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How to Meet Traveling Workers’ Health and Safety Rights

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Katie Brenneman

People have had to travel for work for decades. Now, however, working on the road is easier, more convenient, and even more exciting than ever.

Thanks to advancements in technology, workers can travel across the globe more frequently and network with people in different countries to improve business relationships and stimulate industry growth.

However, health and safety standards for workers who are expected to travel often are still incredibly important.

Whether you work an office job that requires international travel or you’re a pilot, trucker, or any other professional who has to fly or drive all over, your well-being needs to be prioritized. 

The best way to do that is by understanding your rights and feeling empowered to seek the health and wellness care your job should be providing. Let’s cover some of the health issues often associated with travel-based work and why/how those issues should be addressed. 

The Health Risks of Work Travel

Traveling for work can be a great way to see the world, explore new cultures, and meet interesting people. However, it doesn’t come without a few potential health and safety issues. 

First, working long hours away from home can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. Some of the biggest issues travel workers often face include sleep deprivation, social isolation, and even malnutrition caused by everything from changing time zones to feeling anxious or depressed. 

Depending on where you’re traveling, it’s also important to consider any potential security threats. Ideally, your company wouldn’t send you anywhere that’s inherently unsafe. But, if you’re unsure of the culture, language, or customs, you could be putting yourself at risk of traveling to dangerous neighborhoods or connecting with people you shouldn’t. 

There are also mental health risks that come with traveling for work. Again, being away from friends and family can lead to feelings of social isolation, which can contribute to serious issues like: 

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Greater mortality rate;
  • Heart conditions.

Traveling a lot can also cause extra stress and lead to burnout. Not only will that affect your work productivity, but it can cause fatigue, sleep issues, and much more. Those issues are likely to linger long after you get home from your trip. 

How Can You Advocate for Your Health and Safety? 

Understanding some of the common concerns associated with traveling for work can help to boost your confidence when it comes to addressing your employer. It’s the legal and ethical responsibility of every business to have a plan for every employee they send out on a work trip. This is called duty of care, and it should cover things like: 

  • Health and safety;
  • Adequate nutrition;
  • Discrimination;
  • Stress;
  • Fire safety.

Duty of care also needs to cover any issues that might arise while an employee is traveling. If you get sick on the road, what will your company do about it? If you get injured in an accident, how will they take care of you?

These are important issues to address before you travel, so don’t be afraid to talk to your employer to ensure they have a safety plan in place. Discussing workplace health concerns might feel a bit intimidating, at first, but you have the right to feel safe and valued if you’re traveling for business.

You also have legal rights when it comes to your health. It is legally required for your employer to keep you away from known health and safety hazards. They also can’t discriminate against you if you bring up any concerns. Consider working with your local OSHA office to determine exactly what those rights are so you can be better prepared as you address your employer. 

In a perfect world, traveling for work would come without any risks. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, no matter how exciting it is.

Know your rights and your value, don’t be afraid to speak up, and take personal precautions when it comes to traveling, and you’re more likely to stay safe and healthy wherever you go. 

This blog was originally contributed to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and education When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.


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History of Workplace Safety for Black Americans

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Historically, Black Americans have faced significant discrimination and have been refused equity in our society, including in workplace safety and health. At the same time, they’ve also been at the forefront of fighting for stronger workplace protections for all Americans.

From the Atlanta Washerwomen to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the Black miners who all took a stand against abusive labor practices — and countless others — we honor their leadership and sacrifices during Black History Month as we continue to fulfill our mission to improve workplace safety and health. 

It was 55 years ago this month, in Memphis, Tennessee, when two Black sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, died after being crushed when the truck they were working on malfunctioned. When the city failed to respond to this tragedy more than a week later, 1,300 Black workers from the city’s public works department went on strike to demand better wages and safer working conditions.

In support of the workers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined the strike and played a key role in leading nonviolent protests to help the workers and the city come to an agreement for better wages and better work protections. In fact, he was in Memphis to support the workers when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The event became part of the larger civil rights movement. 

Fast forward to today: While we’ve made great strides in workplace safety, too many workers are still subjected to conditions as dangerous as what Cole and Walker faced.

In 2021, more than 14 workers were killed on the job every day. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the share of fatalities among Black workers reached an all-time high at 12.6% in 2021, increasing to 653 from 541 in 2020, with most in the transportation industry or related to workplace violence.

The disparity is especially clear in the fatality rates for major demographics: Black or African American workers had a fatality rate of 4.0 per 100,000 full-time workers, compared with an average of 3.6 for all workers. 

The rise in fatal injuries and illnesses links to racial disparities and social issues Black Americans face, such as limited education opportunities, lower earnings and more exposure to hazardous jobs than white Americans. They are also more likely to fear retaliation for speaking up about health and safety concerns at work. 

Last September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administrated hosted our first Workers’ Voice Summit in Washington, D.C. We heard from workers across the country about cases of job steering, where employers assign workers of color to the most dangerous, dirtiest and most unpleasant jobs.

No worker should ever be at any disadvantage because of the color of their skin.

That is why OSHA is taking steps to expand our effort to those disproportionately impacted by injuries and illnesses while on the job — including Black workers — in high-hazard industries like construction, health care and warehousing.   

