Short Stuff: News You Will Be Embarrassed Not to Know

Here’s the latest news that you can use to impress your friends and intimidate your enemies.

  • Slashing and Burning: The New York Daily News warns of the effects of Trump’s budget cuts on workers and on OSHA, especially the Susan Harwood Program. And the article extensively quotes a former OSHA official.

But there’s at least one program already believed to be on the chopping block — and it’s dedicated to worker safety, said Jordan Barab, the Labor Department’s former deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “The Susan Harwood grant program, started in the 1980s, provides $10 million a year for safety training for workers,” Barab said.

 Under the Obama administration, the grant program — which doles out funds to non-profit groups, unions and other organizations to provide worker safety training — focused on those considered vulnerable to job exploitation, Barab said.

“We tried to address concerns of workers like day laborers, or non- or limited-English speaking workers — basically those that OSHA had a hard time reaching and who don’t have the same access to information about their rights as other workers,” he said.

It’s the last issue in particular that keeps him up at night, he said.

“It’s not just about providing training on how to stay safe — it’s training to make sure workers know they have rights that protect them,” Barab said.

  • Foxes. Henhouse. Repeat: EPA dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, a spokesperson stating that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. ‘The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,'”  Representatives of polluters sitting on EPA’s scientific review board?

  Representatives of polluters on EPA’s science panels? What could go wrong?

  Oh, and just to make sure small innocent children aren’t contaminated with any climate change filth, EPA has also buried its website aimed at teaching schoolchildren about climate change.

  • Protecting Workers By Taking Away Their Protections: President Trump has been trying to cozy up to the Building and Construction Trades unions (and not so much the service sector or public sector unions). But he’s probably not going to be successful the way he’s going. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka points out that Trump’s solution to all worker issues is taking away worker protections. “He only talked about eliminating regulations,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the Tribune-Review during a stop in Southwestern Pennsylvania. “He thought if he did that, manufacturing would come out.”

   And not only is he fixated on taking away worker protections, but he’s not doing too well at keeping American jobs from heading South to Mexico either. This may be a love affair that is never consumated.

  • On Notice: Beryllium stakeholders — both trying to repeal parts of the new OSHA standard and defending the standard — are meeting with OMB this week. The Associated Builders and Contractors are claiming that OSHA did not give notice to the industry before including construction in the standard. As Confined Space noted previously, this is not true. The original OSHA beryllium proposal did not cover maritime or construction — and the industry claims that insufficient “notice” was given that they might be covered.  If you read the OSHA proposal, however, you will note that there are numerous places where coverage of shipyard and construction workers is presented as an alternative, and comments are requested. Comments were, in fact, provided at the hearings and in written form as the new standard was being considered. The National Employment Law Project also met with OMB yesterday to defend the standard.
  • Who lives and who dies at work is not an accident of chance: How does inequality affect health and safety in the workplace? Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), discusses how being  a minority,  or being a woman, or being a low-paid worker can affect your workplace health. And how unions can help by “making workplaces fairer, which makes the union voice stronger, which makes workplaces safer and healthier.”

Who lives and who dies at work is not an accident of chance. The emergence of increasingly precarious forms of employment in convoluted supply chains was as deliberate as it was deadly. It creates a working world where the bad actors set a wage, conditions and employment rights benchmark which sucks down conditions across the global economy.

Maintaining a system of indecent work has always required an extra ingredient—a divided workforce. Where workers do not have a collective voice and where jobs are by design segregated by gender, race or class those divisions can perpetuate disadvantage and leave the most exploited workers powerless while undercutting the conditions of the rest.

  • Holding it In?  Being able to go to the bathroom when you need to — even when you’re at work — seems  like an easy one. So what’s the problem. Well, if you work work at mobile or transient workplaces, such as transit workers and construction workers (especially women), or if you’re  injured and disabled workers, ; transgender or an older worker at stationary work settings, it may not be so easy. And it’s not just discomfort, there are serious health concerns associated with not being able to go to the bathroom. NYCOSH is holding a forum on Bathroom Rights: Equitable Access and Health Risks in the Workplace on Thursday May 11 to explore the issue of access to the bathroom and the health risks associated with “holding it in.”   If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in.
  • Workers Comp Unconstitutional?  An Alabama judge has declared the state’s Workers Comp law unconstitutional. But that may be a good thing. Circuit Judge Pat Ballard found two provisions, the $220 a week cap in compensation and the 15 percent cap on attorneys fees, unconstitutional.  Lawyers for the workers successfully argued that the $220 cap was determined in 1987, but  living costs and wages far exceed that number now. They argued a similar cap would total just under $500 today. Ballard stayed his order 120 days so the Alabama Legislature can correct the problems. Stay tuned.
Beryllium Environmental Protection Agency Labor Unions Office of Management and Budget Short Stuff Susan Harwood Worker Training Program Workers Compensation

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