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Workplace Safety

Rolling Back Protections For Child Labor In The Name Of ‘Parental Rights’

One hundred years ago this month, I was reminded by Portside’s “This Week in People’s History” feature (5/29/23), a constitutional amendment passed both houses of Congress, with large majorities, and went to the states for ratification. It remains a proposal, not a law, to this day, because the necessary three-quarters of states didn’t accept it. The proposal is the Child Labor Amendment, giving Congress authority to regulate “labor of persons under 18 years of age.” Efforts to protect children from dangerous work continued anyway, of course, and the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act included prohibitions on children under 14 working in most occupations. Separate rules have been crafted for agricultural jobs (which is its own story).

Bosses Want To Fix The Worker, Unions Want To Fix The Job

Unions and bosses have different outlooks on safety. Employers say illnesses and injuries are caused by worker carelessness: he didn’t look where he was going; she wasn’t using correct lifting technique. That’s the way the boss wants you to think, too. But the union realizes that it’s the hazards themselves that cause injuries, and that it’s the boss who sets up the workplace, either designing in hazards or failing to design them out. Blind corners and high shelving make it hard to avoid collisions; overloaded boxes on low shelves forces awkward bending. Emphasize these different outlooks with workers.

Locked-Out Firefighters Picket Boeing

The aerospace giant Boeing locked out 125 firefighters across multiple facilities in Washington state May 4 after contract negotiations broke down. “We want to be out there working and protecting the community of Boeing employees,” said firefighter Jon Riggsby, vice-president-elect of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local I-66. “But the company won’t allow us.” Boeing firefighters are on hand for fueling, takeoffs, and landings. They also respond to any medical emergencies at company facilities in Seattle, Everett, Renton, Auburn, and Moses Lake. They’re the first line of defense to prevent the spread of flame and toxic emissions from the combination of materials used to build aircraft such as the Boeing 737, Triple Seven, and others as part of military contracts.

Report: Death On The Job; The Toll Of Neglect

This 2024 edition of “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” marks the 33rd year the AFL-CIO has produced a report on the state of safety and health protections for America’s workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, promising every worker the right to a safe job, has been in effect for more than 50 years, and nearly 690,000 workers now can say their lives have been saved since the passage of the OSH Act.  Over the last 50 years, there has been significant progress toward improving working conditions and protecting workers from job injuries, illnesses and deaths.

With Few Workplace Protections, Latino Worker Deaths Are Surging

A burst of shouts cascades as three men plunge downward. Other workers reach for them as the scaffold plummets. But no one can grab hold of them. Thinking he can still save them, a middle-aged construction worker scampers to aid the three men, one a long-time friend, he had helped get hired on the site. “I saw everything,” he says and then repeats himself. ​“I saw everything. In a video you can see me removing planks from them because I thought they were alive, but they were dead.” Jose Canaca, 26, Gilberto Monico Fernández, 54, and Jesus ​“Chuy” Olivares, 43, had been putting up an outer brick wall for a 17-story apartment building in a popular neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C., when they fell from the 10th floor.

11 Lessons From 11 Years After The Rana Plaza Disaster

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,134 people and injuring approximately 2,500 more. Those deaths were preventable. In the aftermath of the deadliest incident in the history of the apparel manufacturing industry, worker organizations and activists around the globe rallied around the demand: ​“Rana Plaza Never Again.” Since that horrific day, workers have won binding, enforceable protections to make that rallying cry a reality. The Bangladesh Accord, now known as the International Accord, has received recognition around the globe for transforming basic workplace conditions for three million garment workers.

Feds Recently Hit Maersk In Baltimore Disaster For Silencing Whistleblowers

The company that chartered the cargo ship that destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore was recently sanctioned by regulators for blocking its employees from directly reporting safety concerns to the U.S. Coast Guard — in violation of a seaman whistleblower protection law, according to regulatory filings reviewed by The Lever. Eight months before a Maersk Line Limited-chartered cargo ship crashed into the Baltimore bridge, likely killing six people and injuring others, the Labor Department sanctioned the shipping conglomerate for retaliating against an employee who reported unsafe working conditions aboard a Maersk-operated boat.

An Invisible Chemical Is Poisoning Thousands Of Warehouse Workers

The dangers came as a surprise to warehouse workers and regulators alike. Georgia EPD officials had originally only set out to monitor ethylene oxide levels around the industrial sterilization facilities fumigating medical equipment. The EPA had just published modeling that suggested high levels of cancer risk around the country’s medical sterilization facilities, and Georgia regulators wanted to assess the plants in their jurisdiction. (The modeling incorporated the results of a 2016 study that found ethylene oxide to be 30 times more toxic to adults and 60 times more toxic to children than previously known.)