We are collaborating with stakeholders, Black-led union groups and worker centers to better understand how we can make resources more accessible, and equip workers with proper tools, knowledge and training to ensure equitable enforcement.

With the right resources and support, workers can raise their voices with confidence and trust OSHA will listen and support their needs. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, we know we must do more to create equity and safety for all workers.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during the Memphis sanitation strike, “whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

If each employer implemented that level of humanity in their business today, we could see more equity for everyone and safer workplaces. 

This blog originally appeared on the website for the U.S. Department of Labor on February 17, 2023.

About the Author: Doug Parker is the assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).


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Nurses Set To Strike Against New York City’s Healthcare Monopolies

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On New Year’s Eve, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) announced that nearly 17,000 nurses at eight major New York hospitals planned to begin a strike January 9 if management did not meet their demands for increased staffing, fair compensation and health and safety protections.

After the strike was authorized, hospitals began making substantial wage and staffing offers, leading to three bargaining units representing about 7,000 nurses settling contracts in the past week. But nurses at five hospitals, including Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai Morningside, remain on the brink of what could become one of the largest nurses’ strikes in recent years. 

“Tripledemic”

The potential strike comes at a time when nurses are overwhelmed by a “tripledemic” of Covid, flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV), but the issues animating the struggle are older, rooted in the creation of mega healthcare systems over the past decade.

A 2018 New York Times report shows that the nation’s hospitals have been consolidating at an exponential rate, forming a monopolistic healthcare system. Mergers and acquisitions put market power firmly in the hands of large hospital systems, which hike up prices knowing that insurance companies will pay to keep those facilities in their networks.

Insurers then pass the financial burden onto patients.

The Times report found that prices for an average hospital stay have gone up between 11% and 54% because of healthcare consolidation. 

From 2015 to 2019, U.S. hospitals’ net patient revenue increased by $8.6 million per year on average. By 2022, the top 25 hospitals in New York alone averaged an annual net patient revenue of close to $2 billion. These mergers have turned independent community hospitals into “nonprofit” conglomerates — “nonprofit” in their tax status, but profit-centric in every decision that counts.

“My hospital, once a humanitarian institution, now behaves like a profit-driven corporate entity,” says Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a past president of NYSNA and an emergency room nurse in the Bronx with 40 years of experience. Sheridan-Gonzalez’s hospital has been aggressively acquiring smaller community hospitals for years.

“It cuts staff and services to the Bronx, the county with the worst health indices in the state, investing instead in real estate and lucrative endeavors.”

Nurses are currently overwhelmed by a “tripledemic” of Covid, flu and RSV, but the issues animating the struggle are older—rooted in the creation of mega healthcare systems over the past decade.

Cost-Cutting

Per a Crain’s New York analysis, “the consolidation strategy has given rise to increasingly flush megasystems of hospitals concentrated in whiter, wealthier areas of the city. During the past 25 years, 20 hospitals have closed across the city, amounting to a loss of about 5,800 beds.”

In addition to wholesale hospital closures in poor neighborhoods, hospital managers’ newfound emphasis on increasing profits has led to other cost-cutting measures such as hiring fewer staff nurses and not buying sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Those decisions have created unsafe working conditions and extreme burnout. The pandemic exacerbated these issues, and even though many hospitals received Covid relief funding, this did not translate into sufficient PPE, better staffing or improved working conditions. 

Instead, the effects of a monopoly health system have continued: high executive salaries and segregated units where VIPs get concierge services and specialty care,while the majority of wards are understaffed.

Managers within the conglomerated health system also began to use rising profits to fuel more acquisitions, leading to a cycle of hospitals serving the rich at the expense of local communities which had relied on them.

Overflowing ERs

In New York hospitals, these profit-maximizing practices have left Intensive Care Units (ICUs) unequipped to handle the winter surge of patients, especially children, suffering from various repository illness at record levels.

In a statement put out by the NYSNA, Aretha Morgan, a pediatric emergency room nurse at New York-Presbyterian, said: “Our pediatric ER is overflowing and short-staffed on almost all shifts. It is unbearable to see children suffer because we don’t have enough staff to provide safe patient care.” 

Nurses have been fighting back. In 2021, the New York state legislature passed and the governor signed a NYSNA-initiated hospital staffing bill mandating a limit of two ICU patients per nurse and requiring hospital management to negotiate such limits with a committee of nurses for all units of the hospital.

The legislation, which was the result of decades of nurses’ organizing, represented a significant win for the NYSNA, but its implementation has been delayed thanks to successful lobbying by New York City’s hospital conglomerates.

The one-to-two ICU ratio was supposed to have been enforced by the state health department in January 2022, but a year after that deadline, staffing levels continue to be set by budget rather than by patient need — an issue which in part motivated the nurses’ strike vote.

Nurses routinely provide care to three and sometimes four critically ill patients in the ICU, when the standard is at most two. Given the severity of illness, it should often be one-to-one.

Strike for Better Standards

The impending strike is a challenge to the business model of hospital conglomeration. If they cannot undo the mergers, the nurses can at least re-establish community health and professional safety standards.

