A Win for Worker Safety: New Silica Rule Stays on Track in Budget Deal
Funding extended for 9-11 First Responders and Families But OSHA and Mine Safety Budgets Are Frozen at 2014 Levels, Despite Need for More Inspections and Enforcement
SAN DIEGO — “Millions of workers and their families can breath more safely now,” said Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “It’s great news that despite efforts by special interests, the new proposed federal budget will not interfere with OSHA’s decades-long effort to reduce worker exposure to deadly silica dust.”
“OSHA’s new silica standard, scheduled for release in February 2016, is based on sound science and will require practical, economically feasible measures to control silica dust,” said Peter Dooley, safety and health project consultant at National COSH. “As a result, workplaces will be safer in construction, foundries, hydraulic fracturing, quarrying, tunneling and other industries. The public will also benefit from reduced exposure to silica dust, a known human carcinogen.”
First responders to the 9-11 terrorist attacks also won an important victory, with a 75-year extension of the World Trade Center Health Program. “Those who rushed to help on that tragic day are still suffering health impacts and must have access to medical monitoring and treatment,” said Dooley.
A budget freeze at federal worker safety agencies, however, will reduce capacity for enforcement of important safety laws.
“It is unfortunate that budget authorization for OSHA and for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration will remain frozen at 2014 levels, which means cutbacks in critical safety personnel,” said Martinez. “Tens of thousands of workers die each year from traumatic injuries and long-term exposure to workplace hazards. We need more inspections and enforcement, not less.”
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.
Achieving a zero accident workplace is something of a valency issue. No mainstream politician is ever going to argue for more accidents or fatalities at work, and so campaigning for zero accidents is something that everyone can agree with. However, whenever a public figure says that they want to promote a zero accident workplace, two questions need to be considered: One, what are they doing to achieve this? Two, is a zero accident workplace possible?
To answer the second question is yes. A zero accident workplace is possible. Saying that accidents are an inevitable part of labor is like saying that a particular disease is an inevitable part of living in a particular country. The latter is not true and neither is the former. To take one example, the WHO European Region has gone from over 90,000 cases over malaria in 1955 to just two in 2015, both of which were in Tajikistan. This means that almost all of the other countries in the WHO European Region are certified malaria free.
You may be reading this completely unaware of the fact that Europe, or anywhere close to it, ever had a malaria problem. That unawareness speaks volumes for the strides made in those European countries with zero cases of malaria. The future we should be looking towards is one that views accidents and deaths at work the same way that we now look at cases of malaria in Europe. That is to say, we should aim towards a future where accidents at work are seen as completely bizarre and borderline impossible.
It is worth mentioning at this point that the European Union’s definition of the “Zero Accident Vision” is as “more a way of thinking rather than a numerical goal”. In other words, not everybody thinks that “zero accidents” means zero accidents. For some, “zero accidents” is a way of thinking rather than a literal number. These people may argue that, while we should be aiming to have as few accidents as possible, we shouldn’t seriously imagine that we will ever live in a country where there are zero workplace accidents. Some, on the other hand, do take the goal literally: if we can rid the world of smallpox deaths, why can’t we rid the world of workplace deaths? So, while it is true that everybody would like to see a zero accident workplace, not everybody is agreed on “zero accident” actually means.
According to the US Government’s own statistics, there are twelve deaths a day from workplace injuries. They stress that this figure has fallen as a result of OSHA, but concede that “there is still much work to be done”. Precisely how much work and exactly when it will be done are two very reasonable questions that are not asked enough.
What OSHA may or may not be aware of is that a zero accident workplace may be right around the corner. With more machines entering the workforce, we will see human casualties plummet as robots do the dangerous work. The upside is that this could create a zero accident workplace. The downside is that, with machines doing so much work, humans will need to radically rethink their role in the workplace. If they don’t, they will be unemployed and, without the right skills, unemployable. To a certain degree, this has happened before. There are many jobs where machines have replaced humans because those jobs were far too dangerous for humans to be doing. To give an obvious example, you don’t see any work-related deaths from humans physically dragging heavy stones for hundreds of miles. This is because we have cars and trucks for that work.
