A March survey of 347 service workers in the US South found that a shocking 87% were injured on the job in the last year. The workers surveyed came from eleven states across the “Black belt,” or Southern states with historically large Black populations: North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Workers organized under the Union of Southern Service Workers filed a landmark civil rights complaint against South Carolina’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (SC OSHA), alleging that the agency “discriminates by disproportionately excluding black workers from the protection of its programmed inspections.”
The Supreme Court, in a predictable 6-3 decision, blocked OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that required employees in businesses with 100 or more employees to either be vaccinated or regularly tested and masked. Dissenting were the three Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents: Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. The majority stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) “plainly” does not authorize the vaccine or masking requirements. Calling the OSHA standard no “everyday exercise of federal power” they labeled it “instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees.” The argued that in a situation where an agency is authorized to “exercise powers of vast economic and political significance,” Congress must “speak clearly.”
As a record-breaking heat wave gripped Oregon in late June, a diner at a Red Robin burger joint sent an urgent message to the state’s OSHA office: Every worker in the restaurant appeared to be in danger. “Hot air is pumping out of the vents like the heater is on,” the customer wrote the day after their visit. “I asked my server to move me but she explained that the AC units are not working properly and the owners will not fix them.” The customer said it was 100 degrees inside the dining area and apparently even hotter in the kitchen. “My server told me they were still forced to go to work and the only [extra] compensation they got was Gatorades,” the customer wrote to state Occupational Safety and Health regulators. “This is extremely hazardous.”
As soon as the coronavirus pandemic began, workers across the country flooded federal and state offices with complaints that their employers weren’t protecting them from the health threat. The concerns have continued to pour into workplace safety agencies for seven months, totaling nearly 40,000 as of Thursday. It turns out the allegations have been a flashing warning sign all along, according to a new working paper published by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. The analysis of data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows that a rise in workers’ safety complaints has preceded a rise in deaths throughout the pandemic.
According to a tracker maintained by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, more than 44,000 meatpackers have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 200 have died from it. Now, a new exposé by the New York Times shows how many meatpacking families have struggled to get compensated for their loved one’s death on the job: Workers’ compensation has traditionally been used to address on-the-job injuries — not fatalities tied to a pandemic that has disrupted millions of lives and killed more than 200,000 people in the United States. Tracing the exact origins of individual infections can be difficult, which appears to have given JBS an avenue to deny compensation claims on the grounds that the illnesses were not necessarily work related.
COVID-19 cases were climbing at Michigan’s McLaren Flint hospital. So Roger Liddell, 64, who procured supplies for the hospital, asked for an N95 respirator for his own protection, since his work brought him into the same room as COVID-positive patients. But the hospital denied his request, said Kelly Indish, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 875. On March 30, Liddell posted on Facebook that he had worked the previous week in both the critical care unit and the ICU and had contracted the virus. “Pray for me God is still in control,” he wrote. He died April 10. The hospital’s problems with personal protective equipment (PPE) were well documented. In mid-March, the state office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received five complaints, which described employees receiving “zero PPE.”
Earlier this week, the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order to use the Defense Production Act to order meatpacking plants to remain open. Now, Smithfields is already using Trump’s Executive Order to attempt to block inspections of their plant. Fatima Hussein at Bloomberg has the story: The Rural Community Workers Alliance, which represents Smithfield workers in Missouri, is seeking an order to force the company to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials, as well as other worker protection requirements, at a Milan, Mo., plant. Nearly eight plant workers already have been forced to stay home because of Covid-19 symptoms. A court order would allow the group to inspect the plant and would force the company to make certain safety changes. Calling a court order to allow plaintiffs to inspect the plant “unprecedented,” Alexandra B. Cunningham, with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP in Richmond, Va., represented Smithfield at the hearing Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
Registered Nurses held a protest in front of the White House on Tuesday, April 21 to call attention to the tens of thousands of health care workers nationwide who have become infected with COVID-19 due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). The nurses, members of National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of RNs in the country, practiced social distancing and read aloud the names U.S. nurses who are known to have died of COVID-19. Nurses have been demanding that the Trump administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgate an emergency temporary standard so that health care workers are provided with the optimal PPE. NNU petitioned OSHA on March 4, 2020 for such a standard and never received a response.
As news emerged that the novel coronavirus was infecting hundreds of workers in meatpacking plants, Gregoria Rivas began worrying that her chicken processing facility in North Carolina wasn’t doing enough to protect workers like her from the virus. There was no social distancing, she said. Everywhere she went at the Case Farms plant, there were dozens of workers crowded into a small space. In the locker room, where everyone put on their uniforms. On the cutting line, where she spent eight hours slicing chicken breasts. In the cafeteria during lunch. Even at break time, when workers lined up to use the bathroom. “I tried to bring my own face mask that I had bought at the pharmacy, but they wouldn’t let me wear it,” said Rivas, 31. “When they wouldn’t let me wear my own mask, I went to the nurse’s station at the plant, and they said there were no masks available.”