Jessica Montanaro, a nurse in Mount Sinai Morningside’s intensive care unit, told New York Focus that chronic understaffing was causing burnout among nursing staff, leading to many nurses leaving to pursue less stressful forms of nursing. She said those nurses have not been replaced, leading to a further staffing shortage.

“We’re kind of standing up as a profession and we’re saying, ‘Look, we’re not OK. We don’t have the support. We’re in these untenable ratios. It’s not safe for our mental or physical health or the patient’s safety,’ ” Montanaro said. “And yet it’s not being heeded for whatever reason.”

Decades of legislative activism and multiple rounds of contract bargaining have yet to create a safe hospital environment for nurses and patients, leaving NYSNA nurses with no alternative but to strike. In addition to safe staffing levels, nurses are demanding fair wages, no cuts to their health coverage, and health and safety protections in light of the tripledemic of Covid, RSV and flu. They also want community benefits, such as funding programs to recruit and train nurses from within the communities they serve.

Sheridan-Gonzalez summed up the process and the stakes, saying, “We testified about the brutal inequities that were exacerbated before, during and after the worst of the Covid pandemic … but no one listened. We now take the drastic step to go out on strike so that maybe, finally, someone will hear us.” 

Better Business Model

The NYSNA nurses’ impending strike is a challenge to the business model of hospital consolidations and to the elimination of community-based healthcare services. The need for nursing care is why patients go into a hospital. Nurses can use that power on behalf of communities abandoned and disregarded by the hospital monopolies.

If they cannot undo the mergers, the nurses can at least re-establish community health and professional safety standards.

To demand and win safe staffing and patient care practices is a vital community benefit. And as potential patients, we all have a stake in their struggle. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 6, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Michael Lighty is a Sanders Institute Fellow and DSA activist and a consultant for the National Union of Healthcare Workers.


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This World Cup Is Brought to You By Abused Migrant Workers

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In a full-throated defense of 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a press conference on Saturday, “Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker…because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied.”

Criticizing the West, and Europe in particular, for migration policies, corporate profiteering off of Gulf oil, and “what we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years around the world,” Infantino tried to draw attention away from multiple controversies plaguing the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, is expected to bring in $6.5 billion in revenue from this year’s World Cup, a 25% jump from the 2018 games. Infantino himself made $3.2 million in 2019 alone.

Meanwhile, over 6,500 workers have reportedly died in construction for the games since the World Cup was awarded in 2010 to Qatar, reflecting widespread safety hazards and labor abuses.

Labor Recruitment and Exploitation

Migrant laborers have been forced to pay billions of dollars in fees since 2011 to “recruitment agencies” in order to secure jobs at companies contracted to build the stadiums in which national teams will compete over the course of the tournament.

According to numerous human rights observers, workers have faced nonpayment of wages for up to a year, wage theft, severe mental health issues, 14-hour workdays, and a range of other abuses and poor conditions.

“Who in the world aside from billionaires can afford not being paid for 10 months or a year?” said Namrata Raju, the India Director for Equidem, a London-based human rights organization that has issued several critical reports on labor conditions in the Gulf.

Among the findings of Equidem’s most recent report, titled “If we complain, we are fired,” are reports of forced labor, workplace violence, health-and-safety issues and nationality-based discrimination. The report is based on conversations with about 1,000 workers conducted over the past three years, including 60 in-depth interviews.

One anonymous Kenyan worker cited in the report says, “Supervisors would hit us in front of other workers to pressure us to work faster and complete our work on time. This physical abuse was never addressed.”

Conditions in Qatar’s leadup to the World Cup have been under fire for years since the country was awarded the games in 2010, and are part of a more general set of labor problems under the Gulf’s kafala system. This labor regime closely ties the low-wage migrant workers that the region’s economy depends on to their employers and leaves them with almost no voice and subject to massive abuses.

Human rights groups have reported that up to 10,000 migrant workers from South Asia, the Philippines, and other countries die in the Gulf each year.

Labor Reforms

After international pressure, the Qatari government has undertaken reforms since 2017 to mitigate the worst of the abuses, entering into an agreement with the International Labor Organization.

The reforms included a minimum wage increase, an end to requiring “exit permits” for migrant workers to leave Qatar, and the ability to change jobs without permission from the employer. The ILO reports mixed results, but abuses are reportedly continuing even as the World Cup gets underway.

Equidem’s Raju says the situation remains “dire” for migrant workers in the country. She describes the reforms as “lip service” because of a lack of enforcement and notes that labor unions remain illegal for migrant workers in the country. Strikes and protests by migrant workers are also illegal in Qatar.

Equidem is urging Qatar to set up a migrant workers’ center to allow workers an avenue to complain without being “terrified of some kind of punitive action,” in Raju’s words.

The “first step [is] for workers to feel safe,” Raju says.

Qatar’s government has argued that the criticisms it has faced are the product of anti-Arab racism, with the country being targeted on issues ranging from the freedom of the press to LGBTQ+ rights.

At least one former World Cup migrant worker who In These Times spoke with agreed that Qatar has been selectively targeted, even though the anti-worker abuses are real.

Md. Emran Khan reported having worked 14-hour-days in Qatar as a technical assistant making and testing concrete for Qatari contractor Advance Construction Technology Services from 2016 to 2018.

“If it was in the U.S. or Europe, would the media be paying this much attention to worker abuses like these?” he asked in Bengali.

