Less Than Chickens

Photo by Earl Dotter www.earldotter.com

In a MUST-READ article, Pro Publica’s  Mike Grabell describes the plight of Case Farms poultry workers, most of whom are undocumented refugees from Guatamala. Just a sample of Grabell’s compelling article:

Guatemalan immigrant, Osiel was just weeks past his 17th birthday, too young by law to work in a factory. A year earlier, after gang members shot his mother and tried to kidnap his sisters, he left his home, in the mountainous village of Tectitán, and sought asylum in the United States. He got the job at Case Farms with a driver’s license that said his name was Francisco Sepulveda, age 28. The photograph on the ID was of his older brother, who looked nothing like him, but nobody asked any questions.

Back at the plant, Osiel’s supervisors hurriedly demanded workers’ identification papers. Technically, Osiel worked for Case Farms’ closely affiliated sanitation contractor, and suddenly the bosses seemed to care about immigration status. Within days, Osiel and several others — all underage and undocumented — were fired.

Grabell points out that companies like Case Farms actively seek out the most vulnerable workers, those least likely to complain or organize a union. And if they do protest, Case Farms is suddenly shocked, SHOCKED that undocumented workers are employed. And despite the Case Farms’ numerous violations of the law’s enforced by OSHA, the NLRB and even animal cruelty, they keep getting away with exploiting workers.

It’s heartbreaking and infuriating, but necessary reading.

(Note: Grabel’s article also appeared in the New Yorker.)


They Can Run, But They Can’t Hide: Oil and Gas Industry Revealed to Have One of the Highest Rates of Severe Injuries.

The upstream oil and gas industry has one of the highest rates of severe injuries in the country, according to an analysis conducted by E&E News of OSHA’s severe injury data. This is the second report that has emerged in last weeks analyzing OSHA’s data. Last week, Deborah Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project wrote an article using the same data covering the meat processing industry.  The data being used in these analyses is Severe Injury data that OSHA has recently required employers to submit to the agency. OSHA began collecting this data in 2015. OSHA issued a regulation in 2014 requiring employers to report employers to report all hospitalizations to OSHA, as well as amputations and loss of an eye. Prior to that, employers were only required to report fatalities and hospitalizations of three or more workers.

The severe injuries — defined as those causing hospitalization or loss of a body part — ranged from major burns suffered in explosions to injured hips from falling in the office lobby. The most common injury was amputation, most frequently fingers and fingertips. Next was fractures, mostly legs. The most common cause was getting a finger or other body part caught in equipment. Fires and explosions were the fourth most common cause for severe injuries, after falls and being struck by objects.

Injury and illness data in the oil and gas industry has always been somewhat curious. The industry has had a very high fatality rate, but a very low reported injury rate. Injuries and illnesses are reported to OSHA and the Bureau of Labor statistics by employers and there has always been a suspicion that employers are under-reporting.  Former OSHA head David Michaels offers an explanation: “‘Many employers don’t accurately record their injuries,’ he said. He thinks severe injuries are more likely to be reported because they’re harder to ignore. ‘No one says ‘keep working’ when somebody’s lost a body part,’ he said.”

How To Keep Miners Alive

Several observers have noted the irony (or tragedy) of President Trump promising to bring back coal mining while at the same time cutting back on the coal enforcement part of the MSHA budget. In case the President is trying to figure out how to solve this puzzle, he should look at an article published last week by former MSHA Director Joe Main describing how the Obama administration

ended with the lowest injury rates, lowest fatal rates, and fewest deaths in mining history and no mine disasters for 7 years.  Unhealthy coal mine dusts levels fell to all time lows.  Mines meeting our screening criteria for pattern of violations enforcement – our best measure of the worst operators ― dropped from 51 mines in 2010 to zero in 2016. Overall, mine site compliance also improved from 2010 through 2016 as serious (significant and substantial) violations found at mines fell 61% and overall safety violations fell 43 %.

The secret sauce, according to Main, was  “(1) mission-driven leadership, (2) protecting workers from retaliation when they stand up for their rights and the rights of their coworkers, (3) making full use of the enforcement tools that Congress provided in our statutes; (4) designing data-driven strategic enforcement plans; and (5) grounding all policymaking in evidence and stakeholder engagement.”

New Labor Secretary Alex Acosta should put Main’s article on the top of his reading list.

How to Keep Tomato Workers Healthy

Know anything about where your tomatoes come from or under what conditions they’re harvested?

In general, tomato workers’ occupational illnesses and injuries arise from exposure to one or a combination of the following hazard categories: extreme heat, risky physical postures and movements, poor hygienic conditions, chemical exposures, and psychosocial stressors. These hazards can cause health problems ranging in severity from minor discomfort to life threatening. Many of these hazards and health problems are common to most U.S. agricultural workers. Others – notably extended periods of stooping and frequent exposure to a variety of pesticides – are particularly relevant to tomato workers.

The Migrant Clinicians Network has published a reference guide for health care providers who work with people employed in the U.S. tomato industry.

Construction Companies Put Profit Ahead of Safety? Is it possible?

Most construction workers think that safety takes a backseat to productivity and completing job tasks and that management does only the minimum required by law to keep employees safe. This, according to a poll conducted by the National Safety Council. These findings are not good considering that the construction industry leads industrial sectors with the most fatalities every year — and climbing.

A  National Safety Council survey found 58 percent of Americans working in construction – the industry that sees the most workplace fatalities each year – feel that safety takes a backseat to productivity and completing job tasks. What’s more, 51 percent say management does only the minimum required by law to keep employees safe, and 47 percent say employees are afraid to report safety issues. By contrast, 36 percent of the 2,000 full-time and part-time employees in the 14 industries surveyed by NSC feel their employers prioritize productivity over safety.

Regulatory Wrecking Ball

And finally a New York Times article about the worst piece of legislation ever passed by Congress: the Congressional Review Act which Congress and the Trump administration have methodically used to dismantle protections for workers, consumers and the environment:

The result was a historic reversal of government rules in record time. Mr. Trump has used the review act as a regulatory wrecking ball, signing 13 bills that erased rules on the environment, labor, financial protections, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights. In the law’s 21-year history, it had been used successfully only once before, when President George W. Bush reversed a Clinton-era ergonomics rule.

Favorite quote: ““It’s not as if there aren’t an enormous number of regulations still on the books,” [Marc]. Short, the president’s legislative affairs director, said. “I don’t think that we feel like there is some sort of threat by passing this legislation.””

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