Obama Acts to Deny Federal Contracts to Labor Law Violators

by Mike Hall

Obama signing contractorsPresident Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order that will make it harder for companies with a history of labor law violations such as wage and hour and workplace safety to win federal contracts. Said Obama:

We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts. Our tax dollars shouldn’t go to companies that violate workplace laws, they shouldn’t go to companies that violate workers’ rights.

From raising wages to workplace protections, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “President Obama is showing strong leadership where it’s needed most.”
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Healthcare workers in California are about to make history

By Richard Negri

cal_safe_standardThe Cal/OSHA Standards Board will vote to likely accept SEIU’s workplace violence prevention petition at its June 19 meeting in Sacramento, taking the next step in getting us to a much needed and long overdue regulation for healthcare workers in California around the issue of workplace violence.

SEIU Local 121RN and SEIU Nurse Alliance of California have been actively moving the California Safe Care Standard campaign forward since January 2013 and submitted our petition to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board earlier this year.

Violence doesn’t happen because workers fail to do their jobs or because people act out. People get hurt because safeguards haven’t been put into place by management to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. Continue reading

Mistakes of West, Texas Repeated In West Virginia

By Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Mike Elk

WASHINGTON, D.C.—“This is an issue of proportionality,” says Dr. Gerald Poje, a former member of the federal U.S. Chemical Safety Board, as he watches me get patted down by a security guard on my way into a session of President Obama’s chemical safety task force on Tuesday.

“How are we proportioning our larger social resources for security and safety?” asks Poje while I put back on my belt. “We come into a government building just for a public hearing, and we have half a dozen people at the front gate doing checking. Then you look at what’s missing in our high-hazard chemical infrastructure.”

Poje is referring to the failures of regulators to take sufficient steps to prevent the West Virginia chemical spill, which cut off the drinking water supply for more than 300,000 people for the better part of the past week. Continue reading

Paltry Fines and Repeat Offenders: The Story of OSHA’s Life

by Chaz Bolte

Man-on-ScaffoldFollowing a disastrous explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant earlier this year, national attention shifted briefly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), its underfunding, and the way in which it is handcuffed when overseeing workplace safety. As Think Progress noted this fall (when the investigation into the West tragedy was halted by the government shutdown), “The actual plant is facing $118,300 in federal fines for two dozen serious safety violations, including the lack of an emergency response plan, despite costing more than a dozen lives and $100 million in property damage.”The 24-hour news cycle, even among labor’s most loyal, has found new daily drama to latch on to leaving OSHA to return to its sad version of what workers — and many businesses — would consider oversight. Even a quick search of recent injury- and fatality-related fines shows how dire the situation remains and how little impact the current system of regulation and punishment has on workplace safety. Three examples are below. Continue reading

Vigil for Georgia Worker Victimized by Management Neglect

Ballon Release at Vigil

Ballon Release at Vigil


                                                                                          by Scott Smith

(Editor’s Note: Teresa Weaver Pickard worked at the Sewon America factory in LaGrange, Georgia, which supplies parts to the Kia auto plant there. On May 29, Mrs. Pickard complained to management of difficulty breathing due to extreme heat where she worked — reportedly 102 degrees — and was told to wait in the break room, which also lacked air conditioning. She waited for three hours before an ambulance was called, according to another worker (the company’s account is different). She died in the ambulance. The following speech was delivered at a vigil in Atlanta, Georgia on June 26, called by the Georgia Student Justice Alliance, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Georgia AFL-CIO, NAACP and other groups.)

 I did not know Mrs. Pickard. I never had the pleasure of meeting her. But Mrs. Pickard was a hard-working member of my community, and what happened to her could have happened any number of others.
I have close friends who have worked at Sewon America, and I’ve heard about the horrendous working conditions there, from former and current employees. I’ve heard about the extreme heat inside the plant. I’ve heard that management doesn’t turn on the air conditioning unless visitors are passing through. I’ve heard that it got so hot in the break room that the candy in the vending machines melted. I’ve heard that workers can’t have their own bottles of water, and that the water stations are often out of water or cups.
I’ve also heard about the company’s reluctance to call 911 in emergency situations. I’ve heard from a mother who had to go pick up her son and take him to the hospital when he had an asthma attack. I’ve heard from a former worker who found herself on her front porch after having a seizure at work. I’ve heard from employees who were asked to find somebody else to pick them up instead of calling an ambulance.
I’ve heard, and I’ve come to understand, that at Sewon America, the company’s bottom line is more important than the safety and the lives of the people who work there. David Macaray, a former steelworker and union rep in Pittsburgh who’s now a playwright in Los Angeles, predicted this attitude in an article he wrote two years ago:
“Without having the unions to use as leverage… Without the resistance of organized labor, the law of supply-and-demand will spur an inexorable race to the bottom.  And instead of Alabama [and Georgia] becoming the New Detroit (as the glossy brochures advertise), [this area] will, in time, resemble the New Bangladesh.”
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Help End Walmart & Gap Deathtraps: June 29 Day of Action

