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USDA Rejects Petition To Increase The Speed Of Poultry Process Plants Lines

Photo: Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

Today it was announced that the USDA decided to reject the petition from the National Chicken Council (NCC) to eliminate line speed limits at poultry plants.

Among the challenges that workers face inside poultry plants in the US, the speed of the processing line stands out. The maximum speed has doubled since 1979 (from 70 birds per minute to 140 today), and now poses myriad dangers to workers and consumers.  As hundreds of birds roll down the processing line, workers need to execute hundreds of thousands of motions per shift, which often results in injuries and illnesses. At the same time, it’s increasingly difficult to execute effective inspections of the birds.

When the NCC petitioned the US Department of Agriculture, once again, to lift the cap on line speed altogether (whereas the previous attempt had been an increase to 175 bpm), the poultry worker coalition sprang into action and organized consumers, advocates, workers, and experts to oppose the move. Of the more than 100,000 comments on the petition, all but a scant handful opposed the request.

Thousands of UFCW members who work in poultry plants sent comments to the USDA about the dangers of this petition. The UFCW also sent letters in October and December of 2017 to the USDA that highlighted how risky the NCC petition to eliminate line speeds would be for both workers and consumers. There are more than 250,000 poultry workers in America and 70,000 of them are members of the UFCW union family.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union released the following statement:

“This decision is a victory for hard-working poultry workers who hold one of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in America, and the consumers who depend upon them to provide chicken that is safe to eat. However, we remain concerned that poultry companies can request line speed waivers for individual plants.

“In addition to putting poultry workers at greater risk of injury, eliminating line speeds puts consumers at risk by making it more difficult for both federal inspectors and quality control workers to properly check birds for contamination.

“It was unbelievable to see major poultry industry groups ignore these well-known risks and lobby the USDA to eliminate line speeds.”

Last year, Oxfam a global anti-poverty and social justice organization released a blistering report highlighting the horrible treatment of poultry processing plant workers.

“…poultry industry workers are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom” in order to optimize the speed of production. In some cases, according to the group, the reality is so oppressive that workers “urinate and defecate while standing on the line” and “wear diapers to work.” In others, employees say they avoid drinking liquids for long periods and endure considerable pain in order to keep their jobs,” wrote the Washington Post.

Oxfam praised the news that the USDA rejected the request to speed up the processing line.

“While we welcome this victory for the workers across the country, we also sound a note of caution about the potential for individual plants to ask to raise the speed in their operations,” says Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam’s US Domestic Program. “Workers report that they’re already working at breakneck speed – slicing and cutting 40 or 50 birds per minute. They’re exhausted and hurting, and they worry about the problems they see in the food supply.”

Safety Groups Team Up to Protect Workers During Ongoing Disaster Cleanup in Puerto Rico

 

Train the Trainers” Event Includes Team from Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and Washington DC 

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, millions of island residents still face daily threats to their safety and health. More than 2 million people live in areas at risk of water contamination, large parts of the island are still without electricity and 60,000 homes are without roofs.

With reconstruction efforts still underway, the International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC) and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) have brought together a team of senior trainers and worker educators this week at the Universidad de Puerto Rico to boost local skills and help protect workers on the island from preventable illnesses, injuries and possible fatalities.

The weeklong “Disaster Train-the-Trainers” event, presented in Spanish and continuing through Sunday, January 28, will help develop trainers to protect day laborers, construction workers and others at risk of exposure to mold, toxic chemicals, damaged buildings and other hazards.

“Millions of people in Puerto Rico are still suffering from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH, who helped coordinate the training. “That’s why it’s so important that experienced trainers from the COSH Network are on the ground to provide help where it’s needed the most.”

“This program is possible now because we’ve already conducted Spanish-language “Disaster Train the Trainer” events with National COSH and other partners,” said Luis Vazquez, education coordinator at ICWUC, who coordinated this program and is in San Juan this week to train students and workers. “The work we’re doing in disaster areas makes a real difference, giving workers the tools they need to stay safe. This event is personal for me – I have many family and friends in Puerto Rico. There are all kinds of dangers lurking in homes and buildings after a hurricane.”

Trainers from Fe Y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and the Cincinnati-based ICWUC are conducting in-depth sessions this week with graduate students in public health from the Universidad de Puerto Rico, as well as AFSCME members from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Topics include how to recognize disaster-related workplace hazards, safe clean up procedures and workers’ rights to a safe workplace. New trainers are practicing these modules and presenting them to their fellow new trainers.

