Dispatches from the front lines of the battle for workplace safety: Short stuff
Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.
Poison Food, Poisoned Workers: Eyal Press of The Intercept writes about chronic health problems that have plagued Jessica Robertson since she began working as a part-time U.S. Department of Agriculture poultry inspector at a turkey processing plant, most likely from peracetic acid which is used to remove bacteria from the carcasses of chickens and turkeys. USDA had ignored her complaints about the chemical and allegedly retaliated against her. Now she and other USDA whistle blowers are speaking out. “Their story is a reminder that, even as consumers have grown increasingly vigilant about buying meat that is naturally and humanely processed…the inhumane conditions endured by the people who work in America’s slaughterhouses remain hidden from view.” There are other safer and more humane ways to raise animals free from the risk of food borne illness.
Kavanaugh Watch: Steve Bannon’s dream of “deconstructing the regulatory state” will come closer to reality if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed, according to the Washington Post‘s Robert Barnes and Steven Mufson who discuss how Kavanaugh will undermine environmental and workplace safety regulations in the name of “protect[ing] American businesses from illegal job-killing regulation.” Whether EPA’s authority to restrict climate change, or OSHA’s authority to protect workers from killer whales, Kavanaugh’s decisions “‘undercuts environmental protection to such an extent that it hearkens back to pre-EPA powers when we had tragedies like Love Canal and 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River,’” said Pat Gallagher, director of the environmental law program at the Sierra Club.”
Meanwhile, the Pump Handle notes that the American Public Health Association has come out against Kavanaugh in a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The letter was accompanied by a report containing “a neutral assessment of Judge Kavanaugh’s known or prospective views on multiple constitutional, health and public health law and policy issues.” The Pump Handle’s Celeste Monforton writes that “Strong health, safety, labor, civil rights, and environmental regulations are vital to protecting individuals of all ages from injuries, illnesses, and premature death. Regulations are essential for advancing social justice, promoting general welfare, and securing fairness and prosperity.” More on Kavanaugh and workers here.
Truckers’ Troubles: The New York Times lead editorial on August 11th shows how truckers — the lifeblood of the American economy — can’t make a decent living. Low pay — often below minimum wage, overwork, lack of sleep, misclassification as “independent contractors, lack of unions all make the job impossible as a long-term career. “They spend weeks away from home, crisscrossing the country to keep store shelves stocked and the economy humming. The trucking industry complains it can’t find enough drivers. And yet the value of drivers’ paychecks just keeps falling over time.” They’ve seen a significant pay drop and longer hours since 1980. One trucker “made so little that he couldn’t always afford rent, and he spent long stretches — six months, at one point — living out of his truck.” Deregulation in the 1970s and 1980s gave the industry a bigger financial incentive to lower costs and weaken unions. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration is trying to lower the minimum age for commercial driver’s licenses to 18 from 21. Overwork, lack of sleep and 18 year-olds behind the big rigs. I feel much better now.
Government Goes on Strike? Steve Mufson asks in a Washington Post article “What happens when the government stops doing its job?” The Trump administration is realizing that rescinding and weakening regulations is a long and difficult process, and ultimately may fail in court. What to do? Try a more “passive approach. From labor violations to financial crimes to climate protections, the Trump administration’s profound effect on American life may result just as much from the enforcement actions it doesn’t take as the ones it does.” Mufson observes that “Key agencies appear to have backed off the enforcement of regulations even when action to protect citizens is essential to the spirit of the laws.” Can they do that? “This is not something presidents are allowed to do, the courts have said. Executive branch ‘authority does not extend to the refusal to execute domestic laws,” then-Justice John Paul Stevens wrote.'” Oh yeah, tell it to the EPA: “In the year after Trump took office, civil cases brought by the Justice Department for pollution violations fell 44 percent and penalties dropped by 49 percent.” Same with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Education Department and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement which regulates offshore drilling.
Opioid Deaths Higher for Workers Who Get Hurt on the Job: The Massachusetts Department of Health has issued a report linking occupations with high numbers of job injuries (like construction) to high rates of opioid overdose deaths. The report found that “The opioid-related death rate for those employed in construction and extraction occupation was six times the average rate for all Massachusetts workers ” And it’s not because construction workers are naturally degenerate druggies. The report explained that “This finding is consistent with previous research documenting common use of prescribed opioids for management of acute and chronic pain following work-related injury.” One other interesting finding. Workers tend to abuse opioids more if they don’t have sick leave or have low job security. Makes sense. Can’t afford to miss work if you don’t have sick days or you might be fired if you miss work. Better to pop a few pills than watch your kids go hungry.
Every time You Click “Place Your Order,” an Amazon Worker Gets Hurt: The Guardian’s Michael Sainato reveals “numerous cases of Amazon workers being treated in ways that leave them homeless, unable to work or bereft of income after workplace accidents.” The world’s most valuable retailer is condemning workers to homelessness after suffering workplace injuries on defective equipment that they delay repairing. And even if you don’t get hurt: “Other Amazon employees succumb to the fatigue and exhaustion of the fulfillment center work environment and quit before getting injured. “I felt they thought I was faking. I was dehydrated and dizzy,” said Lindsai Florence Johnson, who was taken away in an ambulance in April during a hot day while working at an Amazon fulfillment center in San Bernardino, California.” But never fear, “Ensuring the safety of these associates is our number one priority,” said Amazon spokesperson Melanie Etches.” Now where have we heard that before?