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Senator Hassan Presses DOL Nominee Alex Acosta on Workplace Safety

Senator Also Highlights Importance of Job Training
and New Hampshire’s Job Corps Center

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Maggie Hassan participated in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing for Alex Acosta, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Labor.

Senator Hassan highlighted the importance of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and OSHA inspections, which reduce injury rates at inspected workplaces and lower worker compensation costs.

The Senator noted that there are only seven OSHA inspectors to oversee safety and health at 50,000 worksites throughout New Hampshire, and voiced concerns with President Trump’s budget proposal to cut the Department of Labor’s budget by 21 percent. Senator Hassan asked Mr. Acosta, “Can you commit that if confirmed as Secretary that you will advocate for and seek funding that will maintain OSHA’s enforcement budget at no less than current levels?” Mr. Acosta responded, “I would be very concerned in a situation like you mentioned where there are only seven inspectors because going from seven to six has a substantial impact.” However, despite acknowledging the negative impact of a shortage of OSHA inspectors, Mr. Acosta wouldn’t commit to fighting to prevent harmful cuts that would exacerbate the situation.

Senator Hassan also pressed Mr. Acosta on his commitment to creating a more inclusive work environment for Granite Staters and Americans who experience disabilities. Citing that federal law allows employers to pay subminimum wages to workers who experience disabilities, Senator Hassan asked Mr. Acosta if he “supports individuals who experience disabilities being paid a subminimum wage.” Mr. Acosta declined to directly answer the Senator’s question or commit to supporting individuals who experience disabilities, saying, “I think this is a very difficult issue.”

In her opening statement, Senator Hassan also expressed her concern with President Trump’s proposed budget cuts that would decimate job training programs throughout the nation, and highlighted the importance of job training programs and the new Job Corps Center in New Hampshire that is helping build a stronger workforce that businesses throughout the state need to grow and compete. The Senator urged Mr. Acosta to do everything in his power should he be confirmed “to support both job training and our Job Corps Centers.”

After the Senate hearing, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, released the following statement:

“Alex Acosta’s testimony today raises serious questions and doubts whether he is committed to making life better for working families. Mr. Acosta’s nomination was a major improvement over the previous nominee, based on his qualifications, yet he offered no indication that he would use those qualifications to stand up for workers.

 The Labor Secretary is not just another Cabinet member – his or her actions directly impact our wages, safety, retirement security and rights on the job every single day. Working people wanted to hear how Mr. Acosta would enforce and uphold labor laws to benefit us and not further tilt the balance of power toward corporate CEOs. Today, presented with the opportunity, he failed to do so and ensure America’s workers he’s on our side.”

Watch Senator Hassan question Alex Acosta below.

Watch video of Senator Hassan’s questioning here.

National COSH Announces Action Agenda: “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs”

90+ Groups Endorse New Workplace Safety Protections
to Save Thousands of Lives, Billions of Dollars

Advocates also call for action in local communities and workplaces

San Diego – Today the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) announced a new action agenda: “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs.”

Advocates say the comprehensive platform for strong worker safety protections can save thousands of workers’ lives and reduce costs to employers by billions of dollars. Delegations of safety advocates from 12 communities will schedule visits to present the platform to members of Congress in ten states in the coming weeks. 

“Out-of-touch politicians are misreading the results of the last election,” said Jora Trang, managing attorney at San Francisco-based Worksafe and president of the National COSH board of directors. “Nobody voted to get sick or die at work. We need stronger safety protections and tougher enforcement – not weaker laws and fewer life-saving regulations.”

On a typical day, 13 U.S. workers die from preventable hazards in the workplace.  Among those who have lost their lives in March 2017 are:

·      Construction worker David Williams, 36, killed when a trench collapsed at a building site in San Antonio, TX

·      Roberto Cortez, 36, died after a fall from an unmanned tree service truck in Bell Canyon, CA

·      Timothy Dragon, 42, lost his life at the Granite City Steelworks in Granite City, MO

 Recent Congressional actions have put workers at risk by taking steps to reverse longstanding recordkeeping rules and eliminate sanctions against federal contractors who violate safety laws. Delegations led by local COSH groups will schedule visit to Congressional offices as safety activists prepare to observe Workers Memorial Week. The observance, marked in communities around the world from April 23 through April 30, honors workers who have died on the job.

“Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs” has been endorsed by 92 local, regional and statewide organizations representing workers, unions, environmentalists and civic groups. Key elements of the platform include: ensuring health and safety protections for all workers, reducing and working to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals; ensuring injured workers access to quality medical care; accurate counting of all occupational injuries and illnesses, and measures to adapt to – and reduce – further climate change.

“Every day in this country, workers are dying from conditions we know how to prevent,” said Joseph Zanoni, PhD, director of continuing education at the Illinois Health and Safety Education and Research Center and chair of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA). The OHS Section of APHA is one of the endorsers of “Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs.”

“There’s no reason for a worker to drown in a trench or get crushed to death by a machine without proper guarding,” said Zanoni. “We can prevent these tragedies by engaging workers in training and applying proven safety practices – and if we do, we’ll save lives, increase productivity and reduce the high cost of caring for sick, injured and fallen workers.” 

More than 4,500 U.S. workers die every year from preventable workplace trauma and an estimated 95,000 die from long-term occupational illnesses. Millions more are injured after exposure to preventable safety hazards. The cost to U.S. employers for workers’ compensation alone was $91.8 billion in 2014, representing a fraction of the total cost of workplace deaths injuries and illnesses.

In addition to meeting with members of Congress, health and safety activists plan to push for better safety practices in U.S. workplaces and enhanced protections in state and municipal law.

For example, following a recent tragedy, the Boston City Council passed a new ordinance giving city officials authority to deny construction permits to companies with a record of poor safety practices. Boston construction workers Kelvin Mattocks and Robert Higgins drowned to death in a trench in October 2016 because their employer, Atlantic Drain Services, failed to follow required safety precautions by shoring up the excavation site. Atlantic Drain had a long history of safety violations; the company and its owner, Kevin Otto have been indicted for manslaughter. The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill to increase penalties against employers when a worker is killed on the job.

In Dallas, after construction worker Roendy Granillo died of heat exhaustion in 2015 during a triple-digit heat wave, his family joined a successful campaign to pass a new city ordinance requiring mandatory rest and water breaks on building sites.

We can’t wait for tragedy to strike before we take action,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH. “We have to improve our safety laws and insist on tough enforcement before workers are hurt or killed on the job.”

“We’re going to make it clear to public officials, if you stall on safety legislation or cut back on regulations, you are putting people’s lives at risk,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, also a co-executive director of National COSH. “If a worker dies from a cause you failed to prevent, that’s on your watch – so you better start thinking about what you will say to that person’s family.”

“Protecting Workers’ Lives and Limbs” is available in English and Spanish on the National COSH website here and below.

A list of the 92 organizations endorsing the platform is here and below. 

Protecting Workers' Lives and Limbs -3-15-17 3-30 pm(2).compressed

Protecting Workers' Lives and Limbs Endorsements_0

 

National COSH Hosts Webinar On Chemicals In Food Manufacturing Facilities

Join National COSH on Thursday, October 13 at 12 Noon ET for a free webinar on flavoring chemical hazards for workers in manufacturing facilities. 

webinar-graphic1-1Attorneys Anne McGinness Kearse and Scott Hall of Motley Rice are helping workers learn more about these potential dangers. They also represent workers who may have developed diseases as a result of harmful exposure. They will discuss how workers who work in facilities that process coffee, candy, microwave popcorn, and other products can be exposed to flavoring chemicals linked to dangerous lung diseases. 

Robert Harrison, MD, MPH, director of the University of California, San Francisco Occupational Health Services and director of the worker tracking investigation program for the California Department of Public Health will discuss the medical issues involved in flavoring exposures and his involvement in the development of California’s regulations for flavoring chemicals.” 

Mark Nicas, PhD, MPH, CIH, is an adjunct professor and director of the Industrial Hygiene Program in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California Berkeley. He will discuss some of the specific job tasks and conditions that expose workers to flavoring chemicals. 