Khan now works for the Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh assisting prospective, current, and former migrants. He argues that Qatar is the best migration destination in the Gulf for South Asian migrants.

Racism in Labor System

But Raju at Equidem argues that if Qatar were serious about racism, it would address the racism inherent in its labor system.

“I would ask them, if [they understand] what racism means, why do they have a two-tier labor system?” she asked.

In the Gulf, different labor rules apply to migrants, who are predominantly African, South Asian and Filipino workers, leaving them in a much worse position than nationals and citizens of other Arab countries. For example, Qataris are allowed to form trade unions, while migrant workers are not.

Raju says, “We’re asking [FIFA] to compensate all of these workers [in Qatar]. So many workers have not been paid.”

A returned Nepali migrant worker pseudonymously titled “Hari” in a video released by Human Rights Watch describes how he worked in Lusail, Qatar’s second largest city, where, he says, “there wasn’t a single building anywhere” when he arrived.

“Now there are towers everywhere. We built those towers,” says Hari.

Equidem’s report also notes “a pattern of egregious worker rights abuses during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2018 World Cup in Russia.” For example, workers in Brazil worked 84-hour weeks and there were also thousands of evictions of working-class residents to make way for construction.

FIFA, Qatar’s government, and Qatar’s body in charge of its World Cup preparations, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, did not respond to requests for comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 22, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is contributes news and blogs concerning labor to In These Times.

Learn more about workers’ rights, at Workplace Fairness.


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Thank You to Outten and Golden

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Outten and Golden, LLP, a law firm dedicated to employees’ rights, is sponsoring an upcoming event for Workplace Fairness. 

Next week, Workplace Fairness is hosting a panel event on climate change and workers’ safety. From 3 to 4 p.m. on August 31, the online panel will discuss the negative impact the global climate crisis has on workers, specifically people of color and workers earning low wages. 

Outten and Golden’s sponsorship helps make Workplace Fairness’ events possible, furthering workers’ interests. Wayne Outten, the president of Outten and Golden, co-founded Workplace Fairness and is currently its board chair. Outten voiced his support for the upcoming event.

“Outten and Golden has long supported Workplace Fairness and its mission of educating workers about their rights and of advocating for the rights of workers,” Outten said. “This program is a good example of such education and advocacy.”

Anyone interested in attending the upcoming panel event may register for it here. Workplace Fairness also greatly appreciates donations.

Workplace Fairness thanks Outten and Golden for its continued support. Sponsorships like these further Workplace Fairness’ efforts to advocate for workers’ rights.  


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How Managers Can Advocate for Their Warehouse

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The safety and well-being of office employees are often prioritized in the business world.
However, the protection of your blue-collar workers is just as important and should be at the
forefront of your advocacy efforts.

Every day, warehouse workers face occupational hazards like slips and falls, malfunctioning
equipment, using heavy materials, and much more. Making sure those workers are treated with
dignity and respect, and prioritizing their safety should be something you take seriously.

As a leader in your organization, you might wonder what you could be doing to ensure that your
company’s warehouse workers are getting the support they need. Let’s cover some things you
can do to advocate for those employees.

Advocate for Benefits

One of the best ways to advocate for your warehouse employees is to learn more about what
they really want. There’s often a sizable disparity between the benefits of in-office employees
and warehouse workers. Some of the basic benefits your blue-collar employees want include:

  • A company-matched retirement plan
  • Flexibility
  • Emotional and mental health programs
  • Career development opportunities

Making sure your warehouse workers feel respected and understood will help to increase
productivity
and loyalty to your company.

If your warehouse employees are interested in unionizing, don’t immediately try to shut down
those efforts. Instead, support them and work with them to create realistic negotiations and
expectations to bring to the heads of the company. You’re in a leadership position, but your
loyalty should remain with your workers, not against them. It’s far too common for warehouses
to underpay their employees in an effort to get “cheap labor.” If you notice that happening, stick
with your workers as they attempt to unionize and receive a fair salary and benefits.

Prioritize Safety

We talked about some of the potential risks of working in a warehouse above. Because of those
risks (and others), prioritizing the safety of your employees is a must.

Having safety procedures and preventative measures in place should be your first course of action. Follow this with proper training and ensuring every employee knows how to use the equipment correctly and follow all safety rules.

It’s also imperative to have the right safety equipment throughout the warehouse to remind your
employees how they can protect themselves. That includes things like:

  • Proper storage spaces
  • Signing and labels
  • Guardrails
  • First aid kits
  • Traffic visibility mirrors
  • Emergency wash stations

Don’t wait for an accident to happen to put these things in place. By setting up preventative
measures and prioritizing safety, you’re telling your warehouse workers that you’re actually
prioritizing them.

As a manager, you might not be able to change the way your entire company runs. However,
when you have warehouse workers under your care, you should be willing to do whatever it

takes to make sure they’re treated with the same respect as their office counterparts. Keep
these ideas in mind and don’t be afraid to advocate for change as necessary. Not only will your
workers appreciate you for it, but you could end up changing the entire course of your company
for the better.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a contributor to Workplace Fairness. This blog is posted with the author’s permission.


