Weekly Toll

Texas County Official Try To Protect Citizen From Pollution, but the State is Trying to Stop Them

The goal of the environmental justice movement is to publicize the fact that low-income and minority neighborhoods are disproportionately located in areas of heavy environmental pollution. Few places in the country illustrate this problem better than the neighborhoods like Galena Park in East Houston, that are nestled between dozens of chemical facilities. Forty percent of Galena Park’s 11,000 residents live within a mile of an industrial facility. In an amazing piece of journalism, Public Health Watch has published a 10,000-word story and a 16-minute video that examined the problem in Texas and how the Texas state government is seeking to protect the polluters by overruling the efforts of the elected officials of Harris County to address the problem. And voter suppression laws in Texas put the leadership of Harris County at risk in the next election.

You need to read this article. And tweet it. Texas Governor Greg Abbott will not be pleased.

“Essential” Workers Died More Often From COVID-19

Not a surprise, but a study by University of South Florida (USF) professor Jason Salemi has confirmed that Americans who could not work from home and had low-paid jobs without paid sick leave or health insurance, suffered a much higher rate of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first year. The study found that 68% of COVID-19 deaths the first year of the pandemic were low socioeconomic position adults,  employed in labor, service and retail jobs that require on-site attendance and prolonged close contact with others.  The findings reveal an urgent need to implement population-based infection control efforts, especially for those in low socioeconomic positions. Historically, data shows the working class experiences disproportionate exposure risks and increased burden of disease.  COVID-19 proved no different. Salemi and the team confirmed hazardous conditions of work, like working in close proximity with others, were primary drivers of disparities in COVID-19 mortality rates.

Amazon Holding up Congressional Investigation

Congressional Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform are accusing Amazon of “obstructing” their investigation into the company’s labor practices during severe weather events.
In a letter signed by letter signed by committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, the Congresspersons accused the company of failing to produce materials requested more than two months ago. Last month, after 6 Amazon employees were killed when a warehouse collapsed during a tornado, OSHA sent a letter calling on the company to address several risk factors that led to the deaths. Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company had supplied the requested documents and was “surprised” to receive the letter.

OSHA Reaches Settlement with JBS

OSHA has reached a settlement in COVID-19 cases with JBS, the giant meatpacking company whose plants experienced major COVID-19 outbreaks and worker deaths and received tiny citations from OSHA in 2020. By July 30, 2020, a COVID-19 outbreak had led to five workers’ deaths, 51 hospitalizations and 290 confirmed positive cases reported at the JBS meat processing plant in Greeley, CO.  At a Green Bay Wisconsin plant, by Aug. 12, 2020, 357 positive cases were confirmed and two workers had died of COVID-19.  In a widely criticized 2020 enforcement case, the Trump administration’s OSHA cited the Greeley and Green Bay plants for  one General Duty Clause violation of only $13,494 ( (plus another $2121 at Greeley for  recordkeeping violation.)   Both plants experienced shutdowns before the meatpacking industry, claiming fake meat shortages, colluded with the Trump administration to issue an Executive Order that attempted to keep all meatpacking plants open despite the working conditions that led to outbreaks in the plants.

The settlement requires JBS to hire third-party experts to develop an infection control plan, evaluate and provide recommendations regarding engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, including ventilation, employee and visitor screening protocols, and cleaning, as well as identifying personal protection needs and address infectious disease prevention and response, and provide recommendations on a continuity of operations plan. In addition to the two plants that received citations, five other facilities owned by JBS or JBS subsidiaries are included in the settlement.

Women Workers Assaulted by Patient Win $2 Million Jury Decision

Pierce County, Washington jurors awarded about $2 million Friday to a former Western State Hospital nurse and three coworkers who were assaulted by a patient at the Lakewood facility. The women sued the state arguing that it knew the patient had a history or targeting women, failed to protect them and later retaliated against them. Western state is Washington’s largest inpatient psychiatric facility and is overseen by the state Department of Social and Health Services. One worker suffered a traumatic brain injury and a fracture to her lower back after the patient jumped across the counter of the nurse’s station, threw her to the ground, and bit off part of her ear. Unbelievably, the state’s attorneys noted in their trial brief that the women chose to work in a dangerous profession. Workers compensation laws generally prohibit workers from suing their employer, but the women argued their case under Washington Law Against Discrimination that they suffered a hostile work environment, that they weren’t given reasonable accommodations after the attacks and that they were retaliated against.

Proud to be a (Sick) American

In another example of American exceptionalism that we can all be proud of, Aaron Carroll, chief health officer of Indiana University, writes in the New York Times that the United States is the only wealthy country in the world that does not guarantee paid sick days or sick leave to workers. And even where sick leave exists, “it’s woefully insufficient. The median number of paid days off each year is seven. One in five workers has fewer than five days a year. Such workers have full-time jobs, though. Many Americans work part time or hourly and have no paid sick leave at all.”  And, of course, we also don’t have paid family leave. In a family where COVID may spread successively through a family, a parent may be forced to take multiple days off to care for their children.

Why is this a workplace health problem? Because workers with no sick leave will be forced to come to work sick, infecting others. And that’s not just a workplace health issue, it’s a national public health crisis.

Gig Workers At Risk

“Drivers are only put at greater risk because they have low pay, low wages, that pushes them to work longer hours and that pushes them to accept more rides, even when they feel unsafe” argues Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) explaining the connection between safety and and their independent contractor status. A recent report found that at least 50 gig workers have been killed over the past five years. There is a battle raging in Massachusetts between labor groups and gig companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash over a ballot measure that would maintain the independent status of drivers and delivery people instead of making them employees. Labor advocates argue that the ballot measure would continue to misclassify drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors. One issue is the safety of the drivers and deliverers.

Coal Ash Cleanup Workers Are Dying Without Compensation

Travis Lawler at the the Associated Press writes about over 200 workers suffering from a variety of deadly cancers who have sued Jacobson Engineering after being exposed to coal ash after cleaning up the nation’s worst coal ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. Almost 10 years after the first lawsuits were filed in 2013, many workers have died and none have collected any compensation.  The workers were exposed while cleaning up a massive coal ash spill at the plant in 2008 that covered a community and fouled rivers. Jacobs Engineering contracted with the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owned plant, to clean up the spill.


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