Animal Agriculture is Dangerous

Animal agriculture Is dangerous work and the people who do it have few protections, according to a 5-part series by Civil Eats. And as we all know, federal OSHA protections don’t apply to workers on farms with 10 or fewer workers, which exempts 96 percent of the animal-ag operations that hire workers from OSHA oversight.  The articles deal with workers exposed to fecal dust and ammonia—a hazardous gas produced from decomposing manure without personal protective equipment, how many of the most powerless workers in America are getting sick and dying in the nation’s growing biogas operations, how companies like Tyson are using in-house medical staff to avoid reporting musculoskeletal injuries to OSHA, and how some states are passing worker-centered legislation that not only protects workers, but helps the employers’ bottom lines as well.

In other food news, OSHA has launched Local Emphasis Program targeting food processing facilities in  Illinois and Ohio because food production workers in Ohio had a nearly 57% higher rate of amputations and 16% percent higher rate of fractures compared to the overall rates for manufacturers in the private sector. In Illinois, those rates were 29% and 14%, respectively.  OSHA is conducting an outreach program which will be followed by targeted inspections.

OSHA Fines Caterpillar After Employee Incinerated.

OSHA has fined Caterpillar $145,000 after “a 39-year-old employee of a Mapleton foundry fell and was immediately incinerated in an 11-foot-deep pot of molten iron heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit” last June.  OSHA issued one “willful” violation for failure to protect employees from falls into the melter containing molten iron at temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit while workers were taking temperature readings taking button samples, taking thermal cups, and adding alloy bags directly to the melters. Caterpillar is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial vehicles and equipment and operates the foundry, which produces cast iron engine components.

Employees Charge Automaker With Unsafe Conditions

At least a dozen employees at electric auto maker Rivian Automotive Inc. in Normal, Illinois, are have filed complaints with OSHA, alleging that the company is deprioritizing safety resources, “leaving some workers to share respirators needed during the manufacturing process. They also detail a range of injuries, including a crushed hand, a broken foot, a sliced ear and broken ribs. One Rivian employee said management fished damaged electrical cables out of the garbage and told employees to use them.” Others complain of getting sick from paint and welding fumes

But not to worry. A Rivian “spokesperson said the dozen complainants represent just 0.2% of the 6,700 employees at the plant.” I guess safety is kind of like voting. You need a majority of workers to complain or it’s not real. Voter fraud or something.  Not so fast, tweets Terri Gerstein: “The transition to clean energy & good climate jobs MUST include safe working conditions.”

Child Labor not a Minor Problem

I wrote last week about a meatpacking plant cleanup contractor hiring school children to work overnight doing highly hazardous work. But this wasn’t an isolated incident.  Worker rights lawyer and labor writer Terri Gerstein reminds us that “exploitative child labor has been with us all along, and it may be getting worse.” She cites a Hyundai subsidiary in Alabama that employed three children (between 12 and 15 years old) to work at a metal stamping plant, and fast-food employers who “have committed a raft of child labor violations, making teenagers work excessive hours that violate limits protecting children’s health and education.”

Gerstein also notes that “Federal law actually incentivizes the hiring of children by allowing employers to pay workers under 20 a lower “youth minimum wage” of $4.25 per hour for their first 90 days”and “There are also federal and state carve-outs for agriculture; for example, federal law allows kids as young as 12, with parental consent, to work outside of school hours, with no other limits on their work schedules whatsoever.

As Gerstein concludes: “It shouldn’t be necessary to state this, but: Abusive child labor is not good for kids. Excessive hours can adversely impact school performance, harming students’ grades and causing behavior problems.” And they get hurt.

NJ Temp Workers May Get Some Help

Temporary workers in New Jersey “have been killed on the job while working for warehouse agencies contracted by companies like CVS and American Eagle, while working at sugar plants that produce sugar for School of Management and Labor Relations professors Janice Fine and Carmen Martino. If passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor, the New Jersey Temporary Workers Bill of Rights would “create a reasonable standard for working conditions for temp workers in our state and will level the playing field among staffing agencies so that they can compete fairly, freeing responsible agencies from having to compete with the bad actors that rely on exploitation, abuse, and intimidation to undercut law-abiding agencies.”  The temp industry warns that if the bill is passed, the industry will collapse. But where have we heard that before?

Latino Workers Die More Often

Between October 2021 and July 2022, 40 percent of those who died at work in the North Carolina were Latino, despite this population only being 10 percent of North Carolina residents. And that year was no exception. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, between 2000 and 2017, with the exception of one year, “Latino workers experienced the highest rate of occupational death of any racial and ethnic group. Why? According to lead researcher Morgan Richey, the riskiest jobs are done by Black or Latino/a workers,”  The good news is that the rate has been declining over the past few years.

Asbestos: Going, Going, but not gone

ProPublica published a disturbing story of this country’s failure to ban asbestos, well over a half century after it became clear to all that the mineral was deadly, and the price that workers pay who work in one of the few remaining industries where asbestos is still used. That industry, which produces chlorine using asbestos-coated equipment, has argued successfully for years to powerful Republican legislators that banning asbestos would be an unreasonable hardship for the industry and threaten the nation’s clean water. Meanwhile, more modern facilities have easily transitioned way from asbestos.

Big Brother in the Workplace

Investigate Midwest has a story about a smartwatch application that allows managers to monitor workers’ movements? Not a problem say two of America’s largest meat companies — JBS and Tyson Foods — who have invested in the apps. And they have a good model, Amazon, which uses worker monitoring to control delivery drivers’ bathroom breaks. The companies say the new technology will help them improve ergonomic problems in their plants. Meatpacking plants have one of the highest injury rates in the nation and the cause — repetitive motions and fast production lines — are well known.  Worker experts warn that the apps can be tied to disciplinary systems with workers — instead of working conditions — are blamed for their injuries. Amazon has is using the apps to  discipline or fire workers when the app detects underperformance. The main victims will be immigrants, contract workers and those without union protection and are especially problematic when workers “don’t have the ability to contradict the algorithm or explain a drop in productivity to a supervisor.”

Smoking, Gambling and Worker Health

The days when you would walk into an office, a restaurant, or most casino’s to be greeted by a cloud of cigarette smoke are distant memories for me, and outside the realm of reality for my grown children. But casino workers in New Jersey still work all day or all night in smoke filled Atlantic City casinos due to an exception in New Jersey law that allows casino smoking. Workers at the casino are upset a the threat to their health, especially after a year of no-smoking during COVID.  “Theyt know the harmful affects of smoking, one dealer said, “but they sell us out for money. ‘Smoke-defenders cite studies that show job loss if smoking is banned. Gamblers will gamble less as they take outside smoke breaks, or they’ll flee to Pennsylvania where smoking is still allowed in casinos. The union that represents casino card dealers supports a ban proposed in legislation. But Unite Here Local 54, which represents other casino and hotel employees, opposes that ban, fearing that it will cost jobs.

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