The five remaining rest stops on Arizona’s highways could soon be shut down raising safety concerns with truckers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Jesse Russell reports: The Teamsters say it’s important that truckers have safe places with enough room to stop their rigs for extended breaks and long naps. Without the rest areas, it’s feared many truckers will forgo those safety breaks.
By Doug Cunningham
Dr. Fred Millar: “The thirty or forty HF communities around the United States have been kept deliberately in the dark about how dangerous it is.”
Dr. Fred Millar – a consultant on chemical accident prevention – on the dangerous use of hydrogen fluoride ,or HF, in gasoline refining. The United Steel Workers’ Diane Heminway says the union wants the 50 U.S. refineries still using HF to phase it out.
Colorado UFCW Local 7 Waits For International Strike Authorization As It Presses For Good Contract – 11/13/09
By Doug Cunningham
UFCW Local 7′s Laura Chapin hopes a new contract is reached for the local’s 17,000 Colorado members without a grocery strike. Local 7′s workers have authorized one and they’re waiting for UFCW international’s final sanction.
[Laura Chapin]: “We would all rather settle this at the negotiating table. The bottom line is the workers getting a good contract.”
Despite solid profits Safeway and King Soopers grocery chains want cuts in pensions. UFCW International’s Evan Yeats says a final strike authorization is under consideration.
Every day, 16 workers go to work and don’t come home. They are killed on the job. But far too often, employers that have created or ignored dangerous workplace conditions are not held accountable. Civil penalties are weak and criminal prosecutions rare.
Along with the video, Brave New Films has created a website and Facebook page to build support for the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067), which would toughen enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and penalties for violating the law.
In a post on Firedoglake, David Dayen of Brave New Films writes:
The video takes a look at the stories of several workers. Travis Koehler-Fergen, an employee at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, and Tina Hall, from Toyo Automotive Parts USA, both died at their workplaces in accidents. The Orleans was found by OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to have broken the law, but was never referred for prosecution. Sixteen safety violations were found at the Toyo plant prior to the accident that killed Tina Hall, but the highest fine ever levied on the company was $7,000.
The maximum penalty for a serious violation that injures or even kills a worker is $7,000, and $70,000 for willful and repeated violations. But those are rarely assessed. The average penalty for a serious OSHA violation is less than $1,000, and the average penalty when a worker is killed is $11,300, Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO director of health and safety, told a House hearing this spring.
Current OSHA enforcement and penalties are far too weak to provide any meaningful incentive for employers to address job hazards or to deter violations. As a result, workers are exposed to serious hazards that put them in danger and cause injury and death.
In “16 Deaths Per Day,” David Uhlman, director of the University of Michigan’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, notes that the maximum criminal penalty an employer faces for a willful violation of safety laws causing a worker’s death is just six months in jail.
Now, if that same employer who commits that violation goes out over the weekend and shoots a deer without a state permit and transports that deer across state lines, it’s a five-year felony….The problem with our worker safety laws is not the rule; the problem is there are no consequences for breaking the rule.
Along with strengthening the penalties for OSHA violations for the first time in nearly 20 years, the Protecting America’s Workers Act would bring more workers under the protection of OSHA, protect workers who blow the whistle on employers that break the law and strengthen workers’ safety rights.
You can view “16 Deaths Per Day” here and sign a petition demanding that Congress act swiftly to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act.
Students at the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) spent last Saturday morning raising their voices for justice for tobacco workers. Chanting ”Justice now!” and holding signs that read “Hasta la Victoria” (”Onward to Victory”), dozens of students marched and rallied on UF’s Gainesville campus.
The students joined members of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), the Student/Farmworker Alliance and the National Farm Worker Ministry to demand justice for tobacco farm workers in North Carolina who suffer low wages and poor working conditions at the hands of Big Tobacco.
The rally followed a UF Student Senate resolution calling for a pay increase and better treatment of Immokalee farm workers, who pick the tomatoes used by Aramark, UF’s food provider. “Somebody’s got to fight for social justice,” said UF junior Justin Wooten.
The students and activists wanted to send a message to Susan Ivey, CEO of Reynolds American, the parent of R.J. Reynolds, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company. Ivey has refused to meet with FLOC members to discuss their working conditions. A University of Florida alumna, Ivey is a member of the school’s foundation board, which was meeting on campus last weekend. Ivey did not attend the meeting, but the students handed out informational fliers to members of the board, including university President Bernie Machen, who told them he would make sure Ivey got a flier.
Although Reynolds does not directly employ the farm workers on its contract farms, Reynolds sets the terms with its contract growers and profits from the farm workers’ labor. As a dominant player in the Big Tobacco game, Reynolds American wields significant industry clout and can improve working conditions in the fields, but it has not developed the political will to bring about change, according to FLOC.