Fed Up With Inaction, Rail Unions Draft And Push Their Own Safety Plan

Washington - Fed up with the big Class I freight railroads’ incessant drive to put profits over people, and safety, and with federal regulators’ piecemeal and often pro-corporate responses, a coalition of rail freight unions issued a comprehensive analysis of the problem, with key recommendations to the government to force the carriers to put people first. The study, including pages of internal railroad documents and e-mails, reveals the horrible impacts of the railroads’ system, Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). It’s designed to cut costs and workers, including safety workers who inspect freight cars and locomotives.

How The Railroad Industry Intimidates Employees To Put Speed Before Safety

Bradley Haynes and his colleagues were the last chance Union Pacific had to stop an unsafe train from leaving one of its railyards. Skilled in spotting hidden dangers, the inspectors in Kansas City, Missouri, wrote up so-called “bad orders” to pull defective cars out of assembled trains and send them for repairs. But on Sept. 18, 2019, the area’s director of maintenance, Andrew Letcher, scolded them for hampering the yard’s ability to move trains on time. “We’re a transportation company, right? We get paid to move freight. We don’t get paid to work on cars,” he said. “The first thing that I’m getting questioned about right now, every day, is why we’re over 200 bad orders."

What’s Next For India’s ‘Manual Scavengers’ After Major Legal Victory

In late August, hundreds of women sanitation workers came together at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The 18th-century astronomical observatory has become a popular place to publicly show dissent in India due to its proximity to the Parliament, a little more than a mile away.  The protesters were opposing recently released official statistics regarding the death of sanitation workers. The women claimed that the number of so-called “manual scavengers” who died while on duty due to the precarious nature of the occupation was much higher than what the Parliament claimed. Timed to coincide with the government’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of India gaining independence from the British, the demonstration was part of a widespread series of coordinated actions using the slogan “Stop Killing Us.” 

A Culinary Worker Strike Could Reshape The Nation’s Restaurants

In early October, thousands of bartenders, culinary workers, and hotel attendants formed a picket line outside eight casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the largest union demonstration on Las Vegas Boulevard in 20 years. Since April, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165have been negotiating with the city’s three largest companies—MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts—for a new five-year contract. To no avail, says Ted Pappageorge, who has served as the culinary union’s secretary-treasurer since 2022 and was its president for more than a decade before that.

Injured, Burned Out And Under Surveillance At Amazon

More than four in 10 Amazon workers report being injured on the job, and the number increases to more than half for those who have been working for the company for more than five years, according to a report released Wednesday.  Despite Amazon touting the grit of its ​“industrial athletes,” these widespread and pervasive injuries have, according to the survey, resulted in almost seven in 10 workers having to take unpaid time off from their jobs in the last month because of their pain or exhaustion from working at the company.  The report offers stark data of how Amazon, as a mammoth presence in the warehousing industry and customer service, can effectively set an unhealthy bar for the pace of production for its workers

Workers Funding Other Workers’ Misery

Critics of private equity often stress the business model’s impact on workers. Blackstone’s Packers Sanitation Services, Inc., was found to have illegally hired over 100 minors and placed them in dangerous jobs. Arby’s and Dunkin’ Donuts owner Roark Capital lobbied against a federal minimum wage. Fairmont and Sofitel owner Brookfield Asset Management has repeatedly threatened to retaliate against hotel workers attempting to unionize. And when the private equity purchase of Toys ‘R’ Us drove the toy retailer into bankruptcy, leading to a loss of over 30,000 jobs, its owners Bain Capital, KKR, and Vornado Realty Trust made off with about $200 million in management fees.

Fight For Safety, Own The Shop Floor

Earlier this year, on the Ford stamping line in Buffalo, sewage started pouring onto the floor. Careless managers had shut down a pump to install new equipment and caused a deluge. The workers didn't work meekly through the dizzying stench. They shut down their line, fast. And they did it with so much unity that their manager decided not to fight back. That collective action didn't come out of nowhere. Over the last few years, Auto Workers at Local 897 have built a fighting safety culture. They elected new local officers who turned “militant” into a badge of honor. Members stopped the line when poorly routed forklifts dropped metal sheets near workers.
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