In turn, these graduate students and workers will soon be out in the field to share this information at temporary shelters, recovery worksites and other locations where workers are affected by hazards associated with disaster recovery.

“We know that in previous cleanup efforts, workers exposed to flood waters have suffered skin infections, lesions, asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other conditions,” said Lida Orta-Anés, professor of environmental health at the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR).

“This an opportunity for future public health professionals to confront real world problems – and to help solve them,” said Sergio Caporali-Filho, also a professor of public health at UPR, who coordinated the training team there.

This week’s “Train-the-Trainers” session builds on a similar program presented by National COSH, ICWUC and local partners in Houston last September, after Hurricane Harvey devastated that city.

“It’s just plain wrong that people are living without power or clean water four months after Hurricane Maria,” said Milagros Barreto, worker center organizer at MassCOSH. A native of Puerto Rico, she is part of the training team on the island this week. “There’s so much work still to do here – and we have to make sure it is done safely.”

“Our mission is to educate as many as possible to be better prepared to recognize and remove hazards,” said Roberto Garza, a LCLAA trainer from Michigan who is also in Puerto Rico this week. ”We’re helping workers to be prepared to reduce these risks during future severe weather events.”

This week’s training is made possible, in part, by support from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Court Upholds New OSHA Rule On Silica Dust Exposure, Garnering Praise From Worker Safety Groups

Workers’ Right to Protection from Deadly Silica Dust Affirmed by DC Appeals Court

National COSH says this decisions is “A Huge Win For Millions of Workers”

Yesterday, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia released their decision on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) groundbreaking worker protection rule limiting exposure to Silica. OSHA instituted the new rule in 2016 sharply lowering the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reducing dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.

Silica is found in stone, rock, brick and other common building materials. Cutting, drilling, shaping, molding and other operations expose more than two million workers each year to the hazards of silica dust in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.

Silica dust is a known human carcinogen. Exposure can also lead to silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease that interferes with basic lung functions, making it difficult for an affected worker to breathe. Between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,000 workers died from silicosis, just one of the diseases linked to exposure to silica dust.

“This is a huge win for millions of workers in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and many other industries. Low-wage workers and those in the informal sector can now be assured of safer working conditions,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The U.S Court of Appeals has upheld OSHA’s finding – based on extensive research and expert testimony – that silica dust is significant risk to workers’ health. The silica standard remains in effect, with feasible, affordable requirements to reduce dust in the workplace and protect workers from silicosis and other potentially life-threatening diseases.”

“Now that industry’s challenge to this sensible, life-saving rule has failed, OSHA must focus on rigorous enforcement. National COSH will continue our efforts to inform workers about how to exercise their right to a workplace free from harmful dust and other hazards,” Martinez added.

OSHA estimates the new rule will prevent nearly 700 deaths each year, saving the U.S. economy between $2.8 and $4.5 billion a year due to reduced costs for illness, injury and death of affected workers.

The new OSHA standard requires employers to use cost-effective measures to reduce silica dust, including wetting down affected areas, vacuuming up dust before workers can inhale it, and improved ventilation. Employers must also monitor workers’ exposure to silica, provide medical exams for those with high exposure, and train all potentially exposed workers about the hazards of silica dust and how to avoid them.

“Working people won a huge victory today with the court’s decision fully upholding OSHA’s 2016 final silica standard. This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations.

“The labor movement worked for decades to win these lifesaving measures, and we are proud to see these standards remain the law of the land. I want to thank all of those who contributed to this great victory, including the Obama administration and the career staff at the Department of Labor.”

“Now we must turn our efforts to making sure this standard is put into full effect, enforced and protected from further attacks so that workers are finally protected from deadly silica dust,” Trumka concluded.

GAO Report Confirms Dangers in Poultry Processing Plants

USDA Multimedia by Lance Cheung.

As Chicken Council Pushes for Fewer Regulations, Investigation Reveals Lax Enforcement of Existing Rules

Earlier this year, the National Chicken Council petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate the processing line speed limits imposed on poultry processing plants.  This request sparked outrage from Mark Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who represents workers inside these processing plants.