Yet, as vlogger CGP Grey points out, what is different this time is that the scale of potential for robots replacing human work is much higher and, because of this, humans need to be much more innovative about what they want to do. At the recent SEMA Safety Conference in the UK, Steve Cowen envisioned a future where pallet racking inspections could be carried out by drones. This would give racking inspectors more time to write reports and less time in potentially dangerous situations, such as inspecting racking that is close to breaking point.
This is just but one example, in one industry, of how a zero accident workplace could be achieved. As machines become more able to do dangerous work, we should be embracing this as an opportunity to train our human labor force to be able to do safer work. The rapid development of technology and the potential for job losses as machines take unsafe work away from human labor is the stick. The carrot is the fact that this will free humans up to be able to do more technical, and safer, jobs in the future. The zero accident workplace could well be a future where human workers are put in no danger whatsoever.
San Diego, CA – As Americans from coast-to-coast prepare for Thanksgiving, worker advocates are calling on CEOs of America’s largest poultry companies to raise wages, improve safety conditions and guarantee fair treatment for workers who help feed millions of American families.
Three advocacy organizations – Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and the Western North Carolina Workers Center – today released copies of letters to:
·Bill Lovette, President and CEO of Pilgrim’s Pride, Greeley, CO
Advocates cite low wages with scant benefits; high rates of injury among poultry workers; and a climate of fear and intimidation inside poultry plants as conditions that require immediate attention.
“We are the workers who make the holidays happen,” said Omar Hassan, a former employee at a turkey processing plant in Minnesota. A Somali immigrant, Hassan was discharged after suffering an on-the-job injury. “We are treated as if we are disposable; all of us should be valued for our work.”
Poultry workers earn low wages, with real value declining by almost 40 percent since the 1980s.
Poultry workers suffer extremely high rates of injury, especially repetitive strain injuries. The rate of carpal tunnel syndrome for poultry workers is seven times higher than the national average.
Many poultry workers are afraid to speak up and advocate for better conditions. The industry has a history of hiring immigrant workers and others from vulnerable populations, using intimidation tactics to interfere with workplace rights. “Employees believe at any moment they can and will be fired,” says an attorney familiar with industry conditions.
Just prior to the release of Oxfam’s October 2015 report, Lives on the Line, Tyson Foods, a major poultry processor, announced an initiative to raise wages. In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a new regional emphasis to investigate unsafe working conditions in the poultry processing industry.
“Tyson has made a first start, but this process is by no means finished. The company must do much more to meet the needs of its workers and live up to its core values,” said Rudy Lopez, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice. “The other major firms in the industry – Perdue, Sanderson and Pilgrim’s – haven’t budged an inch. We hope consumers take note of that.”
“OSHA’s regional emphasis on poultry, with more comprehensive inspections in the workplaces where so many injuries take place, is a step in the right direction,” said Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of National COSH. “But it only covers 10 southern states, even though there are poultry plants all over the country. We need to focus on health and safety for all workers, no matter where they live and work.”
“Consumers have already had a big impact on the poultry industry, by expressing a preference for less antibiotics and more free range birds,” said Hunter Ogletree of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center. “When we gather with our families next week, let’s give thanks to the people who bring food to our tables – and raise our voices to raise industry standards.”
Consumers can sign an online petition calling for higher wages, improved safety and fair treatment in the poultry industry at the upper right “Take Action” tab on Oxfam America’s website here.
National COSH, based in San Diego, 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. More information at coshnetwork.org.
Interfaith Worker Justice, based in Chicago, has been organizing, educating and advocating at the intersection of work and faith since 1996. There are 70 affiliated organizations in the United States. For more information, visit IWJ.org
The mission of the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center is to develop leadership among workers through organizing and education to resolve issues of labor rights and promote fair working conditions in Western North Carolina. More information at wncworkerscenter.org
Asbestos-triggered diseases claim the lives of New Hampshire residents at a rate almost a third higher than the national average, according to a new state-by-state analysis by EWG Action Fund.