The flavoring industry has stated that flavoring ingredients have the potential to be respiratory hazards due to their possible volatility and irritant properties. Despite this, workers are exposed to flavoring chemicals on a daily basis with few or no safeguards in place.

To date, there are no federal regulations in place to protect workers who are exposed to these chemicals. This is a unique opportunity to learn the risks and how workers can protect themselves on the job.

More information is available here: bit.ly/FlavoringChemicals

Unions Representing Healthcare Workers Petition for Workplace Safety

US_Dept_of_LaborWASHINGTON— Today, a coalition of unions—including the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Government Employees; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Service Employees International Union; and the United Steelworkers—petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor to take a significant step toward safety by promulgating a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect all workers in healthcare and social service settings. Because we represent workers in the healthcare and social assistance sectors, we all know there is an immediate need to address the preventable and often tragic workplace-related assaults and associated injuries that occur too often in these settings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 2005 and 2014, the rates of injuries that resulted in lost time for private sector healthcare and social assistance facilities increased by 64 percent and rates for private sector hospitals increased by 110 percent. And 52 percent of all the incidents of workplace violence reported to the BLS in 2014 came from the healthcare and social assistance workforce. These numbers highlight the urgent nature of having comprehensive standards for workplace violence prevention.

“Workers should never face violence in the workplace, but for healthcare workers it’s a too-common reality. We are calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create national employment standards so that workers have meaningful protections on the job. Our union and our rank-and-file activists have worked tirelessly for months raising these issues and now—in collaboration with unions that represent healthcare workers, including National Nurses United—to craft this proposal. We hope to see it enacted without delay,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“Workplace violence is not part of the job. Our healthcare workers on the frontline of patient care in numerous hospitals and other settings need a strong federal OSHA standard to protect them from workplace violence and assaults,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“This rule is urgently needed to stop the appalling spiral of injuries and fatalities in healthcare and social services, and to protect our members, and all workers,” said Teamsters General President James. P. Hoffa.

“The American Federation of Government Employees represents more than 100,000 nurses, doctors and frontline healthcare providers across government. Their safety, and the safety of all healthcare workers, is critically important. We strongly urge the Department of Labor to adopt a national standard for reducing workplace violence across the healthcare system and ensuring safe working conditions for all healthcare providers.” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.

“The intensification of violence against healthcare workers is alarming because it is preventable,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard. “Our union is proud to stand in solidarity calling for an enforceable OSHA standard to prevent workplace violence and protect all healthcare workers as they care for their patients.”

“Our members deserve to go to work every day and be safe. Our union strongly advocates OSHA develop a comprehensive workplace violence standard for healthcare and social assistance workers. Such a standard would provide needed protections from workplace violence and lead to improved working conditions for millions of U.S. workers,” said Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America.

Terry O’Sullivan: The Cost of Going to Work Should Never Be Death or Injury

(Terry O'Sullivan is the General President of the Laborers International Union of North America - LiUNA)

(Terry O’Sullivan is the General President of the Laborers International Union of North America – LiUNA)

As the April 28th Workers Memorial Day commemoration approaches, we can proudly highlight what we can accomplish when we have the best training programs and the right safety regulations in place.

Nationwide, workplace deaths and injuries have trended dramatically downward. For example, in 1970, 38 workers died from workplace-related causes each day. In 2014, the most recent statistic available, that number fell to 13. Workplace-related illnesses and injuries have fallen as well, from 10.9 incidents for every 100 workers to 3.2 incidents per 100 workers.

It’s good news, but not good enough. Despite our progress, the fact remains that 750 workers are expected to lose their lives this year on construction jobsites. Injuries resulting in lost work time are expected to number 75,000.

Let’s honor the brothers and sisters we have lost by commemorating Workers Memorial Day and saying loudly and clearly that the cost of going to work each day should never be death or injury on the job. I invite every LIUNA member to help send this message by joining a week-long conversation about safety for workers on LIUNA’s Facebook page starting on April 25.

As union workers, we know that with the proper safety training, effective temp-post-imagesafety programs on jobsites and a workforce free to speak out about hazards, most deaths and injuries are preventable. That’s why we make training and safety programs a cornerstone of union construction sites. In fact, according to a University of Michigan study, states with high union membership have construction fatality rates 50 percent lower than states with low union membership.

