Reflections on Workers' Memorial Day
Today, a lot of numbers will be thrown around – the staggering number of workers who died gruesome deaths on the job last year, the paltry fines that employers responsible for those deaths paid, the months and years we've waited for Congress to revisit the Occupational Safety and Health Act to make it more relevant to our modern workforce.
There's good reason to reflect on those numbers. They tell us something important about our society and our relationship to work. They tell us that we have a long way to go before the real value of workers' time, effort, and dedication to their jobs is respected and honored.
40,000 Verizon workers are on strike. The contract dispute is complicated, but one of the core issues is the company's threat to move jobs from one location to another, like so many interchangeable, faceless component parts of a massive machine. The corporate mindset that undergirds the threat is the flipside of looking at workers as "assets." An asset can be something uniquely powerful and a source of strength when appreciated for its intrinsic value; or, an asset can be reduced to a dollar figure on a balance sheet, and it becomes just another fungible instrument of commerce.
Too many employers look at workers as assets in that second sense. It's an attitude that ensures fatality rates remain stubbornly high. There's a vicious cycle at work: skimpy paychecks and bad working conditions lead
Steinzor in The New York Times: Judgment Day for Reckless Executives
On April 6, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to one year in jail and a $250,000 fine for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The mine exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010. In an April 7 New York Times op-ed, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law,
Steinzor Reacts to Blankenship Sentencing
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for conspiring to violate federal health and safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Upper Big Branch exploded and killed 29 miners in April 2010. CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, issued the following statement: "Although Mr. Blankenship won't spend much time in jail, an outcome determined by a
OSHA's New Silica Rule: CPR's Matt Shudtz Reacts
Decades in the making, OSHA’s new silica rule will better protect millions of workers from a highly toxic, cancer-causing substance that has killed thousands while the rule slowly worked its way through the regulatory gauntlet, administration after administration. Today, in quarries, foundries, building sites, and kitchen rehab jobs across the country, workers can look forward to breathing cleaner air. But today’s announcement is far from the end of the story. Next comes the inevitable litigation. Following their tired playbook, special
When On-the-Job Deaths & Injuries Warrant Prosecution
NEWS RELEASE: New Manual Helps Workplace-Safety Activists Push for Criminal Charges in On-the-Job Tragedies Washington, DC ----- Every year, thousands of workers across the United States are killed on the job — 4,679 in 2014 alone. Thousands more are seriously injured. Many of these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable when employers put in place basic safety measures. Some even result from company policies and practices that encourage and reward behavior that creates unacceptably risky conditions. Ignoring workplace safety requirements is against the
USDA Official Throws OSHA Under the Bus
Partisan efforts in Congress to roll back health and safety rules are common fodder on this blog. But last week, we saw a new twist, with a high-level Obama Administration official giving cover to a right-wing attempt to weaken protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the poultry industry. The workers in question are at the center of the highly industrialized process of turning live chickens into shrink-wrapped skinless parts. That puts them at a critical juncture in the
More Delay for OSHA's New Silica Rule
by Katie Tracy | February 24, 2016
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has informally announced that it is unlikely to finalize its long-awaited rule to limit workers' exposure to respirable crystalline silica by the month's end, as the agency had expected. OSHA's deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Jordan Barab, told Politico on Friday, Feb. 18, that he "can pretty much guarantee" the rule will be delayed, but he expects "it will be out soon." The silica rule, which OSHA proposed
What Are 'Ag-Gag' Law Proponents Trying to Hide?