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How America Can Stop Violence Against Health Care Workers

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The young man in Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s behavioral crisis intervention unit hadn’t communicated much during his hospitalization, but he showed no signs of violence until Brian Eckley tried to draw his blood early one morning.

The patient stood up, sat back down, rose again and then punched Eckley, a state-tested nurse aide and senior technician, in the left jaw.

Keeping his cool despite the pain, Eckley dodged more punches as he held the needle and tourniquet out of the patient’s reach, banged on the treatment room windows and called for help.

Legislation is Pending

Attacks on health care workers have reached epidemic levels across the country, exacerbating turnover, turning caregivers into patients and further fraying systems of care already worn thin by COVID-19. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, twice passed by the House and just reintroduced in the Senate, would require employers to implement the safeguards needed to help keep Eckley and millions of his peers safe on the job.

The legislation—supported by numerous labor unionstrade groups and other stakeholders—would direct the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a standard requiring health care providers to implement safety plans for clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other treatment facilities.

The bill calls for facilities to consider measures such as alarm systems, physical barriers and strategic staffing, including having workers in hazardous situations operate in teams. To ensure the plans are as comprehensive and effective as possible, facilities would have to devise them with the input of workers on the front lines and address the specific hazards in each work area or unit.

“Having a safety officer on the unit 24/7 would be a wonderful first step,” observed Eckley, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who had calmed down his combative patient by the time a security guard in another part of the hospital complex arrived at the behavioral health unit.

“They just don’t have what we need to do the job safely,” he said of health care employers around the country. “They do the bare minimum, and it’s more reactive than proactive.”

Even before COVID-19, health care workers faced five times more violence on the job than their counterparts in most other professions. Incidents skyrocketed during the pandemic. The crisis exacted a heavy toll on Americans’ emotional health and patients, relatives and community members grew frustrated with staffing shortages at medical facilities.

Violence Against Workers is Increasing

The violence is now so pervasive that many health care workers are victimized over and over again.

Eckley, for example, has been punched repeatedly, stabbed with a pen, and bitten by an HIV-positive patient who disliked the meal he was served. He’s also witnessed numerous attacks on coworkers and once watched a patient batter a door to get to a jar of candy on the other side.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, the legislation’s chief sponsor in the Senate, said of the surging number of assaults. “We know we need to do more to protect these workers.”

Under the legislation, employers would not only have to implement safety plans but also train workers to report assaults, conduct real investigations when incidents occur, keep records of injuries and ensure workers get immediate treatment when harmed.

Right now, as Jackie Anklam, president of USW Local 9899, knows all too well, many facilities across the country minimize incidents, dismiss assaults as part of the job, or try to pin the blame on the victims.

Anklam recalled getting a frantic phone call late one night from an emergency department technician at Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan. The technician was pushed and threatened by about 20 highly emotional family members who gathered at the facility after a loved one arrived there with a fatal gunshot wound.

The victim’s relatives somehow managed to enter a locked treatment area off the waiting room, and Anklam said the technician was roughed up while following a doctor’s orders to usher them out. Anklam said she expected a robust investigation given the family members’ dangerous breach of a secure area.

Instead, she said, “we reported it, and their investigation was, ‘they don’t know who pushed the button and let them in.’ I think it was downplayed and swept under the rug.”

Action is being Delayed

Amid tireless advocacy by health care workers and their unions, the Democratic-controlled House first passed the violence prevention bill in 2019. But the Senate, then controlled by Republicans, refused even to bring it to a vote.

Under the leadership of Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, the House passed it again last year with bipartisan support. Now, it’s more crucial than ever that the Senate swiftly take up the bill and pass it.

Some states have attempted to address the crisis by considering or passing laws imposing stiffer penalties on people who assault health care workers. But Eckley and his coworkers know it’s even more essential to prevent violence in the first place.

“As time goes on, it will grow,” Eckley warned, noting attacks are becoming not only more numerous but also more brutal. “The severity seems to keep going up. It doesn’t go down.”

This is blog was originally produced by the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

Visit our page on Workplace Fairness to learn more about workplace safety.


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Fact-Checking Amazon’s Bogus Workplace Health and Safety Claims

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Irene Tung

In response to public scrutiny of high injury rates and growing worker organizing efforts at its facilities, Amazon recently published a report on its workplace health and safety record titled “Delivered with Care.” In this blog post, we sort out fact and fiction in Amazon’s key arguments in that report.

False Claim #1: Amazon’s injury rates should be compared with injury rates in the “Courier and Express Delivery Services” sector, not “Warehousing.”

First, Amazon claims its injury rates should be compared to those of businesses in the “Courier and Express Delivery” category, which are generally higher than those in the “Warehousing and Storage” category. While Amazon’s workforce does span both industry categories, what Amazon fails to mention is that most of Amazon’s delivery drivers are not employed directly by Amazon. Instead, Amazon subcontracts to a network of companies, which it refers to as “Delivery Service Partners” (DSPs) who in turn employ the drivers that deliver Amazon packages. Even though these workers work for DSPs that exclusively deliver Amazon packages, their injury rates are not reflected in the injury rates that Amazon reports.

A recent report by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) showed that the injury rates for Amazon drivers employed through the DSPs were even higher than the rates at Amazon warehouses. The report compares these numbers with companies in the “Courier and Express Delivery Services” category and shows that they are 50 percent higher than those at a comparable business such as UPS.