“With the health and safety of over 250,000 thousand hard-working poultry workers in mind, 70,000 of whom are members of our union family, we write to urge you to reject a petition submitted by the National Chicken Council (NCC) to run food processing lines with no speed limits,” wrote Perrone in a letter to Acting Deputy Undersecretary Rottenberg. “For the sake of keeping hard-working families safe – whether they’re preparing, buying, or eating chicken – the USDA must reject this petition.”

“According to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) data, in 2015 the meat and poultry industry had the 8th-highest number of severe injury reports of all industries. In 2016, we reported that workers in meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants continue to face hazardous conditions, including sharp knives used in close quarters, slippery floors, and chemical exposures. In the 2016 report, we found that additional data are needed to address these hazardous conditions and recommended that DOL improve its data on musculoskeletal disorders and sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry,” wrote the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Today, GAO released their findings related to the health and safety of workers in poultry processing plants and the results show significant problems for workers in these facilities.

“The hard-working people who work in poultry plants have some of the most dangerous and physically demanding jobs in America,” said Perrone. “This report sadly confirms that many of these skilled professionals who keep our food safe are struggling to keep themselves safe at work. They have earned and deserve better.”

  • This GAO report confirms the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t consider worker safety when allowing new and dangerous chemicals to be used in poultry plants, and that OSHA can’t or won’t adequately protect poultry workers from injury.
  • The GAO also found a pattern of poultry companies repeatedly denying access to federal safety and health inspectors, leaving workers in at least 15 plants across the South working in potentially dangerous environments.
  • This report supports findings by Oxfam that poultry workers struggle to get adequate bathroom breaks, even to the point of endangering their health.
  • Other GAO reports in 2005 and 2016 also found significant problems with safety and health in the poultry industry.
  • In addition to worker risks, countries with higher line speeds have higher rates of foodborne contamination in poultry plants.

“The dangers endured by poultry workers that are highlighted in this report also underscore why a recent request by the National Chicken Council to increase line speeds defies common sense and is being clearly driven by greed. We urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take this report seriously and reject that request so that poultry workers and the food we all consume can be kept safe,” Perrone concluded.

 

Read the full GAO report here.

National COSH on OSHA, Bureau of Labor Statistics Nominees: Transparency Saves Lives

 Advocates call for “open source” policy on workplace fatalities and renewed action on silica, temp workers

SAN DIEGO: As the U.S. Senate prepares for a hearing on nominees to head the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, safety advocates are calling for the two agencies to boost efforts to save lives in U.S. workplaces by collecting and disseminating full information about on-the-job fatalities.

“Transparency saves lives,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH.) “The more we know about how and why workers are dying on the job, the more we can do to prevent future tragedies.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) will hold a hearing this coming Tuesday, December 5th at 10:00 am ET to consider the nominations of FedEx safety executive Scott Mugno to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and William Beach of George Mason University to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“Every day, workers are at risk because of hazards that can be controlled and prevented,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “It’s time for OSHA and BLS to adopt an open source policy and tell us all they know about workplace fatalities. That includes identifying – and publicizing – what goes wrong when workers lose their lives because employers fail to provide safe working conditions.”

The BLS conducts an annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), which publishes aggregate information about worker deaths, but does not includes names of workers, employers or additional details. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, BLS identified more than 4,800 fatalities due to traumatic events in U.S. workplaces. U.S. OSHA is responsible for investigating workplace deaths.

National COSH is also urging senators to ask Mugno about his plans to limit worker exposure to silica dust and whether he will continue OSHA’s initiative to offer enhanced protection for temporary and contract workers.

Background on silica:

  • Millions of workers every year are exposed to silica dust, a known carcinogen and primary cause of silicosis – a potentially fatal lung disease. OSHA issued a new safety standard in 2016 that limits exposure to silica dust and will save an estimated 700 lives each year.
  • Industry groups have urged Congress to reverse the new standard, issued after years of careful research, with thousands of pages of testimony from scientists and labor and industry stakeholders. OSHA is currently limiting enforcement of the new standard to those employers not acting in “good faith.”

Questions for Scott Mugno on Silica Dust:

What are his views of this life-saving regulation?
What are his plans to carry out inspections and enforcement?