We still have work to do to reduce risks ranging from traffic hazards in highway work zones, to the lack of fall prevention on building construction sites, to inadequate safety equipment to prevent illnesses that are all too common in our industry.

As we approach Workers Memorial Day, let’s build on our accomplishments and fight for safe jobs so that every worker returns safely home at the end of a workday.

Learn more at www.liuna.org/tmo

150 Workers Die Every Day From Preventable Workplace Injuries And Illnesses


150 workers die every day AFLCIO
(Washington, DC, April 27, 2016)More than 4,820 workers were killed on the job in 2014, according to a new report by the AFL-CIO. Additionally an estimated 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a daily loss of nearly 150 workers from preventable workplace injuries and illnesses.

“Working people should not have to risk their lives to make a living and support their families,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Yet every day, millions of Americans are forced to work with little to no safety protections while big businesses and corporations profit off our lives.”  

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, marks the 25th year the AFL-CIO has publishednational findings on the safety and health conditions for working people.Among other findings:

  • The report calls attention to an increase in fatalities among older workers.
  • The states with the highest fatality rates were Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota and Mississippi.
  • In 2014, 804 Latino workers lost their lives on the job and the fatality rate for Latino workers remains higher than the national rate.
  • Workplace violence injuries, particularly among women workers in health care, is a serious problem. The workplace violence injury rate has increased by 60% over the past five years, while the overall job injury rate has declined.

Oversight of job safety and health conditions remains weak and is getting worse in certain ways.  OSHA can now inspect a workplace on average only once every 145 years, compared with once every 84 years in 1992, when the AFL-CIO issued its first report. The average penalty for serious violations last year was only $2,148 and the median penalty for worker deaths was only $7,000.

DOTJ16_fb4b_UnionDensityStatesSafer“We have made important progress, including winning new OSHA silica standards to protect workers from deadly dust,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “But as this report shows, too many employers are cutting corners and workers are paying the highest price. We must keep working for stronger laws and enforcement to hold employers accountable, until all working people are safe on the job.” said Trumka.

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect is being released in conjunction withWorkers Memorial Day when vigils, rallies, and actions are being held across the country to remember workers killed and injured on the job. The report can be found online here: aflcio.org/death-on-the-job.

 

National COSH: Over 100K Workplace Deaths Can Be Prevented

image from National COSH

National COSH Also Recognizes First-Ever
“Outstanding Health and Safety Stories, 2016”

Workplace Fatalities Are Increasing
and a Leading Cause of Death is Also Most-Violated OSHA Standard

SAN DIEGO, CA – The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, one of the nation’s leading workplace safety organizations, today released “Preventable Deaths 2016,” a report outlining the more than 100,000 annual deaths due to acute workplace trauma and long-term exposure to on-the-job hazards. 

This year, the organization also recognized for the first time “Outstanding Health and Safety Stories, 2016,” including film, print, broadcast and Internet stories which highlight occupational hazards and workplace fatalities. 

With newly-updated data on workplace fatalities from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Preventable Deaths 2016” reports that 4,821 workers died on the job from traumatic events in the workplace in 2014, a 5.1% increase from 4,585 deaths in 2013. 

NCOSH 300X250“An increase in workplace deaths is a wake-up call for all of us,” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “All the evidence shows that we can save lives – by strong enforcement and worker-involved safety programs to prevent sudden deaths in the workplace, and by removing the long-term hazards that are slow, silent killers.” 

“American workers are dying, but American journalism is not dead,” said Martinez. “We are proud to recognize this year, for the first time, the in-depth work of journalists and story-tellers who are revealing trends about how and why workers are getting sick and losing their lives.  This is exactly the kind of information workers and activists need to make our workplaces safer.” 

Additional study is needed, said Martinez, to determine why workplace deaths increased in 2014.  Available evidence indicates that the higher number of deaths is not linked to an upsurge in economic activity. The BLS reports that the rate of fatalities also increased in 2014, to 3.4 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent jobs, up from 3.3 in 2013.