In “Delivered with Care,” Amazon also cherry picks a few industries with which to compare injury rates (p 12). One of them is pet stores. While pet stores do indeed have high injury rates, what Amazon does not mention is that Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) data show that about 30 percent of the reported injuries at pet stores are “cuts, lacerations or puncture wounds.” These pet store injuries are most likely pet bites, but Amazon seems to suggest that the injuries at its warehouses are somehow analogous. Despite these random comparisons, the facts are clear that Amazon’s injury rate is higher than the average for the entire warehouse industry and over two times as high as the national average for all private industry.

False Claim #2: Amazon has already implemented effective solutions to bring injury and illness numbers down at its warehouses.

No effort to adjust the dangerous pace of work at Amazon is mentioned in the report. The pace of work and the stressful, forceful movements workers must make every day in the manual material handling jobs at its warehouses cause musculoskeletal disorders. The Amazon report instead expounds on the company’s ”wellness” program and its training on proper lifting. Washington State OSHA just cited Amazon for exposing workers to hazardous conditions and violating the OSHA law, because the job pace is so fast workers don’t have time to follow their safety training, including safe lifting methods.

In the entire 35-page “Delivered with Care” report, the only specific improvement mentioned to reduce the widespread ergonomic hazards in their warehouses is the introduction of pallet lift tables to lessen the need for bending down to pick up objects off the conveyors. While this is a positive step, it represents just one of the many measures to improve warehouse safety recommended by OSHA.

These include using powered equipment instead of requiring manual lifting for heavy materials; reducing lifts from shoulder height and from floor height by repositioning shelves or bins; adding pneumatic lifts, adjustable tables, turntables, and adjustable steps, to name just a few of the other recommended measures Amazon could implement.

Much of Amazon’s â€wellness” training program is about what it calls ”conditioning” for the job (p. 16), as if it is workers’ lack of conditioning that is causing these injuries—implying that the workers are to blame for their own injuries. However, as Washington State OSHA has noted, musculoskeletal injuries at Amazon are primarily caused by ergonomic risk factors including high repetition and lifting, bending, reaching, pulling, and pushing. The solutions must address those adjustments to the job that are needed to prevent injuries—redesigning the job to make the job fit the worker.

Most of “Delivered with Care” refers to 2020 injury rates to back up its claims. However, as a recent Strategic Organizing Center report points out, the “Delivered with Care” report also uses 2021 injury rates when it refers to Amazon’s “Huddle” program (p 16), implying that the company already had its complete 2021 injury data at the time that “Delivered with Care” was published. But the authors of “Delivered with Care” withheld a key piece of information: Amazon’s overall injury rate actually increased by 20 percent from 2020 to 2021.

Even after the publication of “Delivered with Care,” Amazon has continued to misrepresent its injury rates by using outdated and out-of-context information. As recently as April 2022, CEO Andy Jassy sent a letter to shareholders using 2020 data instead of 2021 data to support a claim that Amazon’s injury rates were “misunderstood.” In response, Business Insider published a thorough fact-check of Jassy’s misleading use of those statistics.

This blog originally appeared at NELP on May 11, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Irene Tung is a senior researcher and policy analyst for NELP.


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Biden Has Abandoned His Covid Worker Safety Pledge

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Biden’s much-anticipated workplace safety rule excludes most workers—and some in the labor movement are not happy.

Until she got her first Pfizer shot on July 16, Cindy Cervantes toiled in the Seaboard Foods pork processing plant in Guymon, Oklahoma for most of the pandemic without a vaccine—working unprotected in an industry devastated by Covid-19 illnesses and deaths.

“In one day, at least 300 people were gone” from the plant, sick from Covid, Cervantes says. Still, “Seaboard wanted a certain number of hogs out. They kept pushing people, the chain was going even faster. People were getting injured, and we were losing even more people.” Six of her coworkers have died from Covid-19, and hundreds have gotten sick, she says.

Ravaged by the pandemic, the roughly 500,000 U.S. workers in meatpacking, meat processing and poultry are not getting much help from the industry or the government. In a sector described as “essential” during the pandemic, at least 50,000 have been infected and more than 250 have died, according to Investigate Midwest, a nonprofit news outlet. Yet amid this grim toll, the North American Meat Institute lobbied successfully to exclude meatpacking and poultry workers from new Covid-19 worker safety rules enacted this June.

Even as vaccine availability in the United States steadily expands, workers still face pandemic peril on the job, from breakthrough cases of Covid-19, as well as low vaccination rates in many areas due to a combination of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and serious access barriers to immigrants who fear deportation. Workers and advocates are sounding the alarm that President Biden has dropped the ball on pandemic-era worker protections, violating one of the first promises of his presidency. This warning has particular salience after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday that some people who are fully vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas where there are severe outbreaks, due to the spread of the Delta variant. 

On his second day in office, Biden signed an executive order promising to enact new emergency safety rules “if such standards are determined to be necessary” by March 15 to protect millions of “essential” workers like Cervantes. The goal was straightforward: to give workers enforceable protections on the job, such as mandating that companies provide physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). But the deadline came and went, with no new rule. Then, on June 10, after heavy lobbying by many industry groups—Including the American Hospital Association, the National Retail Federation, the North American Meat Institute and the National Grocers Association—Biden issued a narrow rule covering only health care workers.