Background on temporary workers:

  • Temporary workers, who represent about two percent of the U.S. workforce, accounted for 17 percent of fatalities from workplace trauma in 2015.
  • Temp and contract workers often do not receive adequate training and have little or no job security.  These and other factors combine to make temp work more hazardous than permanent, full-time employment.
  • In 2013, OSHA began an initiative to protect temporary workers, holding both host employers and contract agencies responsible for following safety laws, including the duty to provide a safe workplace.
  • In September 2017, Patrick Kapust, OSHA’s deputy director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, told the National Safety Council: “We are continuing this initiative. We are trying to get forth that staffing employers and host employers both have joint responsibility for their workplaces.”

Questions for Scott Mugno on Temporary Workers:

Does he support OSHA’s temporary worker initiative?
Will he continue the emphasis on joint responsibility for both host employers and contract agencies?

“Nominations to these crucial positions deserve a rigorous review by the U.S. Senate,” said Martinez, “because so much is at stake for American worker and our families.”

NH COSH: A Deadly Week For NH Workers

Hooksett, NH – Two New Hampshire workers were killed this week in unrelated incidents bringing the number of NH work related deaths to at least 10 for 2017. Eric LaFramboise, 35, of Epsom was killed on Sunday when a gust of wind blew down a tree he was harvesting, crushing him. Dakota LaBrecque, 23, of Loudon was pulled into a conveyor and killed at the Springfield Power LLC, in Springfield, NH late Monday. Both incidents are under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Eric LaFramboise is the second tree service fatality in New Hampshire this year. Frederick Wilhelmi, 32, of Hudson died May 23rd while working for a tree service company. The tree service industry is a high-risk industry with NH worker deaths almost every year. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the fatality rate for the landscape services industry, about 80 deaths per year nationally, is similar to that for more recognized high-risk industries such as agriculture and mining.

Dakota LaBrecque was on 23 years old which would qualify him as a “young worker”. Young workers, ages 14-24, are at higher risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience at work and their physical, cognitive, and emotional developmental characteristics. They often hesitate to ask questions and may fail to recognize workplace dangers. According to NIOSH, in 2014 the rate of work-related injuries treated in emergency departments for workers, ages 20–24, was 1.76 times greater than the rate for workers 25 years of age and older.

“Workplace fatalities are rarely random accidents,” said Brian Mitchell of the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, “Most of these incidents can be prevented with proper safety training and protective equipment. Two worker deaths is a terrible way to begin the holiday season and we mourn the loss of our fallen brothers.”


Editors note: This Tuesday was #GivingTuesday and I started a fundraiser on Facebook for the NH COSH.  If you missed Giving Tuesday and would like to make a donation, please consider donating to the NH COSH.

NH COSH: Jose Valdicieso’s Death Was Preventable With Proper Precautions And Safety Training

NASHUA, NH    On Thursday, November 2, Jose Valdivieso, age 37, was killed on the job in Nashua when the hydraulic lift he was assigned to use came in contact with a power line. According to the OSHA Public Affairs Office, Mr. Valdivieso, of Somerville, MA, was working for Prime Touch Services of Natick, MA at the time of his death. He was originally from El Salvador and is survived by two children.

“Jose’s death is a double tragedy – both for his family and loved ones, and because it was 100% preventable with proper safety precautions and training,” said Susi Nord, co-director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “2017 has been a particularly deadly year for construction workers in New Hampshire, with 6 out of 7 work-related fatalities this year occurring in the industry.”

According to the 2017 AFL-CIO report on workplace fatalities, Latino and immigrant workers are at a higher risk of death on the job that other workers. The fatality rate for Latino workers in the U.S. was 18% higher than the national average overall and increased significantly in 2015, with 903 deaths compared to 804 in the prior year. Of the 943 immigrant workers killed on the job in 2015, 2 out of 3 were Latinos.

Employers and construction contractors in New Hampshire are required by federal law to provide a reasonably safe workplace for all workers including proper safety training and protective equipment. They must also ensure the work environment does not prevent or discourage workers from using safe work practices.

Prime Touch Services was cited by OSHA for two serious safety violations in 2013.

Concerns About Workplace Safety Needs To Be Addressed At Amazon Warehouses

Two Deaths in September at Amazon Warehouses Show Need for Accountability as Company Chases Incentives for New HQ  

SAN DIEGO and WASHINGTON, DC – Two recent deaths within a single week at Amazon.com. warehouses in Pennsylvania and Indiana show the need for strict accountability in exchange for public subsidies, say workplace safety and economic development experts.