Other key findings from “Preventable Deaths 2016” include:

  •  A leading cause of workplace death – falls, slips and trips – increased to 818 fatalities in 2014, a thirteen percent increase from 724 deaths in 2013.  The hazards of working at heights are well-known, as are tested and effective safety protocols to protect workers. OSHA’s fall protection standard, however, is the most frequently violated rule in the United States; the agency issued 7,402 citations for violation of the standard in 2015.
  • More than 95,000 U.S. workers die each year from the illnesses caused by long-term exposure to workplace hazards, according to a 2014 estimate by leading scholars and practitioners published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. This estimated death toll from cancer as well as heart, lung, kidney and other diseases is much higher than previous estimates.
  • “Cancers caused by work can be prevented by reducing or eliminating the exposures leading to the disease,” writes Jukka Takala, president of the International Commission on Occupational Health and the lead author of the 2014 study on deaths due to long-term workplace hazards.

“Preventable Deaths 2016” includes case reports of individual workers who died on the job drawn from the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, a cooperative effort by National COSH and partner organizations to compile names, faces and facts about workers who die on the job every year.

“Outstanding Health and Safety Stories, 2016” were selected by the National COSH team of staff, consultants and volunteer members of our Board of Directors, based on an extensive review of film, print, Internet and broadcast stories about occupational safety published during the past year.  The winning selections:

Film

“A Day’s Work”, released in 2015 and produced by David M. Garcia and Dave DeSario

Print, Internet and Broadcast

Print, online and broadcast stories are presented in order of date of publication. National COSH recognizes each of these stories equally as an extraordinary contribution to public understanding of workplace safety. 

Selection criteria included stories that are a result of in-depth investigation; stories showing trends that affect many workers and families; and effective use of multimedia Internet capabilities with photos, video, infographics and links to databases of injuries and fatalities. 

“At a time when many news organizations are responding to economic pressures by chasing clicks with provocative headlines, these outstanding stories can provoke outrage about deaths that can and should be prevented, ” said Peter Dooley, a project health and safety consultant at National COSH.  “We can save lives by empowering workers, requiring employers to rigorously follow existing safety standards, and passing stronger health and safety laws and regulations.”

“Preventable Deaths 2016” is being released to mark Workers’ Memorial Week, a global event that commemorates workers who lost their lives on the job.  In the United States, more than 90 local communities in 32 states will remember workers killed on the job. A listing of events is available on the National COSH website.


New Hampshire showing of “A Day’s Work”

Concord, New Hampshire
April 28, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
Red River Theatre, 11 South Main Street.

Screening of film “A Day’s Work,” followed by a panel discussion following featuring the film maker, temp workers, and worker advocates. Event co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, New Hampshire AFL-CIO, BDB Health Promotions, UNH Occupational Health Surveillance Program.

Advocates Push For New DOL Rule On Silica Dust, While Republicans Try To Scuttle Change

New Silica Rule offers a Simple Solution to a Deadly Problem

Today the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to review the Department of Labor’s (DOL) long-awaited rule updating the silica dust standard.

Silica is common in many workplace dust exposures. It is found in stone, rock, brick, and other building materials. More than 2 million workers are exposed to silica dust each year in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.

Crystalline silica is a human lung carcinogen and can also lead to kidney and respiratory diseases. Breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease that can severely disable affected workers. A worker with silicosis typically has trouble breathing, making it difficult to walk, climb steps or carry out other basic functions. The disease can be fatal; there is no cure or treatment currently available.

Since 2009, House Republicans have been trying to block this rule change with claims that the rule change will harm businesses through increased costs.

“Today’s hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to undermine this much needed regulatory reform,” said International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers President James Boland.

Democratic committee members strongly support this new standard to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust, a World Health Organization declared carcinogen that causes silicosis, lung cancer, respirable illnesses such as COPD, and kidney disease.  DOL projects the new standard will save more than 600 lives each year and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis each year. 

“The purpose of the new federal rule limiting exposure to silica dust is to save lives, reduce disease and make our workplaces safer,” said Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).”

“It’s unclear, however,  what the purpose of today’s hearing is. The concerns employers have about the new rule have been heard and these issues have been decided during an exhaustive regulatory process. OSHA rigorously followed all required rules and procedures and received extensive input from all stakeholders, including workers, employers and safety experts,” added Martinez.