This is despite the fact that other industries have been devastated by the pandemic. “Almost all my coworkers have gotten it,” Cervantes says of the virus, noting that many of them were out sick for months, and some returned to work with lingering Covid-19 symptoms. Yet, she says, “a lot of workers I work with have not gotten the vaccination” for a host of reasons. Some are “skeptical,” and “think it’s got a chip in it or that it’s not going to work.” 

It’s not hard to get a vaccine at the plant, Cervantes says. But in an industry that relies heavily on immigrants, Latinx and often undocumented workers, there are many barriers to vaccination, researchers note. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Large shares of Hispanic adults—particularly those with lower incomes, the uninsured, and those who are potentially undocumented—express concerns that reflect access-related barriers to vaccination.” Oklahoma, home to the Seaboard plant where Cervantes works, is among the nation’s most dangerous Covid-19 states, with just 40% of the population fully vaccinated, and “high transmission rates,” according to the CDC.

In an email response to questions, Seaboard communications director David Eaheart said the company “proactively” notifies workers of any Covid-19 cases in the plant, and has taken numerous precautions based on CDC and state health guidance, including paid leave for infected workers, and plexiglass shields at “select line workstations.” 

Eaheart acknowledged that in May 2020, testing at the plant identified 440 employees with “active cases of Covid-19,” the plant’s “highest week of reported active cases. All these employees self-isolated at home and were required to follow CDC guidance before being allowed to return to work.” During that week, he said, “overall production was scaled back in the processing plant and fewer animals were processed and products produced.” More than 1000 workers at the plant have tested positive, and six have died, Eaheart confirmed. 

Since March 15, when Biden’s promised Covid-19 workplace safety protections were supposed to take effect, more than 15,000 working-age adults have died from the pandemic in the United States, according to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH). “Every one of those individuals had a family that was also at risk of Covid,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of National COSH, in a June 9 press release anticipating Biden’s rule. “Releasing an emergency standard three months late and just for health care workers is too little, too late.”

The original rule drafted by the Department of Labor did cover all workers, as Bloomberg Law first reported—but then the infectious disease standard met the buzz saw of politics and industry pressure, and the White House opted to cover health care workers only.

As the Department of Labor’s draft standard stated, “For the first time in its 50-year history, OSHA faces a new hazard so grave that it has killed more than half a million people in the United States in barely over a year, and sickened millions more. OSHA has determined that employee exposure to this new hazard, SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) presents a grave danger in every shared workplace in the United States.” 

Citing rising vaccination rates—60% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, though just 49% of the population overall—Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said the new rules focusing on healthcare workers “provide increased protections for those whose health is at heightened risk from coronavirus.” Neither the White House nor the Department of Labor provided any explanation for why other workers in high-exposure jobs were excluded.

“That’s kind of ridiculous,” says Louisiana Walmart worker Peter Naughton. “They should cover retail workers as well. We come into contact with people who may have the virus without knowing it.”

In Louisiana, where new Covid-19 cases are double the national infection rate and vaccinations lag far behind, Naughton, 45, toils in fear every day at a Walmart in Baton Rouge. He got vaccinated in May, but in his job helping customers navigate self-checkout kiosks, Naughton says, “I come into contact with hundreds, possibly thousands, of people a week.” Naughton, who lives in Baton Rouge with his parents to make ends meet, says that despite the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases, and the spread of the extra-dangerous Delta variant, there are minimal safety precautions, and “Walmart is acting like the pandemic is over.”

While the vaccines vastly reduce risk of death or serious illness, infections and “breakthrough cases” are still infecting vaccinated people. And the CDC’s befuddling guidance making masks voluntary for those who are vaccinated, on the honor system, hasn’t helped. Furthermore, the CDC explains, “no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness in vaccinated people. There will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized, or die from Covid-19.”

For Naughton and millions of other “essential workers,” laboring in the pandemic has been a mix of fear, insult and injury. Even when Covid-19 was at its most deadly and virulent, basic safety measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing and cleaning were “never enforced” at Walmart, says Naughton. “They never gave us any PPE, just glass cleaner, which doesn’t protect us. Customers could come in without masks and nothing would be said to them. I complained about it and the manager said, ‘Don’t worry about it, let the customers do what they want.’”

Several of Naughton’s coworkers got infected and ill from Covid-19, but “management never said a word to any of us,” he says. “Most of them I came into close contact with. That kind of scared me. … We all should have known about it.” Naughton says he filed a complaint in November 2020 requesting OSHA to inspect the Baton Rouge Walmart, but “I never heard back, nothing ever happened.”

To top it off, when Naughton received the vaccine in May, he was hit by a 102.4 degree fever—but he had to work anyway, because Walmart employees can “lose our job” after five absences for any reason. Nobody at Walmart took his temperature or inquired about his health, he says.

Through email, Tyler Thomason, Walmart’s senior manager of global communications, insisted to In These Times, “We encourage our associates to get vaccinated. We offer the vaccine at no cost to associates… We continue to request that associates and customers wear face coverings unless they are vaccinated. Any information on confirmed, positive COVID-19 cases would come from the local health authority.”