  1. Devan Michael Shoemaker, age 28, was killed on September 19th, when he was run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  2. Phillip Terry, 59, was killed on September 24th, when his head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Indiana.

Amazon is currently chasing a mammoth taxpayer-funded incentive package for its proposed “HQ2,” or second headquarters building, with an October 19th deadline for proposals from metro areas.

Including the recent deaths of Shoemaker and Terry, six workers have died in Amazon warehouses since 2013. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the company and temporary agencies it uses to staff its facilities on multiple occasions for safety violations.

“Getting consumer goods dropped right on your doorstep is nice, but who is paying the price?” asked Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “There is a disturbing pattern of preventable deaths at Amazon. Two workers have been crushed to death by forklifts, one dragged into a conveyor belt, another crushed by a pallet loader and one run over by a truck. The company monitors every move of both permanent and temporary employees to meet intense demands for high-speed delivery. But is it paying enough attention to workplace safety?”

“Taxpayers should not subsidize low-road employers with dangerous working conditions, high turnover and poverty wages,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First. “Governments considering whether to bid for white-collar jobs at Amazon should first look at how the company and its temp agency subcontractors treat blue-collar workers.”

Amazon CEO and 17 percent owner Jeff Bezos is ranked the third richest person on earth, with a fortune worth over $80 billion. According to an analysis by Good Jobs First, the company has received a minimum of $1.1 billion in subsidies from U.S. taxpayers to build its warehouses and data centers since 2000. The actual figure is certainly higher, since more than a dozen cities and states have not disclosed the amount of taxpayer subsidies provided to Amazon.

There is little or no net job creation associated with these facilities. Amazon captures sales and revenue from retail competitors, resulting in large-scale layoffs from existing businesses. The Institute for Local Self Reliance estimates that as of 2015, Amazon’s operations have caused net loss of some 149,000 U.S. jobs.

Amazon’s projection of 50,000 jobs at its new second headquarters has set off an intense bidding war, with the state of New Jersey considering a $5 billion incentive package. The current largest corporate subsidy on record is an $8.7 billion giveaway to Boeing by the state of Washington in 2013, intended to secure aircraft production jobs. After receiving the tax breaks, however, Boeing reduced employment in the state by 12,000 jobs.

“Taxpayers need to watch their wallets,” said LeRoy. “Any tax giveaway must be measured against the increased costs – in transportation, housing, schools and other services – that will be induced by an influx of thousands of new workers.”

“When Amazon lobbies for lucrative tax breaks, it is asking the public to become partners in its business – to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Martinez. “If we’re partners, we have a right to demand the highest standards for workplace safety.”

In addition to the recent deaths of Devan Michael Shoemaker and Phillip Terry, other workers who have lost their lives while working at Amazon include:

  • Jeff Lockhart, 29, a temporary employee, found collapsed and dead from a cardiac event after an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, VA on January 19th, 2013.
  • Ronald Smith, 57, a temporary employee, killed after being dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey on December 4th, 2013.
  • Jody Rhoads, 52, crushed and pinned to death by a pallet loader at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 1st, 2014. (This is the same facility where Shoemaker was killed in September).
  • Name unknown, crushed to death by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, NV on November 4th, 2014.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

Workplace Safety Groups Head To Houston To Train Reconstruction Workers

After Harvey, Immigrant and Labor Rights Groups Team Up to Provide Ongoing Health and Safety Training for Reconstruction Workers 

Harvey Flood and Damage by Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) FLIKR CC

Fe y Justicia Worker Center, National COSH, Chemical Workers Union and National Day Laborer Organizing Network deliver “Train-the-Trainers” sessions and prepare Reconstruction Works campaign to support recovery workers facing severe toxic health and safety hazards in the workplace 

HOUSTON, TX:  With recovery efforts underway from the devastating effect of Hurricane Harvey – and new storm damage now confronting Puerto Rico, Florida and the Caribbean – health and safety trainers as well as workers and immigrant rights advocates from local and national safety groups will be in Houston this week to train workers and community members on safe clean up procedures and their rights to a safe workplace.

Ongoing efforts are currently underway to expand and build upon past “Reconstruction Works” campaigns that have played a critical role in supporting reconstruction workers after Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Rita and other disasters.