“The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections can make better use of its time — and taxpayer money — by examining the many other areas in which workers need new, enforceable protections against hazards which claim tens of thousand of lives and cause millions of injuries every year,” Martinez concluded.

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers President James Boland released the following statement in Support of OSHA’s Final Rule to Protect Workers from Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica: 

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) applauds OSHA for doing what’s right for working people; creating healthier workplaces by updating the silica standard is a simple solution to a deadly problem.

The current standard is insufficient to protect construction workers. At the current permissible exposure limit, 100% of construction workers will get sick or die from silica-related illness over the course of a 40 year career. According to a CDC report issued under President Bush, “deaths from inhalation of silica-containing dust can occur after a few months’ exposure.”[1] That is a fact that has been well-established, and we have seen the results of exposure at permissible limits in the untimely illness of far too many bricklayers—union and non-union alike. Even at the reduced permissible limit under the new rule, a significant number of workers will become ill over the course of their working lives, but it will go a long way toward improving the health and safety of workers in this industry.

The new standard provides a meaningful and practical way for employers and employees to comply with the law. This is not complicated. Table one in the rule “matches common construction tasks with dust control methods, so employers know exactly what they need to do to limit worker exposures to silica. The dust control measures listed in the table include methods known to be effective, like using water to keep dust from getting into the air or using ventilation to capture dust. In some operations, respirators may also be needed. Employers who follow Table 1 correctly are not required to measure workers’ exposure to silica and are not subject to the permissible exposure limit.”[2]  The remedies offered in the new standard are simple: water and electricity are available on jobsites already, and most equipment already comes with standard attachments for water or vacuum removal methods.

Today’s hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to undermine this much needed regulatory reform. Members of the BAC are committed to do everything in our power to support the silica standard for the construction industry and fight any effort to overturn or delay implementation of the rule.

We are very disappointed in today’s effort by congressional republicans trying to undercut safety efforts in favor of a few powerful interests. For decades, BAC has fought for reduced exposure limits, and the science is behind us. Working people should not get sick and die in return for a hard day’s work—especially when reasonable, feasible and available measures exist to protect them.

Congress would do well to remember that the people exposed to this hazardous element expect that their elected representatives will do what’s good for America, our communities and our families. It is the right time to move this rule forward, and we expect our elected leaders to do their jobs and lead.

Hopefully members of Congress will ultimately move forward with the rule change and put the health and safety of workers ahead of corporate lobbyist who are pushing against it.

Connecticut Line Workers Win Significant Arbitration Against PSNH

High Voltage Line Workers (Luca Florio FLIKR CC 4.0)

High Voltage Line Workers (Luca Florio FLIKR CC 4.0)

Workers win arbitration case after being suspended for refusing to do work that put their health and safety at risk.

Some people claim that “unions are no longer necessary” because they have already done their job. Thanks to unions we have workplace protections and occupational safety requirements. Just because these laws are in place does not mean that employers actually abide by them.

During the week of Thanksgiving in 2014, most of New England was buried in snow and ice from a barrage of winter storms. One storm knocked out power for most of the southern part of New Hampshire.

Tens of thousands of Granite Staters spent the Thanksgiving holiday in their homes with no heat, hot water or electricity.

To help restore power as quickly as possible Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) sent out the call to line workers across the region. Workers from Connecticut Power and Light (IBEW Local 420) answered that call. Giving up on their own holiday plans they drove through the remnants of the storm to help restore power to the people of New Hampshire.

Once they arrived in New Hampshire they were informed of their duties and what they would need to do to get the power restored.

But there was a problem.

PSNH instructed the CT line workers to repair damaged 34.5k voltage lines throughout the area. The CT crew was not trained or equipped to handle these high voltage line repairs. When the workers objected the PSNH supervisor, Enos Stevens, told them, the lines would not be energized and they could just test the line for “potential with hot sticks.”

Again the workers objected as they were not trained nor equipped to handle these types of lines. Stevens responded by saying, “this is the work we are doing.”

