years. And let’s say it then takes OSHA four months to issue a citation. Due to the repeal of the Volks rule, OSHA would only be able to cite inaccurate recordkeeping for the months of March and April 2018, and most like issue a tiny penalty.

As we’ve described before, OSHA has in the past used large recordkeeping citations to drive major health and safety improvements in large companies and throughout entire industries. But no more. Thanks Trump (and Ryan and McConnell)

Now, of course, Tesla is in California and is under CalOSHA’s authority, not federal OSHA’s authority.  It’s unclear to me whether the Volks case, which limited OSHA recordkeeping citations to six months, applies in California. (Those who know the answer, feel free to use the comment link below.)

I Can’t Sleep Here at Tesla

Former safety lead Justine White’s story says everything there is to say about Tesla’s approach to workplace safety:

A few months into her job, White became so alarmed that she wrote to a human resources manager that “the risk of injury is too high. People are getting hurt every day and near-hit incidents where people are getting almost crushed or hit by cars is unacceptable.”

The next day, she emailed Sam Teller, Musk’s chief of staff, that safety team leaders were failing to address the hazards.

“I know what can keep a person up at night regarding safety,” she wrote. “I must tell you that I can’t sleep here at Tesla.”

She said she never heard back from Musk’s office. She transferred departments and quit a couple months later, disillusioned.

Meanwhile, we hear that CalOSHA has opened a new inspection at Tesla.

Stay tuned.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on April 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

She gave the President the finger. Employer gave her the boot.

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Juli Briskman was on her own time, riding her bicycle, when President Trump’s motorcade drove by. She expressed her personal feelings with a middle finger salute, not realizing that a news reporter had captured her gesture on camera.

She abruptly lost her job after the photo went viral on social media. Her employer, a government contracting firm, feared the Trump administration would retaliate by withholding or not renewing contracts. She has sued for wrongful termination.

Did her employer’s action violate her rights?

Briskman was forced to resign in November 2017. She has now filed a lawsuit against her employer, citing violation of her civil rights. There are limits on free speech in the workplace. But she wasn’t in the workplace. When she “flipped the bird” at the president and his motorcade, she was doing so as a private citizen.

Giving someone the finger, however uncouth it may seem, is protected speech under the First Amendment. Employers do have some leeway to discipline or fire workers if they badmouth the company or if their personal conduct violates a corporate policy.

Briskman is claiming that she was fired as a sacrificial lamb. Her employer, Akima, has government contracts. The company has not claimed that her speech violated policy or offended her co-workers. Rather, she contends the company terminated her to avoid the wrath of the White House. The stated reason for her forced resignation was that the company could lose out on lucrative contracts if she were retained. In other words, the company retaliated against her before the president could retaliate against the company.

Can an employer pre-emptively terminate a worker for what might happen?

Ms. Briskman would likely still have her job if she had given the finger to anyone other than the president of the United States. And perhaps if it had been any other president. Maybe management was pressured by the White House through back channels. Maybe they just weren’t taking any chances.

The question for the court, or a jury, will be whether Akima was within its rights to take adverse employment action against an employee for (a) private speech that could (b) potentially but not necessarily affect its future contracts.

“Working for a company that does business with the federal government should never limit your ability to criticize that government in your private time,” Briskman has stated.

This unsettled legal issue will likely come up again

In the age of social media, clashes between free speech and employment are increasingly common. What you post on Facebook or Instagram on your free time may be visible to your bosses. Anyone with a cellphone can capture your strong words or rude gestures and make you suddenly (in)famous on the internet.

It will be interesting to see where this lawsuit goes. Do you think political speech or personal opinions while you are off duty should be protected? Or should employers be able to fire workers for free speech that results in backlash against the company?

This blog was originally published at the Passman & Kaplan blog on April 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

New Jersey to be tenth state with paid sick leave, but the U.S. stays at the bottom worldwide

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

More than a million workers will be getting paid sick leave soon after New Jersey’s legislature has passed a bill, which Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports. That makes New Jersey the tenth state to require paid sick leave, and the second to do so in 2018, but New Jersey’s path to this point has been especially tough. Republican former Gov. Chris Christie kept a statewide sick leave bill from becoming law even as 13 cities and towns, including some of the state’s largest, passed their own local laws. Now:

The legislation, variations of which have been making its way through the Statehouse for years, would allow private-sector workers to accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

They can use that time to care for themselves or a family member who is ill, to attend school conferences or meetings, or to recover from domestic violence.

Family Values @ Work co-directors Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon noted in a statement that, in addition to the domestic violence provisions, the law “includes the most inclusive definition of family, mirroring America’s families. Those in LGBTQ relationships, people who care for grandparents, aunts, uncles and loved ones outside of the nuclear family model, can heed doctors’ orders and take the time they need to care for their chosen family.”

Republicans continue to stand in the way of the United States joining the overwhelming majority of other countries in requiring some form of paid sick leave.

This blog was published at DailyKos on April 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

Arizona teachers could be next to go on strike

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Arizona teachers will begin voting on whether to strike on Tuesday. The voting will go on for three days.

Although Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced a proposal to raise teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020, which state lawmakers will debate this week, teachers say his proposal doesn’t address education cuts over the past decade or large classroom sizes across the state.

Teachers are leaving the state for higher salaries and smaller classroom sizes and there are too many teacher vacancies as a result, teachers told ThinkProgress’ Elham Khatami last week. Last year, there were 8,600 teacher vacancies and 62 percent of those vacancies were vacant or being taken by people who couldn’t qualify for a teaching certificate, according to the Arizona Republic.

Arizona had the most devastating cuts over the past decade, according to a 2017 Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report on education funding since the Great Recession. State funding per student fell by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, more than any other state.

On April 11, thousands of teachers participated in a statewide walk-in to ask for more education funding and higher salaries. In addition to the 20 percent raise they requested, they want to implement a permanent salary structure, offer competitive pay for educational support staff, stop new tax cuts until the state’s per pupil funding reaches the national average, and restore education funding to 2008 levels.

Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers, administrators, and education support professionals, organized the vote. Derek Harris, a member of the coalition’s leadership team and a band teacher at Tuscon Unified School District, said the group wants to see support from all over the state, according to Tuscon.com.

He said organizers want something more than a simple majority, but they don’t have a firm threshold for a vote. Teachers will vote before and after school hours. One of the members of the coalition leadership team, Kelley Fisher, a kindergarten teacher at Las Brisas Elementary School, showed teachers how to make a secure ballot box in a video on the group’s Facebook page.

“I am a creative arts teacher so I had to include some glitter but that’s not required,” she added.

Teachers on the coalition’s leadership team named the reasons why the governor’s proposal is not sufficient, such as the lack of detail on where funding for the raises will come from. Teachers also said a proposal should include more education funding to improve students’ quality of education.

“My students deserve to have repairs on their building and working plumbing and holes in walls patched,” Harris said in the group’s Facebook video published on Monday.

Harris laid out a plan for teachers over the next week for the voting process and next steps over the weekend, such as community organization meetings across the state.

“You will be breaking into canvassing teams, organizing house meetings, and really moving into the next step to get the community on our side,” Harris said. “So this week, let’s try to stay very attentive to what’s going on. We’re saying this week is #RedAlert, because if the legislature does something funny we want to make sure that you’re paying attention and ready to do anything that may need to be done.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits

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