Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Meatpacking industry got its way on COVID-19 policies, and workers died

Share this post

When the meatpacking industry was hit with major coronavirus outbreaks back in the spring, there was no question about making workers’ lives a priority—it was always out of the question. This is an industry with high injury rates and low wages for its vulnerable population of workers, with its many people of color and immigrants. Industry executives have built their careers on harming people. So when local public health departments and outcry over hundreds of COVID-19 cases threatened to close meatpacking plants, the industry asked for help from the federal government. And since Donald Trump was in the White House, that help came almost immediately, without any consultation of any group besides industry lobbyists and executives.

USA Today reports that Trump’s executive order keeping meatpacking plants open came just a week after a meat industry lobby group provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture with … very similar language for such an executive order. The North American Meat Institute’s defense boils down to “hey, we offer language for exactly what we want all the time.” But the federal government doesn’t usually use such language so directly or quickly, without input from other stakeholders, experts say.

According to Adam Culver, an attorney at Public Citizen, emails between Team Trump and the industry show a “degree of collaboration” that’s “astounding.” 

“Wealthy interest groups lobby decision makers in Washington all the time,” James Brudney, a professor at Fordham Law School and former U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor chief counsel, told USA Today. “They might get a draft from industry, but it wouldn’t just sail through because there would be other parties involved. That seems not to have happened here.”

Meanwhile, meatpacking plants have been tied to more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 200 workers have died, and the federal government has issued just two small fines. In one of those cases, Smithfield closed a Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant after 350 positive cases, then used Trump’s executive order to reopen a few weeks later. By now, that plant has had 1,300 workers get sick, and four die. The company was fined about $13,000 for those workers’ deaths, in yet another message that the Trump administration does not care about the lives of meatpacking workers.

“These tiny fines are nothing to [meat plant owners]. They give an incentive to make these workers work faster and harder in the most unsafe working conditions imaginable,” Kim Cordova, the local union president at the other plant Trump’s OSHA bothered to fine, told The Washington Post. But why would we expect the government to fine companies for behavior that it had essentially signed off on in advance?

”To have government regulatory agencies intervene in a public health matter on behalf of a business interest is appalling,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National & Global Health Law, said. “As a result, people die. It’s not just an ethical breach or something that’s a sterile issue of good governance, which it is. It also costs people’s lives, and that’s unforgivable.”

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


Share this post

How Worker Safety Starts With Facilities Construction And Intelligent Design

Share this post

Worker safety is a top concern for facilities everywhere. While safety training and precautions can go a long way towards ensuring workers’ safety, safety really begins with a facility’s initial design and construction.  

If a facility is haphazardly designed, no amount of safety training can combat that. But what sort of design decisions make a work environment safer than another? In today’s work environment, workers regularly have to battle a wide range of various issues. 

From air pollution to privacy concerns, to mental health and traditional OSHA standard safety hazards, today’s workforce is fraught with dangers. While there’s no way to eliminate risks completely, there’s a lot we can do to mitigate them. 

It all starts with being proactive from the beginning. Using intelligent design, forward-thinking, and new materials, it’s possible to construct facilities that are aesthetically appealing, cost-effective, and safe. 

Let’s look at three areas where material, construction, and design choices can significantly impact workers’ safety. 

While glass doesn’t seem like the most pertinent part of a building’s construction, in many commercial offices, warehouses, and other structures, glass is a prevalent material. It’s a material, that if improperly handled during construction or underthought during planning, can present many safety hazards. 

Just at face value, broken glass presents physical hazards. Broken glass can be contaminated with chemicals. Plus, cuts and blood can promote the spread of infectious diseases. Anyone who has to handle broken glass should do so with gloves and take appropriate precautions. 

However, we’re talking about prevention. The best way to avoid broken glass is to design and purchase high-quality glass from the beginning. Don’t cut corners with cheaper glass for windows, dividers, and décor. 

But glass also prevents other safety hazards. Many office buildings use glass in their offices as walls. While it makes the building feel nice and open, it unfortunately eliminates privacy. Privacy, especially when dealing with personal information, is a worker safety concern. With thoughtful design, you can use things like Avanti glass office wall partitions, to ensure a high level of privacy for sensitive matters. 

Window Safety

While many things that we’ve said about glass can translate to windows, the windows deserve a section all on their own. Windows need to be correctly installed, because improperly installed windows can lead to some disastrous safety concerns. This is especially true with windows on the upper floors. 

However, windows are also crucial for bringing in natural light. It’s well-documented that one of the most significant hazards facing the modern-day worker is mental health safety. 83% of US workers suffer from stress-related to work. More shockingly, stress causes $190 billion in yearly healthcare costs and results in 120,000 deaths per year. 

It’s imperative to understand mental health’s impact on worker safety. One way to mitigate those risks is with wide-open windows. Studies show that natural light decreases stress, anxiety, and depression. So, it’s critical to design a building with plenty of windows for natural light. 

Additionally, windows are a prime area for air pollution to sneak into any facility. To mitigate these risks, it’s essential to design a building with something like AMC’s industrial louvers, which help to block air pollution. Louvers also help to dissuade direct sunlight. So, workers don’t have to worry about blinding sunlight to reap the benefits of some natural rays. 

Floor Drainage Safety 

You might be alarmed to know that 26% of nonfatal injuries in the workplace are because of a slip, trip, or fall. In fact, in 2016, falls caused 702 workplace deaths. While some of the issues were training issues or faulty machinery, some injuries are a direct result of standing water and slippery surfaces. 