After the workers objected, Stevens threatened the workers with disciplinary actions for failing to do their assigned tasks. Stevens said, “If you are not going to do the job, you are all going home.”

Instead of risking their own personal safety, seventeen of the workers continued to refuse the assigned tasks and were sent home. It was not until a few days later that the workers found out that they had all been suspended without pay for insubordination.

“[PSNH] had other work available but chose to send the workers home instead of sending them out to work on lower voltage lines,” said Frank Cirillo Business Agent for the IBEW local 420 in a recent phone interview. Cirillo estimated that only one of the ten possible tasks the workers could have been assigned would have required handling this 34.5k voltage lines. “They could have been utilized in other areas to help restore power to the people in New Hampshire, but instead were sent home.”

The union immediately filed grievances on behalf of the workers and took the case all the way to arbitration.

In his decision the arbitrator clearly stated that, “the Company did not have just cause to suspend the grievants for 5 days without pay.” He went on to say, “An employee is under no duty to obey an order which would endanger his life or health.”

All seventeen workers had their records expunged and were “made whole for all wages and benefits lost as a result of the suspension.”

After the arbitrator’s decision was made, Cirillo said, “This is an excellent decision.”

Cirillo said he was “not surprised by the decision,” but highlighted the importance of the arbitrator’s decision to uphold the workers safety concerns and that workers should not be forced to do a job that would put their safety at risk.

This case once again proves that even though we have mandatory safety requirements, employers choose to ignore them and risk the health and safety of workers. Without the support of their union behind them these worker would have been wrongfully disciplined or worse seriously injured on the job.

It is a fact that unions helped to pave the way for many of the safety regulations we have in place now, but without unions who will hold employers accountable for abiding by these safety regulations?

This is just one example of why unions are needed just as much today as they were a hundred years ago.

Is The TPP Really A Gold Standard For Workers Throughout The World?

The AFL-CIO released a new report highlighting the failures of current trade agreements and their ability to enforce worldwide labor standards.

 

Screen Shot of AFLCIO Report“Calling the TPP’s labor rights provisions a gold standard is a mirage,” said Celeste Drake, AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist, while on a nation wide conference call today. “We know from experience that the discretionary dispute settlement model does not work for vulnerable workers, and the highly touted ‘new’ labor provisions do not provide meaningful new protections for abused and exploited workers.”

Celeste Drake and Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO Director of International Affairs, hosted the call to announce the release of the AFL-CIO’s blistering new report, to “shed the light on the state of labor rights and commitments among the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) partner countries.”

The report, “A Gold Standard for Workers? The State of Labor Rights in Trans-Pacific Partnership Countries,” talks in depth about the grim condition workers in TPP countries currently face and how the TPP fails to address these concerns in the new trade agreement.

Many of the countries involved in the TPP are currently known offenders of labor rights. Many are already “out of compliance” with current trade agreements. This brings even greater concern to enforceability of the new trade deal.

“The United States seeks to enter into the TPP with a number of Pacific Rim nations with troubling anti-worker practices. US Trade Representative gave away crucial negotiating leverage by not insisting that trade benefits be contingent on adherence and promotion of the core labor standards. To let the TPP enter into force without full compliance with all labor commitments from all 12 countries undermines the entire agreement,” wrote the AFL-CIO in their report.

TPP Countries from AFLCIO ReportFeingold also talked about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit that President Obama is hosting and the TPP implications.

“The consistency plans fall woefully short of ensuring that all 12 TPP countries will be in full compliance with the TPP’s labor standard on Day One of the agreement,” said Feingold. “Vietnam will get a five-year free pass to deny freedom of association and there is no plan for Mexico at all. This problem would be compounded if countries such as Thailand and Cambodia join the TPP without first affording all of their workers fundamental worker rights and acceptable conditions of work.”

The AFL-CIO report focused a bright light on the anti-worker, anti-labor atrocities in these TPP nations but is willing to work with Congress to fix them now and for future trade agreements.

“The AFL-CIO urges Congress to only support a people-centered trade approach that will guarantee the benefits of trade can improve the working and living lives of millions of workers and their families in the United States and throughout TPP countries. Further, we stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to renegotiate the TPP so that it works for people who work.”

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