During previous cleanup efforts recovery workers exposed to flood waters suffered skin infections, lesions, asthma attacks, allergic reactions and other conditions. Workers are also exposed to the risk of lead poisoning and asbestos exposure when working in damaged or collapsed buildings.

This week, experienced health and safety trainers from National COSH and other COSH affiliates from around the country will join 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.

“The response from COSH groups and our allies to the emergency on the Gulf Coast has been amazing,” said National COSH co-executive director Jessica Martinez, who is joining the “Train-the-Trainer” session in Houston. “Groups are sending people, sharing information and resources and helping to raise funds so that recovery workers can stay safe while rebuilding their communities.”

“Most Houston neighborhoods were somehow impacted, so workers and neighbors are cleaning up a wide range of water and wind damage that can get people seriously hurt,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of Faith and Justice Worker Center (Centro de Trabajadores Fe y Justicia), the premier worker center in the Houston area coordinating local efforts.

“Day laborers, construction workers, utility workers, domestic workers, as well as neighbors and volunteers, are already going into flooded and damaged buildings, where they will encounter mold, sewage, and air and water that may have been contaminated with toxic pollutants,” said Acuña Arreaza. “Our goal is to equip them with the tools and information they need to reduce the risk of getting sick, injured or killed while taking on these difficult assignments.”

“Gulf Coast communities face a massive, urgent rebuilding job, as will Florida, Puerto Rico and Caribbean islands,” said Frank Cyphers, President of the Akron, Ohio-based International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC). The ICWUC, a council of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is assisting the worker and community training effort in Houston, with support from federal grants from the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS).

“This is no time to cut corners on worker safety,” said Cyphers. “We need to build on lessons learned during recovery from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and other disasters: Workers must know their rights – and know how to assess and prevent potential hazards.”

BACKGROUND: The three-day, bilingual “Train-the-Trainer” sessions, in English and Spanish, begins today, September 13th at the Dominican Sisters of Houston campus. The curriculum will develop trainers to teach safety awareness, workplace safety rights, and information about mold, sewage, airborne and waterborne contaminants, and other hazards associated with disaster recovery.

In addition to upcoming training sessions, National COSH has partnered with NYCOSH to provide a series of fact sheets on safe clean up procedures. The fact sheets describe known hazards experienced during previous recovery efforts, including asphyxiation, building collapse, electrocution, explosion, mold, sewage, toxic contaminants and other conditions.

As recovery efforts continue in the coming weeks and months, Fe y Justicia Worker Center will operate a hotline for affected workers and provide ongoing safety awareness training at worksites and community centers.  A donation page at youcaring.com gives concerned citizens a way to support safe and sustainable recovery efforts.


Fe y Justicia (Faith and Justice) Worker Center, based in Houston, campaigns for justice and dignity for day laborers, domestic workers and other vulnerable workers.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org

The International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC), based in Akron, Ohio, represents workers in the chemical industry and other occupations in the U.S. The ICWUC has six worker health and safety federal grants and collaborates with 10 other union partners, including National COSH, to conduct a range of worker safety and health programs and develop rank and file worker trainers.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network works to improve the lives of day laborers in the United States. NDLON works to unify and strengthen its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize and organize day laborers.

Trump Threatens The Safety Of Millions Of Workers With Cuts To Dept of Labor And OSHA

The health and safety of millions of American workers should be one of the highest priorities to Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, but based on the department’s massive budget cuts, that does not appear to be the case.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is one of the most important areas within the federal government for ensuring that regular workers like you and me, can go to work in a safe environment. It is OSHA’s regulations, inspections, and training that protect millions of workers in every workplace, from hotel housekeepers to the ironworkers who work hundreds of feet in the air.

Despite the hard work the of OSHA and the Department of Labor approximately 4,500 US workers die each year from traumatic events in the workplace, such as falls from a height, drowning in trenches, getting crushed by machinery, and roadway collisions.

However now, OSHA is in serious peril as the Trump administration looks to slash the Department of Labor’s budget as well as many other “workplace safety” divisions within the government.