These injuries could be avoided by proper planning in the construction phase. Namely, by incorporating proper drains and using flooring materials that prevent slips, a facility can be dramatically safer. For instance, having a driveway drainage system installed, like the one by SlotDrain, not only keeps your facilities driveway safe, it prevents erosion, foundation damage, and structural damage.

But, don’t stop with outdoor drainage systems, from the beginning of the design phase, if it’s appropriate, consider having drains inside the building, too. It’s also crucial to choose a non-slip flooring to maximize worker safety. 

Additionally, when it comes to drains, it’s imperative to keep them maintained and cleaned. Otherwise, you’ll run into a whole new slew of issues surrounding workers’ safety. 

Think Ahead to Prevent Worker Injury 

Everyone wants their facility to be a safe one. Whether you’re looking to design your facility, or you specialize in facility design, these three areas are fantastic starting points to get your brain thinking about worker safety from the beginning. Safety should be a preventative measure, not as a reactionary one. 

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the home building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.


Share this post

Marriott’s ‘green choice’ isn’t so green, and it’s hurting workers

Share this post

Why would environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and 350.org have signed a pledge that they wouldn’t use a hotel chain’s environmental program? Because Marriott’s “Make a Green Choice” program, in which hotel guests are asked to opt out of having their rooms cleaned during a stay, is a classic case of greenwashing, and one that hurts workers.

According to Sierra magazine, Marriott won’t disclose the environmental benefits of not having rooms cleaned as often, while UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh told the magazine that “when housekeepers do get into a room that hasn’t been serviced in days, they report needing to use more water and chemicals, and they experience pain and injury from having to push their bodies to the limit to get the job done.” At the same time, they’re losing work hours, and income, to people doing what they think is the right thing.

Marriott has pushed “Make a Green Choice,” but it hasn’t pushed larger environmental efforts. “Despite setting a goal of acquiring 30 percent of its overall electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2025, the hotel chain did not report purchasing any of its millions of megawatt-hours of energy from renewable resources in 2018” Sierra reports. “That same year, Marriott’s $33 million investment in energy savings initiatives like LED lighting retrofit projects were dwarfed by the $3.4 billion that Marriott returned to shareholders.” Marriott’s climate goals are also less ambitious than those of rival Hilton.

Meanwhile, 91% of Marriott housekeepers told the union that they’ve lost hours since “Make a Green Choice” was put into place, with some having lost so many hours that they’re no longer eligible for health care.

We should all be making green choices. This isn’t the one, though.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Share this post

OSHA’s Claims About Hiding Information on Worker Deaths Fall Flat

Share this post

Since January, government agencies under the Donald Trump administration have taken steps to hide information from the public–information that was previously posted and information that the public has a right to know.

But a recent move is especially personal. Two weeks ago, the agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety and health—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—removed the names of fallen workers from its home page and has stopped posting information about their deaths on its data page. In an attempt to justify this, the agency made two major claims discussed below. Like many efforts to decrease transparency by this administration, these claims are unfounded, and the agency whose mission is to protect workers from health and safety hazards is clearly in denial that it has a job to do. Here’s how:

OSHA claim #1: Not all worker deaths listed on the agency website were work-related because OSHA hasn’t issued or yet issued a citation for their deaths.

Fact: It is public knowledge that 1) OSHA doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate about two-thirds of work-related deaths but does issue guidance on a wide variety of hazards to workers that extend beyond their enforcement reach, and 2) OSHA citations are not always issued for work-related deaths because of a variety of reasons, including limitations of existing OSHA standards and a settlement process that allows employers to remedy certain hazards in lieu of citation. (The laborious process for OSHA to develop standards deserves a completely separate post.) But neither of those points mean the agency cannot recognize where and when workers are dying on the job, and remember and honor those who sought a paycheck but, instead, did not return home to their families.

In fact, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, also housed in the Department of Labor, counts and reports the number of work-related deaths each year. The agency reported that in 2015, 4,836 working people died of work-related traumatic injury—”the highest annual figure since 2008.” So, another agency already has taken care of that for OSHA (whew!). But this is just a statistic. Luckily for OSHA, employers are required to report every fatality on the job to OSHA within eight hours, so the agency has more specific information that can be used for prevention, including the names of the workers and companies involved, similar to the information the public has about deaths that occur in any other setting (outside of work).

OSHA claim #2: Deceased workers’ families do not want the names and circumstances surrounding their loved ones’ death shared.

Fact: Removing the names of fallen workers on the job is an incredible insult to working families. The shock of hearing that your family member won’t be coming home from work that day is devastating enough, but then to hear that their death was preventable, and often the hazards were simply ignored by their employer, is pure torture. The organization made up of family members who had a loved one die on the job has stated repeatedly that it wants the names of their loved ones and information surrounding their deaths shared. It does not want other families to suffer because of something that could have been prevented. The organization has made it very clear that it opposes OSHA’s new “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

So why shield this information from the public? We know the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have long opposed publication of this information. The Trump administration seems to live by very old—and very bad—advice from powerful, big business groups whose agenda it’s pushing: If we don’t count the impact of the problem or admit there is a problem, it must not exist.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on September 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Reindel is a senior health and safety specialist at the AFL-CIO.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.