“R.J. Reynolds has a corporate responsibility to monitor what happens in the fields,” Roberta Perry, a National Farm Worker Ministry community organizer, told the University of Florida Alligator newspaper:
What we’re asking for is a conversation between R.J. Reynolds and the farm workers.
The nation’s tobacco farm workers live in poverty, and many suffer from nicotine poisoning and exposure to deadly pesticides and harsh conditions in the fields. They have few enforceable human rights protections.
Says FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez:
The fact that farm workers still live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to many work-related illnesses is not only a tragedy but a moral disgrace hidden from the eyes of most Americans. FLOC will campaign until Reynolds Tobacco commits to joining us in addressing this national shame.
Last year, Velásquez spent a week working as a field laborer at a North Carolina farm to see firsthand the conditions of tobacco workers. In “A Week in the Tobacco Fields” on the AFL-CIO website, Velásquez used excerpts of his daily diary to relate his experiences and emotions working with the men in the hot fields. Read the entire column here.
Increasing union membership is one of the keys to creating more good jobs for all workers, but especially for people of color and those in low-wage jobs, several experts said today. Many of the 8.1 million jobs lost during the current recession have been good jobs, including union jobs in manufacturing. The jobs now created, mainly in the service sector, are less likely to provide what working families need.
In a new report released today, Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI’s) program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, says the United States has too few good jobs. He defines a good job as one with a wage that can support a family, health care benefits and retirement security. Using that minimal standard, Austin found that Hispanics are less than half as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have good jobs, and African Americans about two-thirds as likely.
Speaking at an EPI forum this morning on “Reversing the Decline of Good Jobs,” Austin and a panel of experts agreed that several policy changes must occur for more workers to hold down good jobs. One major change would be to make it easier for workers to join unions. Austin and Catherine Singley of the National Council of La Raza pointed to studies showing union members of all races fare better than nonunion workers.
The union difference is most striking for Hispanic workers, with 40.8 percent of Hispanic union members working in good jobs, compared with 14.1 percent of their nonunion counterparts. For black workers, the ratio is 46 percent to 21.3 percent. Among white workers, 56.9 percent of union members have good jobs compared with 30.9 percent among nonunion workers.
The experts said the nation’s leaders must commit to making the creation of good jobs a priority. They also must begin to vigorously enforce current laws on discrimination, wages and overtime, they said. Other policies that are needed include:
- Universal, affordable health care for all;
- Guaranteed retirement security;
- Increases in the minimum wage to 50 percent of the national median income; and
- A comprehensive reform of the nation’s immigration policies.
Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) warned that we are becoming a nation divided between the “haves and the have nots,” and we have lost the sense of a national community. She said good jobs also must include respect and fair treatment for workers.
Other panelists at the forum included Gustavo Andrade of CASA de Maryland Inc., Gail Arnall of the Offender Aid and Restoration and Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First.
This morning, President Obama announced he will invite labor leaders, business executives, small business owners, economists and other financial experts to a special White House summit on jobs next month.
Obama says the summit will explore ways to slow the loss of jobs and quicken the pace of job creation at a time when the nation’s jobless rate is at 10.2 percent, its highest point since 1983. As Obama said,
We have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country.
Just this week, the AFL-CIO Executive Council met in Washington, D.C., to outline a national jobs creation strategy that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will announce Tuesday at a special Economic Policy Institute (EPI) jobs and economy panel and seminar. (Plan now to view the live webcast from 9-11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17, at www.aflcio.org/createjobs.)
The summit announcement came as a new report showed there were 502,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits last week. Dire as that is, it’s lower than expected and is the smallest number of first-time claims since January. But, according to Obama:
Even though we’ve slowed the loss of jobs—and today’s report on the continued decline in unemployment claims is a hopeful sign—the economic growth that we’ve seen has not yet led to the job growth that we desperately need.
EPI President Lawrence Mishel calls the announcement of the White House jobs summit “necessary and welcome.”
President Obama is right to say that we should take “every responsible step” to help put Americans back to work. With a double-digit unemployment rate and nearly 16 million Americans looking for work, we should take decisive action as quickly as possible to create jobs. High rates of unemployment damage our economy in ways that can take years, if not generations, to fix, by casting millions of families and children into poverty and making it difficult for our nation to invest for the future. President Obama’s focus on job creation is necessary and welcome.
Currently 15.7 million workers are jobless and when the unemployment and underemployment rates are combined they soar to 17.5 percent—more than 27 million workers.
A date for the summit will be announced soon.