At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection
Feds Resolve to Expand Criminal Prosecutions of Workplace Safety Violations in the New Year
by Katie Tracy | December 22, 2015
As the year draws to a close and the New Year approaches, people all around the world will be contemplating what they can resolve to do better in 2016. This year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) seem to be celebrating the tradition as well. In a move akin to a “New Year’s Resolution” to do better by workers, the two agencies have just announced that they will be expanding their “worker endangerment initiative” to bolster
CPR's Shudtz on the Silica Rule
by Matt Shudtz | December 21, 2015
This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it was sending its final version of a long-awaited rule on silica dust in the workplace to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. CPR Executive Director Matthew Shudtz responded to the news with the following statement: Workers across the United States have been waiting for this day for a long time. But don’t overlook the fact that this announcement simply marks a procedural accomplishment in a
What’s on the Labor Department’s Regulatory Agenda?
by Katie Tracy | November 23, 2015
Late last week, the White House released its fall 2015 Unified Agenda—the semi-annual report on regulations under development or review by each federal agency. As usual, and therefore of little surprise, this latest agenda spells delay for a laundry list of critical safeguards at several agencies. According to CPR senior analyst James Goodwin’s review of the regulatory agendas for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several other agencies, several new protections will be delayed anywhere from
Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones Suffering at the Slaughterhouse
by Katie Tracy | November 10, 2015
A startling new report by Oxfam America reveals just how dangerous it is to work inside a poultry processing plant. The report is packed full of alarming statistics and heart-breaking personal stories from brave workers, exposing an industry that fails to protect workers from well-known hazards and that discourages workers from reporting injuries when they occur. Despite the underreporting of injuries and illnesses, the poultry industry’s safety record is dismal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry had
A Day's Work: Safety Training for Temp Workers Would Prevent Many Injuries and Deaths
by Katie Tracy | September 28, 2015
Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis, 21, died tragically on his first day of work at his first job, as a “temp worker” at a Bacardi bottling facility in Jacksonville, Florida. He began his shift within 15 minutes of arriving at the facility, after completing some paperwork and watching a very brief safety video. Although working in a bottling facility is a dangerous job, Davis and his coworkers received no real training about the potential hazards or proper safety procedures. Within hours,
Labor Board's New 'Joint Employer' Standard Offers College Football Players a Second Chance
by Katie Tracy | September 10, 2015
Marking a victory for workers, on August 27, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a highly anticipated decision in the case of Browning-Ferris Industries, updating its overly restrictive standard for determining “joint employer” status for purposes of collective bargaining. The decision responds to the increasing reliance on contingent work arrangements that often involve multiple employers, and reflects the Board’s recognition that its application of labor law must be adjusted to address the realities of today’s economy. Much of the
CPR Submits Comments on Labor Department Guidance for Ensuring Federal Contractors are Complying with Labor Laws
by Katie Tracy | September 01, 2015
Every year, the federal government awards private firms billions of dollars in federal contracts. The contracts are supposed to go to “responsible” companies, but that isn’t always the case. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2005 and 2009, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued 25 of its 50 largest fines against 20 federal contractors who later received over $9 billion in contracts in 2009. Over the same period, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued 8 of
How Much Longer Will it take for OSHA to Protect Workers from Deadly Silica Dust?
Thousands of U.S. workers die every year because of on-the-job exposure to unsafe levels of crystalline silica, a toxic dust common in the construction, sandblasting, and mining industries. Even at the current legal limits, inhaling the tiny toxic particles poses a significant risk to workers of silicosis—an incurable and fatal disease that attacks the lungs—and other diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune disorders. If you’re exposed to silica dust at work or know someone who
Criminally Negligent Construction Company Owner and Project Manager Sentenced Two Years in Prison for Fatal Trench Collapse
Raul Zapata Mercado, a husband and father of three, was killed on January 28, 2012 when a 12-foot trench collapsed on him while he was working at a U.S. Sino Investments Inc. construction site in Milpitas, California. More than three years after the fatal collapse, in May 2015, the construction company owner, Richard Liu, and the project manager, Dan Luo, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter—in other words, even though they didn’t act maliciously to kill Mercado, they are responsible for
After 25 Years, Is the Americans with Disabilities Act Protecting Workers?
July 26 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal civil rights legislation that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in and contribute to society, including the right to join the workforce. Over the past quarter-century, the law has undoubtedly improved the lives of many Americans, but challenges remain, most notably with respect to equal employment opportunities. As U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez aptly wrote in his statement on the anniversary, “While we celebrate