Washington, D.C. – Asbestos-triggered diseases claim the lives of New Hampshire residents at a rate almost a third higher than the national average, according to a new state-by-state analysis by EWG Action Fund.
Roughly 6.2 out of every 100,000 people in New Hampshire die each year from diseases caused by asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and certain lung cancers, compared to the national average of 4.7 deaths per 100,000. All of the Granite State’s 10 counties have asbestos death rates above the national average. Coos County has the highest rate – more than 10 people per 100,000.
From analysis of federal records of deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis and a formula developed by international cancer researchers for estimating lung cancer deaths from asbestos, EWG Action Fund estimates that 12,000 to 15,000 Americans die each year from exposure to the deadly fibers. From 1999 to 2013, EWG Action Fund estimates that more than 1,200 New Hampshire residents died from asbestos-related diseases.
Reasons for the high death rate in New Hampshire are uncertain. However, asbestos was once widely used in a number of the state’s leading industries, including shipbuilding and milling. Use has declined since 1980, when the dangers of asbestos became well known, but has not been eliminated.
“Many Americans mistakenly believe asbestos was banned decades ago,” said Alex Formuzis with EWG Action Fund. “It is still legal, still used in many consumer products, and still brings tragedy to thousands of victims and their families each year.”
That tragedy could be made by worse by legislation under consideration in Congress that would effectively delay and deny compensation to people from the various asbestos trusts.
The legislation, the so-called FACT Act, with identical versions in the House (H.R. 526) and Senate (S. 357) would deplete the resources of the already-dwindling trust funds set aside to compensate asbestos victims. Adding insult to injury, the measure would also require public disclosure of victims’ personal information such as medical records and partial Social Security numbers, placing them at heightened risk of identity theft.
Officials of the asbestos trusts estimate that complying with the bill would require up to 20,000 additional hours per year at each trust – a burdensome and expensive mandate that would inevitably slow the processing of claims and distribution of payments.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporations with major asbestos liability, including Koch Industries, Honeywell, 3M, Allstate and Nationwide are some of the biggest backers of the bill. The House is poised to vote on its version of the so-called FACT Act in the coming weeks.
“Each member of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has a choice to make,” said Formuzis. “Will they stand with those in the state who are sick and dying from asbestos-caused disease, or with the very industries that poisoned them to begin with?”
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.
U.S. Recycling Workers Exposed to Safety Hazards and High Injury Rates, But Cities Can Protect the Workers Who Protect the Planet
17 Recent Fatalities; Injured at More than Twice the Rate as the Average Worker
[BERKELEY, CA:] A new study, released Tuesday, June 23 by environmental, occupational safety, and community benefits experts in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, finds that recycling work is unnecessarily hazardous to workers’ health and safety. Seventeen American recycling workers died on the job from 2011 to 2013. Recycling workers are more than twice as likely to be injured at work as the average worker.
By ensuring health and safety compliance across the industry, the study’s authors say cities can create good and safe recycling jobs, and they offer concrete policy recommendations for cities.
“Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “That means educating and empowering recycling workers, and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions. That’s how we can avoid tragedies like the death of a recycling worker just last week in Florida.”
Key findings from the report, Safe & Sustainable Recycling: Protecting Workers who Protect the Planet, include:
● The industry’s high injury and fatality rates are a result of unsafe working conditions around heavy machinery and exposure to hazardous items on the sort line, like hypodermic needles, toxic chemicals, and animal carcasses.
● Many waste and recycling companies rely heavily on temporary workers, who have fewer workplace protections and are less likely to be informed of their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace.
“People put dangerous stuff in recycling bins,” said Mirna Santizo, who worked at a Casella recycling facility for 12 years, sorting recycling from Boston and other cities. “We found lots of broken glass and needles. Sometimes workers were punctured and hurt from the needles.”