International Labor Rights Forum

gapdeathtrapprotestOn Saturday, June 29th, students, consumers, workers, and community members will come together in cities across the world to demand that Gap and Walmart put an end to deathtrap factories in their supply chains.

Real action from Gap and Walmart on fire and building safety is long overdue. In April, over 1,100 garment workers perished in the the Rana Plaza collapse, marking the deadliest industrial disaster in a manufacturing facility in recorded history. Since 2005, more than 1,800 garment workers have died in preventable factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh alone.

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Walmart Accepted Clothing from Banned Bangladesh Factories

by Michael Grabell
ProPublica, June 12, 2013


Photo by Jaber Al Nahian, Creative Commons

Since the Rana Plaza building collapse killed more than 1,100 people in April, retailers have faced mounting pressure to improve safety at Bangladesh garment factories and to sever ties with manufacturers that don’t measure up.

The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, last month released a list of more than 200 factories it said it had barred from producing its merchandise because of serious or repeated safety problems, labor violations or unauthorized subcontracting.

But at least two of the factories on the list have continued to send massive shipments of sports bras and girls’ dresses to Walmart stores in recent months, according to interviews and U.S. customs records.

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OSHA Inspected Philly Building Collapse Site, But Did Not Shut It Down

 by Mike Elk

On June 5, 2013, rescue workers search for victims of a building that collapsed in Philadelphia. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

 (June 6) Yesterday [Wednesday], a four-story building undergoing demolition in Philadelphia’s Center City district collapsed directly onto the Salvation Army store next door. According to Reuters, six people were killed. Already, questions are being raised about whether the building collapse was yet another workplace accident that could have been easily prevented.

So far, reports have focused on whether or not the City of Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) did its job by properly investigating a number of complaints from nearby workers and passersby about the safety of the construction site. In a press conference earlier today, Philadelphia Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections Carlton Williams said, “No subsequent inspection occurred to indicate there was any unsafe conditions. We did not follow up and we are definitely looking into that.” Continue reading

In Wake of West, Texas Explosion, Safety Advocates Recommend Harsher Fines

by Mike Elk

On average, 13 U.S. workers die a day in workplace accidents, as in this OSHA illustration of grain entrapment. (Wikimedia Commons)

On average, 13 U.S. workers die a day in workplace accidents, as in this OSHA illustration of grain entrapment. (Wikimedia Commons)

“My happiness was taken away in a matter of seconds,” says Adrianna Martinez of the death of her husband, Orestes Martinez, in a workplace safety accident four years ago. “My family and I are broken.  Losing my husband, my best friend, my love has left an empty space in my heart.”

Orestes Martinez, a construction worker in Houston, was killed on the job. Martinez and two other workers were moving a two-ton lead door by hand because no lift devices were available. The door fell and crushed Martinez.

OSHA found that Martinez’s employer, J.T. Vaughn Enterprises, Inc., had committed two serious safety violations that led to Orestes Martinez’s death. But OSHA fined the company only $10,000. On appeal, an administrative judge dismissed one of the violations and reduced the fine to $3,500 Continue reading

Murder by another name

by John Jacobsen

Pictured above: business and economics correspondent for Slate, Mathew Yglesias, standing under what appears to be a fire alarm.

A response to Matthew Yglesias‘ musings on Bangladesh, outsourcing, and the murder of 359 garment workers.

“Where’s my mother? Where’s my mother?” cried Rana Ahmed as she rushed through Enam Medical College and Hospital.

Mosammat Khurshida wailed as she looked for her husband. “He came to work in the morning. I can’t find him,” she said. “I don’t know where he is. He does not pick up his phone.

An arm jutted out of one section of the rubble. The lifeless body of a woman covered in dust could be seen in another.

Only 4 months after a factory fire in Dhaka killed 112 workers, another 362 have died in the collapse of a garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh; and in a compassionately timed piece put out by Slate this week, business correspondent Mathew Yglesias explained to us why “it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.”

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