Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Battle to Protect Workers: Short Stuff

battleIn Memorium, Adrienne Markowitz: The health and safety movement has lost another of its legends. Adrienne Markowitz, former safety and health Director  of  the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union died of breast cancer last week. As her obituary describes  “She worked with, and for, the New Jersey teachers union, identifying threats from mercury, chromium, lead, asbestos and other toxins in schools throughout the state. She also worked with the union representing firefighters, retail workers and other employees throughout New Jersey. She traveled widely throughout the South inspecting and documenting the horrible conditions in chicken parts “factories” there. She documented the injuries of white and black women working long hours in near slave conditions who suffered severely from carpal tunnel and other forms of damage from repetitive motion.”

As USW Health and Safety director Mike Wright remembers, “She was terrific at seeing past the BS – including our own – and getting right to the heart of an issue.”  Former SEIU Health and Safety Director Bill Borwegen recalled Adrienne’s questioning by a very hostile industry attorney during the OSHA ergonomic hearings in 2000. Adrienne had finally had enough, asking “Did my dog bite you this morning or something?” Extremely dedicated to workers, brutally honest and direct, she will be missed.

Gas-powered Leafblowers aren’t just nuisances, they’re hazardous: FairWarning has published a story about the surprising amount of pollution coming from leaf blowers and other gas-powered gardening equipment. Landscaping workers are particularly at risk of exposure to damaging microscopic ultrafine particles that can cause lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, asthma and other respiratory ailments, “because they commonly put in long days toiling very close to these sources of potentially dangerous emissions.” And then there’s exposure to benzene which causes cancer.  Of course, the lawn and garden equipment manufacturing industry, companies like Briggs-Stratton, are fighting regulatory protections, and even trying to get EPA to pre-empt efforts of states to regulate gas powered equipment.  But never fear, the leaves will not win. Electric and battery-powered equipment can do the job, although more progress is needed to improve battery life.

WV Reps to Miners: Drop Dead: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has some unkind words about his state’s Congressional delegation who voted unanimously for an amendment that would have  cut positions and funding at the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA). “As a born and bred West Virginian and as someone who mourned the loss of many coal miners — including my own family — because of accidents that could have been prevented, I will not stand idly by and let this funding be taken away by the very people who have promised time and time again to fight for these miners,” Manchin said.  The amendment, which failed on a vote of 238-178 was introduced by North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows who professed to be “for the safety of miners,” but not nearly as much as he was concerned with “being responsible with the hardworking American taxpayer dollars.” West Virginia’s three delegates — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins voted for the amendment to cut MSHA’s budget. Manchin responded:  “I can’t for the life of me understand why they would be against protecting their own or cutting the budget at their expense.” 12 miners have died so far in 2012; six of the deaths have happened in West Virginia.

Blankenship – Appalling and Disgusting: And speaking of Joe Manchin, many people expect his opponent, when he runs for re-election next year, may be none other than former Massey CEO (and former jail-bird) Don Blankenship, who was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine where 29 workers died in an explosion in 2010. Last week we wrote about a disgusting commercial that Blankenship sponsored seeking to blame MSHA for the explosion. Now Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts has responded in a press release. Roberts, who was furious that Blankenship was only sentenced to a year in jail said “Don Blankenship, by creating a corporate culture that put production over safety, is responsible for these failures. It is appalling that he continues his despicable attempt to shift the blame from himself, each time ripping open the painful wounds the families of the victims will suffer forever. Although Don Blankenship may not have received the proper punishment in this world, those families can rest assured that he will receive it in the next.” So there.

Protecting Hurricane Recovery Workers: We’ve written a lot about the hazards that hurricane recovery worker face and how important local trainers from the COSH groups are. National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and other COSH affiliates from around the country joined local advocates from the Houston-based COSH affiliate Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center to provide “Train-the-Trainer” classes for workers and advocates, who will in turn provide awareness training in workplaces and communities throughout Houston for workers who are cleaning up and rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Marianela Acuña Arreaza, the new executive director of the Fe y Justicia Worker Center, said she knew right away that she didn’t want to see a repeat of what happened after 9/11, Katrina, Sandy and other disasters, when clean up workers became sick and were killed from hazards that could have been prevented. “Houston will be rebuilt, but it must not be at the cost of pain, suffering and even death of low-wage, predominantly immigrant workers.” Training is also being planned in Florida.

Flexibility is more Important than Safety: And a bit more MSHA news. The agency, which is supposed to protect miners, has decided that an Obama era regulation, requiring hard-rock (salt, sand and gravel, cement and other nonmetal operations) mines to be inspected before miners to to work isn’t really necessary. It’s perfectly fine if the mines are inspected after the miners have gone in. All this in the name of “flexibility.”  According to UMW spokesman Phil Smith, “For MSHA to believe that conducting an exam before miners enter an area offers the same level of protection as conducting the exam while miners have already begun working in an area is mind-boggling,”

Tweeting Like a Twit: OSHA has it’s own twitter feed in case you haven’t seen it.  It’s well intentioned, but sometimes misses the mark. Like this one aimed at hurricane recovery workers.  “Aimed,” but missed, as I try to make clear form my responses. Maybe they should just hire me to write their Twitter feed. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

Short Stuff

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