“If we are serious about solving the world’s ecological crises, we need to invest in protecting the lives and livelihoods of workers whose daily efforts are reducing pollution, conserving precious resources, and mitigating climate change,” said Monica Wilson of GAIA, a contributor to the report.
To create good and safe recycling jobs, the authors recommend:
·City governments evaluate the health and safety records of recycling companies and require these companies to have comprehensive worker safety programs,
·The recycling industry ends the use of temporary workers, and
·Cities enact strong community education programs for greater household separation of waste to minimize dangerous contaminants entering the recycling stream.
The report notes that unionized workers, with negotiated contracts in place enjoy more effective enforcement of legally mandated health and safety protections and also have the ability to bargain for additional safeguards to improve working conditions.
“Many cities have figured out how to collect recycling in ways that help our environment, and create good, safe jobs. It’s time to extend that approach to every city, and to every step of the recycling chain, starting with recycling sorting facilities,” said Hays Witt with the Partnership for Working Families, a report contributor.
Since this report went to press, a Florida man was crushed to death on June 15, 2015 in a cardboard compactor while working at a recycling plant in Winter Garden, outside of Orlando.
“Safe and Sustainable Recycling” is being released today with events in 10 cities. The report notes important economic and climate benefits from expanding recycling nationally, including climate benefits equivalent to shutting down one-fifth of U.S. coal power plants and sustaining a total of 2.3 million jobs. That is more than 10 times the number of jobs than sending the same material to garbage incinerators and landfills.
National COSH Announces 2015 Health and Safety Awards: Walmart Worker, Scientist Sleuths and Others Honored for Grass-Roots Activism
Longmeadow, Massachusetts – Activists, researchers and worker advocates from across the United States won National COSH and COSH Network awards at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.
The 2015 National COSH Awards, based on nominations from local COSH and other worker health and safety groups around the country, were presented on Wednesday, June 3. COSH Network awards, recognizing grass roots activists in local COSH groups, were presented at a COSH Network awards dinner on Monday, June 1.
“These health and safety heroes are making a difference,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH. “We’re proud to recognize their efforts on behalf of workers and families all across the country.”
“Workers deserve a voice, and workplaces don’t become safer by themselves,” said Jessica Martinez, deputy director of National COSH. “These awardees are setting an example for all of us, showing how together we can reduce and eliminate preventable injuries and deaths in the workplace.”
This year’s National COSH Health and Safety award winners include:
Bethany Boggess of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas won the Health and Safety Innovation Award for her work on the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, a volunteer-led program that amassed data on over 1800 worker deaths from 2014. Bethany and a team of citizen scientists have created the most comprehensive listing ever about women and men who have lost their lives on the job in the United States. The Worker Fatality Database team also included Gavin West, Tammy Miser, Katelyn Parady, Anne Marie Gibson, Celeste Monforton, and Rebecca Reindel.
Barbara Gertz of Denver, Colorado, received the Health and Safety Organizer Award for creating and spearheading the OURWalmart safety and health committee. Barbara has worked at Walmart for over six years. Two and a half years ago, she joined OURWalmart, an employee group working to improve labor standards at the retail giant. Barb, who herself suffers from work-related tendonitis due to her job at Walmart, has helped co-workers raise their voices to advocate for better working conditions.
Rod Hitchler of United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities is the recipient of the Health and Safety Community Activist Award. The Grand Island, Nebraska resident lost his son Ryan in May of 2009 to a preventable work-related incident. Ryan and a co-worker were working to repair a roof at the Nebraska Air National Guard when a makeshift platform they were standing on collapsed. Since then, Rod and his wife have advocated for safer workplaces and worked closely with victims’ families at annual events such as Workers’ Memorial Day and the Harvest of Harmony Parade.
Alejandro Zuñiga, who heads the health and safety program at the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, Texas, won the Health and Safety Trainer Award. As an immigrant worker and survivor of workplace carbon monoxide poisoning, Alejandro knows personally how a family suffers when employers ignore workers’ rights. Alejandro sees training as a strategy for expanding awareness and engaging new players in the broader struggle for systemic change to benefit immigrant workers.
