Undocumented Workers Deserve Safe Workplaces: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not distinguish between American citizens and undocumented workers when it comes to enforcing workplace safety rules. Every worker has a right to a safe workplace (except public employees). But many undocumented workers are afraid to report unsafe conditions to OSHA because they aren’t aware that OSHA doesn’t ask about their documentation, and sometimes employers retaliate against undocumented workers who complain by reporting them to ICE. Now labor advocates in Chicago are urging federal officials to publish enforceable guidelines that will protect immigrants who speak up about workplace safety hazards. Federal agencies are expected to publish updated guidelines and policies about how to protect immigrant workers who speak out about workplace issues and the labor advocates want “strong firewalls” that will prevent immigration agents from ignoring the updated guidelines.
There’s no Environmental Cop on the Beat: Neither industrial polluters nor the regulators who govern them know exactly how much hazardous air pollution is billowing out of smokestacks at any given time, nor the degree to which that pollution is finding its way into surrounding neighborhoods, according to a ProPublica investigation by Lisa Song and Ava Kofman. The law doesn’t require them to. And even the laws that exist are generally enforced — or not — by state authorities, not the federal EPA. And surprise! “ProPublica’s analysis found that almost all of the nation’s worst hot spots — those with the highest levels of risk from air toxics — are in Southern states known for having weaker environmental regulations.”
Two Roads Diverged: It’s not easy working in public health — or in the public interest in general. And it’s not easy being a young person trying to figure out what to do with their life. In her last blog post as Executive Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Kathleen Rest looks back at her career — in academia, in government (at the National Institute For Occupational Safety and Health) and at UCS and provides some guidance for young people just starting out and looking for ways to do good in the world:
There are so many paths, options, and venues for using your expertise, energy, and passion to make this world a better place – one that is safer, healthier, more equitable, resilient, and sustainable – one in which everyone has the opportunity to grow and thrive. The good news is that the boundaries between and across these paths are fluid and ripe for engagement in different ways and at different levels.
A Grande Triple Pumpkin Latte with Soy Milk and a Union Card Please: Terri Gerstein, waxes poetic in the American Prospect about “one most interesting union campaigns in recent years” — the effort of Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, to unionize. Gerstein, the director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, writes that, although Starbucks provides some benefits to its workers,
The decency of an employer doesn’t obviate the need for a union. Even a nice monarchy is still an unsettling prospect. Unions are a way for workers to have a say on the job, to be part of an institution that provides them with a formal, legally enforceable voice to counteract the power imbalance with management. When there are new developments in the workplace and in the world, from bees to a pandemic, unions give workers a way to have a more impactful voice than that provided by a corporate suggestion box.
Keep on Truckin’…or Not: One piece of the great supply chain crisis of 2021 (and 2022) is the “trucker shortage.” The trucking industry blames it on a shortage of skilled drivers and wants to lower the driving age to 18. (Which is a horrific thought for anyone who has an 18-year old, or who has ever been an 18-year old.) But the reality, according to an article by NBC’s Ahiza García-Hodges, is that fewer people want to drive — because truckers are mostly non-union independent contractors who get no benefits, no overtime and are paid by the load, not by the time they spend in their trucks. So if things are backed up, according to Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, “Truck drivers are the shock absorbers. If the cranes are running behind, you can just keep the trucker there idle. You can back them up for hours, because they’re not being paid.” It’s lonely, dangerous, difficult work for low pay. Any mystery why there’s a driver shortage and trucks are used inefficiently?
Workplace COVID Safety
There is no dearth of articles and opinion out there about OSHA’s new (and newly blocked) emergency temporary standard that directs employers to require employees to either be vaccinated or tested regularly. The ultra conservative US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has temporarily blocked the standard, while the slightly less conservative 6th Circuit decides the ultimate fate of the standard (at least unless or until the Supreme Court takes it up.
We Ran OSHA: Dr. David Michaels and I, who ran OSHA during the Obama administration, published an article in Time Magazine explaining how the OSHA vaccine “mandate” is a myth, but the benefits of the OSHA vax-or-test workplace safety standard are very real — and life saving. Or as David tweeted: “The ‘OSHA vaccine mandate’ is a fiction promoted by cynical politicians who want the Biden Administration’s efforts to end the pandemic to fail. They care nothing about the public’s heath or stopping preventable illness and death.”
Here Comes the Judge: For all of you legal eagles out there who can’t get enough of reading briefs and legal analysis, there are some treats. University of California, Hasting Law School professor Dorit Reiss writes that the 5th Circuit’s opinion on OSHA‘s Vax-or-Test standard failed to “give any weight to people who die from COVID-19 or are harmed by it” & would prevent OSHA from imposing any workplace safety requirements.
Bipartisan Brief: Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of three former administrators: Charles Jeffress (Clinton), David Michaels (Obama), and Gerard Scannell (George H.W. Bush) joined Public Citizen to file a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, supporting OSHA’s emergency motion to lift a stay of OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard. It’s clear from the bipartisan support that the vaccinate-or-test standard is exactly what Congress intended OSHA to do.