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."
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Amazon workers at the STL8 fulfillment center in St. Peters, Missouri, filed an OSHA complaint August 3 against the company for health and safety violations in their warehouse. The complaint claims that the company deliberately discourages workers from receiving medical care when they are injured. Workers say that AMCARE, Amazon’s in-house medical staff, repeatedly dismiss medical complaints and keep Amazon workers on the job despite sustaining sprains, torn ligaments, slipped discs, pinched nerves, and concussions. Amazon employs more than 3,000 workers at STL8, northwest of St. Louis.
The dangers of heat stress for both indoor and outdoor workers is only increasing as our planet continues to warm. In the food system, farmworkers, warehouse workers, restaurant workers and street vendors are some of the most impacted, but this is a hazard for workers across all sectors, like construction workers and delivery drivers. Incarcerated people are also extremely vulnerable to the dangers of heat stress. Yet, federal OSHA has no standard to protect workers from the dangers of heat exposure. A small number of states have created their own standards: California, Minnesota, Washington, and last year, Oregon and Colorado.
Thirty-year-old Rick Savage was among the first workers hired at Ultium Cells’ 2.8-million-square-foot battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, in April 2022. “I heard about the battery plant and how it was going to be technologically superior to all other manufacturing companies,” Savage remembers thinking. “The future of the automotive industry is going to be electric.” Ultium Cells was a high-profile joint venture between U.S. automaker General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution. The Lordstown plant — billed as the largest battery plant of its kind anywhere in the country — was predicted to cost some $2.3 billion and generate more than 1,100 new jobs.
Two very different developments in the last year, each affecting the lives of workers in the United States, bring home the degree to which the impacts of climate change are redefining the nature of the class struggle. The implications that flow from this development are well worth considering. Last August, an article in the New York Times took up the question of how intensifying heat waves were leading to deteriorating working conditions and increased health and safety risks for UPS drivers and other workers. It pointed out that since 2015 hundreds of UPS and US Postal Service, FedEx, and other delivery company drivers had suffered the ill effects of heat exposure, and several drivers had died.
West Virginia - At 9:00 A.M. sharp on August 10, a small phalanx of smiling, well-coiffed elderly women began herding a crowd of several dozen people into the auditorium of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia. Among the crowd were former coal miners and their spouses, lawyers, pulmonologists, black lung clinic staff, environmental activists, local media, union representatives, and concerned citizens — all there to attend a public hearing for a new proposed rule from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that seeks to limit silica exposure in the nation’s coal mines to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, down from 100.
The grief hits Scott Campbell like a ton of bricks every time he walks into the union hall and sees the memorial to the fallen workers. Seven members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union reported for their shifts at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington, on April 2, 2010, and never drove back out. They perished when a decades-old, structurally deficient piece of equipment called a heat exchanger exploded and caught fire in one of the worst industrial incidents in state history. Campbell and other members of USW Local 12-591 pay tribute to the seven with a laser focus on safety at the refinery, currently owned by Marathon.
David Sandoval remembers when he and his co-workers had a whole 72 seconds to assemble their sections of each seat for the Ford F-150, back when he started at a Michigan parts plant in 2004. Today, 60 seconds is the deadline managers give each team racing at a dozen stations: to bolt the frame together, lay electronics, add heating and cooling gear, set cushions, and attach trim. Robotic lifting arms help on only one or two steps; handheld tools and elbow grease must do the rest. Each crew is told to clear 680 seats in a 10-hour shift. That harsh speedup makes it small wonder that repetitive motion injuries are piling up for U.S. auto workers, while the Big 3 auto companies—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler)—posted $250 billion in profits in just the last four years.
Even as summer temperatures soar and states wrangle with protecting outdoor workers from extreme heat, Texas recently enacted a law that axes city rules mandating water and shade breaks for construction workers. In state after state, lawmakers and regulators have in recent years declined to require companies to offer their outdoor laborers rest breaks with shade and water. In some cases, legislation failed to gain traction. In others, state regulators decided against action or have taken years to write and release rules. Heat causes more deaths in the United States each year than any other extreme weather.
Houston — Luz Martínez was working on remodeling a school without air conditioning in the summer when one of her coworkers fell over, vomited and passed out from the heat. On Friday, she joined other workers, labor advocates and politicians on the steps of Houston’s City Hall to protest a new Texas law that will take away cities’ power to help workers who must endure the Texas heat. House Bill 2127, which takes effect on Sept. 1, will do away with local rules that require water breaks for construction workers. The cities of Austin and Dallas, for example, require 10-minute breaks every four hours. San Antonio officials had been considering a similar ordinance.