Roger Cook, co-founder of Western New York COSH (WNYCOSH), received the Tony Mazzocchi Award, named in honor of legendary health and safety pioneer Tony Mazzocchi. A leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers) Tony helped pass the original Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) in 1970.
Roger Cook served as the director of WNYCOSH for three decades, and has spent his life devoted to organizing campaigns for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. He currently co-chairs the New York State Zero Lift Task Force and serves on the WNYCOSH Worker Center Advisory Board and the executive boards of the Western New York Working Families Party and his local Sierra Club.
Winners of the COSH Network awards include:
Germain Harnden, executive director of WNYCOSH, received the COSH Legacy Award. She has been with WNYCOSH for over 25 years, working on Workers’ Comp reform, the EPA Tools for Schools program, advocacy and training on indoor air quality issues, safe patient handling, and hazard abatement. As executive director, she has expanded the organization’s reach to low-wage workers and helped to establish the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Buffalo.
FranAnsley of the Knox Area Workers Memorial Day Committee received the New COSH Activist Award. An emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, Fran has worked with the Committee to author two Workers’ Memorial Day reports, highlighting preventable workplace deaths in Knoxville and surrounding communities.
Nicole Marquez, Staff Attorney for Worksafe in Oakland, California, and a National COSH board member, won the COSH Board Activist Award. Nicole has worked to assist low-wage Latina workers, helping to ensure compliance with labor laws and health and safety standards. For National COSH, Nicole was a leader in creating the new Board committee on Inclusiveness and Diversity, with a commitment to expand the organization’s reach to underserved communities.
Educator and Trainer Awards were given to members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network: Levis Torres of WeCount!; Betzy Rega of El Sol; Ignacio Paramo of VOZ; Mark Day of the San Diego Day Laborers and Household Workers Association; and the Union Latina de Chicago.
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. “Preventable Deaths 2015,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH
WASHINGTON DC – A delegation of health and safety activists will deliver a petition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday, June 5th, calling on the Chamber to drop its opposition to OSHA’s proposed rule limiting worker exposure to silica dust.
“Workers are getting sick and dying every day from exposure to silica dust,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a non-profit advocacy group that will lead the delegation. “It’s long past time to put an affordable, practical rule in place that can protect workers and save lives.
Who: Health and Safety Activists
What: Delegation to U.S. Chamber of Commerce
When: Friday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m.
Where: Lafayette Park, H St. and Connecticut Avenue
Dust from silica, widely used in construction, masonry, foundries, fracking and other industries, is a known carcinogen and can also cause tuberculosis, silicosis, lung infections and other potentially fatal disease.
OSHA proposed final rule requiring use of currently available and affordable technologies to limit exposure to silica dust in 2013. The new standard, based on years of research and sound science, could save an estimated 700 lives a year. It has been stalled for two years in large part due to efforts of business lobbyists, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Workers and their families have waited long enough,” said Barbara Rahke, executive director of PhilaPOSH and board chair of National COSH. “The U.S. Chamber is putting workers at risk – and turning its back on responsible employers who are using currently available technology to limit silica dust.”
Friday’s delegation will present hundreds of signatures gathered at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, which is taking place through June 4th at the Maritime Training Center in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.
Activists will hear keynote speeches from Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor and Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO. The National Conference also features dozens of workshops by leading organizers and health and safety practitioners on Basic Health and Safety Rights; Building Capacity for Disasters; Bilingual Worker Education; Lessons from Fatality Cases; Making OSHA Work; Whistleblower Protections, and other critical topics.
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. “Preventable Deaths 2014,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.
OSHA’s Jordan Barab and AFL-CIO’s Tefere Gebre are Keynote Speakers at Nat’l Conference on Worker Safety and Health Meeting in Maryland will Include Screening of “A Day’s Work,” New Doc on Temp Workers
Linthicum Heights, Maryland – The National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, bringing together workers, safety advocates and health professionals from across the country, will take place this coming Tuesday June 2nd through Thursday June 4th at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.