Unions Sue to Protect More Workers

Naughton isn’t the only person disappointed by Biden’s exclusion of most workers from this emergency pandemic protection. Unions have pushed for the protection since the pandemic began ravaging the United States in March 2020. First, they encountered staunch resistance from the Trump administration; now, while pledging expansive worker protections, the Biden administration has delayed and diminished them.

On June 10, as the Biden administration announced the narrow new rule leaving out millions of workers, advocates expressed disappointment and frustration. 

Biden’s decision to cover only health care workers “represents a broken promise to the millions of American workers in grocery stores and meatpacking plants who have gotten sick and died on the frontlines of this pandemic,” stated United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union International President Marc Perrone the day the new rule was announced. 

That day, the AFL-CIO added, “we are deeply concerned that the [standard] will not cover workers in other industries, including those in meatpacking, grocery, transportation and corrections, who have suffered high rates of Covid-19 infections and death. Many of these are low-wage workers of color who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 exposures and infections.”

On June 24, the AFL-CIO and UFCW filed a petition in federal court demanding that all workers be covered by the emergency standard, which, the petition says, currently “fails to protect employees outside the healthcare industry who face a similar grave danger from occupational exposure to Covid-19.”

Another champion of the emergency standard, Rep. Bobby Scott (DVa.), Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, also expressed frustration when Biden released the narrow new rule, calling the diminished standard “too little, too late for countless workers and families across the country,” including workers throughout the food industry and homeless shelters. Rep. Scott added: “I am disappointed by both the timing and the scope of this workplace safety standard.” The rule, Scott said, “is long past due, and it provides no meaningful protection to many workers who remain at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19.”

Biden’s decision to exclude meatpackers, grocery and farm workers, retail and warehouse laborers and others means especially high risks for workers of color, Rep. Scott noted. “With vaccination rates for Black and Brown people lagging far behind the overall population, the lack of a comprehensive workplace safety standard and the rapid reopening of the economy is a dangerous combination,” he said.

Much of this “essential” workforce of people of color, immigrants and low-income white people, toils in dangerous farm labor and food processing plants where Covid-19 has spread like wildfire while vaccination rates remain low. “Workers in this industry have a very low vaccination rate,” as low as 37% in some states, says Martin Rosas, president of UFCW Local 2 representing meatpacking and food processing workers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. “I don’t know who in their right mind would think we’ve passed over that bridge and think all workers are safe now.” Rosas adds, “The federal government has failed to protect meatpacking workers” by leaving them out of the final emergency standard. “I’m extremely disappointed in the Biden administration.”

Both the Department of Labor and the White House declined multiple interview requests, but a Department of Labor spokesperson emailed a statement insisting that the health-care-workers-only rule “closely follows the CDC’s guidance for health care workers and the science, which tells us that those who come into regular contact with people either suspected of having or being treated for Covid-19, are most at risk.”

The Department of Labor spokesperson stressed that the agency’s existing (yet unenforceable) “guidance” and the “general duty clause” protect other workers adequately, particularly in “industries noted for prolonged close-contacts like meat processing, manufacturing, seafood processing, and grocery and high-volume retail.” But in its own draft standard, the Department of Labor stated the opposite: “existing standards, regulations, and the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause are wholly inadequate to address the Covid-19 hazard.” In its original draft, the agency insisted, “a Covid-19 ETS [emergency temporary standard] is necessary to address these inadequacies.”

Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, National COSH’s co-executive director, says President Biden “is responsible” for the 15,000 workers who have died from Covid-19 since Biden’s March 15 deadline to enact the emergency standard. Biden, she notes, “promised to protect workers in his campaign and on his first day in office, but he neglected them. But workers’ safety needs aren’t over, and we’ll be continuing to demand accountability from the administration.”

This post originally appeared at In These Times on July 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Christopher Cook is an award-winning investigative reporter who also writes for Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Mother Jones, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis


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From Carl’s Jr. to a gay club, Oregon workers suffered in the heat, this week in the war on workers

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Wage theft is a huge problem that requires a creative solution, this week  in the war on workers | Today's Workplace

Workers suffered during recent heat waves around the country, and hitting the Pacific Northwest especially hard. We’ve talked about the need for heat protections for farmworkers, but they’re not the only ones.

HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson looks at the heat complaints to Oregon OSHA, finding that restaurant workers were hit particularly hard. According to a complaint from a Carl’s Jr., “The restaurant management is forcing employees to work without air-conditioning in dangerous heat. The temperature in the building is at least 100*F. Employees are covered in sweat, and are showing signs of heat exhaustion.” At a Burger King, “110+ Degrees in the kitchen over the past few days. The AC system is broken and the employer will not fix it. This is when it’s been 101+ outside. Employees are forced to work nonetheless, no matter the heat hazard.”

It wasn’t just farmworkers and restaurant workers, either. The complaints Jamieson reviewed included a carwash, a cannabis dispensary, a canvassing agency that sends people out to fundraise for nonprofits, and dancers at a gay club. Clearly as climate change makes extreme heat a more frequent occurrence, workplace safety regulations and enforcement are going to need to catch up.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on July 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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