Every day, thirteen US workers are killed on the job. Instead of providing resources to prevent these tragedies, the proposed Department of Labor budget for FY 2018:

  • Projects 2,300 fewer inspections of U.S. workplaces by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
  • Cuts $6 million for safety inspections from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration which has already seen more coal miner deaths (9) in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016 (8); and
  • Eliminates the successful Susan Harwood training grants, which have a proven track record of helping workers in dangerous industries avoid workplace hazards that can lead to illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

“Workers in New Hampshire can’t afford cutbacks in safety inspections or workplace training,” said Brian Mitchell, Director of New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NH COSH). “The price we pay for unsafe working conditions can’t be measured in dollars and cents. We pay with our lungs, our limbs – and sometimes our lives.”

Trump’s budget proposal took an axe to the Department of Labor’s funding cutting away $9 billion dollars, a 21% decrease. Trump praise how he would save taxpayers $11 million dollars by cutting the Susan Harwood grant program.

Just to be clear, President Trump spent more golfing in Florida this spring than this program, that serves tens of thousands of workers annually, needs to operate.

The Harwood Grant program provides “training and education for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces, and to inform workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the OSH Act.” These programs are specifically targeted to “underserved, low-literacy, and workers in high-hazard industries.” Over the 40 years since the Harwood grants began over 2.1 million workers across the country have utilized this training program.

The New Hampshire COSH, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the National Safety Council are just a few of the many organizations that helped to train over 88,000 workers in 2016.

Outside the 21% cuts to the USDOL budget, other key agencies tasked with protecting workers and communities face drastic cutbacks, including elimination of the US Chemical Safety Board. The Nation magazine explained in a recent article why the Chemical Safety Board is so vitally important.

“If the small agency is indeed defunded, the results could be catastrophic—and we might be left wondering, as the bodies are counted after some large chemical disaster, why nobody was angry when the CSB went away.”

Along with OSHA and the CSB, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is facing at a 40% cutback ($139 million) in Trump’s budget. NIOSH is the leading workplace safety research that leads to many of the new OSHA safety standards.

Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta

Secretary Acosta Defends Budget Cuts

This week, Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, went before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies committee to talk about the DOL’s proposed budget cuts.

Sec. Acosta began his testimony by saying:

“Too many Americans struggle to get by. Too many Americans have seen good jobs in their communities disappear. Too many Americans see jobs that are available, but require skills that they do not possess. We at the Department look forward to working with you in the Legislative Branch to fulfill the Department of Labor’s critical mission: to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of our Nation’s workers, job seekers, and retirees.”

This well crafted statement makes it appear that Acosta is fighting for working people who need retraining to find better jobs and continued training for those who already possess a job. This is in complete contrast to the budget cuts Acosta is supporting within the DOL.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo), called Sec. Acosta out for his cuts to worker training programs.

“I have serious concerns with the worker training program reductions – particularly the proposals to cut state grants by 40 percent and close Job Corps Centers. The President has recognized that there are millions of vacant jobs in this country and I hear about the difficulty finding work in the sectors impacting building trades all the time. We need to make certain that our workforce training programs and apprenticeships equip individuals with the skills they need to meet the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.”

Sec Acosta tried (and failed) to explain away the $10 million dollar cuts to the Harwood grant program by saying that a “$4 million dollar increase to OSHA’s federal compliance assistance budget” eliminated the need for the grant program. The blog, Confined Space, explains in great detail how the compliance assistance program is completely different from what the Harwood grants provide.

New Hampshire has long been one of the safest states to work. Last year Brian Mitchell from the NH COSH, identified 16 workers who died on the job in 2016. However in May of 2017, three workers died on the job in one week.

“After the deaths of three New Hampshire workers in one week in May, this is no time for a budget that makes job sites less safe for working men and women who have a right to come home safely to their families at the end of their workday,” Mitchell stated.

It is time to take action!

Now is the time to contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them that you oppose these cuts to worker safety programs as well as the elimination of the Susan Harwood Grants.

You can take action by signing the petition from the National COSH reminding Congressional members about how failing to properly train workers led to the death of Ricardo Oliveira in Boston, Massachusetts last year.

You can also take action by sending a letter directly to your Senator created by Interfaith Worker Justice, urging them to keep funding for the Susan Harwood Grants.

We cannot stand by while the Trump administration attempts to desimate worker safety programs and the Department of Labor.


Read more about the cuts to OSHA and workplace safety programs from ISHN.

Read more about Acosta’s testimony to the Senate from Confined Space.

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