“Our mission is to empower workers and make our workplaces safer,” said Barbara Rahke, board chair of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “This is a great opportunity to share ideas, learn best practices and work together to reduce the terrible toll caused by preventable illnesses, injuries and deaths in American workplaces.”
Who: 300+ Health and Safety Advocates
What: Nat’l Conference on Worker Safety and Health
When: Tuesday June 2 at 11:00 am thru Thursday, June 4 at 5 pm
Where: Conference Center at the Maritime Institute,
692 Maritime Blvd, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090
Plus: Lobby Day in DC and Action at U.S. Chamber of Commerce
on Friday, June 5 (More details to follow).
A complete conference agenda is available here. The program includes dozens of workshops by leading organizers and health and safety practitioners on Basic Health and Safety Rights; Building Capacity for Disasters; Bilingual Worker Education; Lessons from Fatality Cases; Making OSHA Work; Whistleblower Protections, and many other critical topics.
Tuesday, June 2, 7:00 p.m.: Screening of “A Day’s Work,” a new documentary about the lives of temporary workers, with a follow-up talk by producer Dave DeSario and Tim Bell of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, a non-profit organization which advocates for temps and other low-wage workers.
Wednesday. June 3rd at 1:00 p.m.: Keynote address by Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Wednesday. June 3rd at 7:00 pm: National COSH Awards Banquet, recognizing local activists for innovation, organizing, activism and training. Also: The Annual Tony Mazzocchi Award, honoring a legendary health and safety pioneer.
Thursday June 4 at 8:45 a.m.: Media panel with Lydia DePillis, workplace reporter at the Washington Post; Howard Berkes, correspondent for National Public Radio’s investigative unit; and Michael Grabell, investigative reporter at ProPublica.org
Thursday, June 4 at 12:30 p.m. Keynote address by Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO.
“This is more than a conference. It’s a movement,” said Mary Vogel, Executive Director of National COSH. “This will be a tremendously exciting event, bringing together people from different organizations, speaking different languages, with wide and varied experience on safety issues. We share a passion for doing all we can to make sure workers’ voices are heard, so that every worker can come home safely, every day, to his or her family.”
National COSH is the convenor and lead sponsor of this event. Additional sponsors include LaborSafe Consulting, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the United Auto Workers, the Communication Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (IBT).
Note to reporters and editors: Media are invited to attend the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health, but not all sessions will be open. Please contact Roger Kerson, email@example.com to register in advance and for further information.
America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.
Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.
The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”
This is trade abuse.
At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.
The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.
Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”
Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?
Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that. The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.
In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”
Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.
What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.
American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.
To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”
According to a report released today by the AFL-CIO, 4,585 workers were killed in the United States during 2013 due to workplace injuries. An additional estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of nearly 150 workers each day from preventable workplace conditions.
“America’s workers shouldn’t have to choose between earning a livelihood and risking their life, yet every day too many end up on the wrong end of that choice,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Corporations are prospering while working people suffer because of corporate negligence and insufficient government oversight. We must go beyond mourning those we’ve lost, and take bold, decisive action to ensure that a day’s work brings opportunity, not the risk of death or injury.”
The report, entitled Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, marks the 24th year the AFL-CIO has produced its findings on safety and health protections for workers in the United States. The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates were found in North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, West Virginia, and New Mexico.
While workplace deaths and injuries were high in many private sector industries, such as oil and gas extraction, the injury rate for public sector workers was 58 percent higher than for private sector workers. In fact, 8 million state and local public employees lack any OSHA protections. OSHA oversight and enforcement remains weak. Federal OSHA has the resources and staff to inspect workplaces on average only once every 140 years. The average penalty for serious violations was only $1,895, and the median penalty for worker deaths was only $5,050.
Other report highlights include the startling rise of Latino worker deaths, as the Latino fatality rate was 18 percent greater than the overall rate, and the urgent need to update OSHA silica safety standards based on near-century old research.
Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect was released after numerous Workers Memorial Day vigils, rallies, and actions were held across the country, and can be found online here: aflcio.org/death-on-the-job.
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