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USWU members participate in workplace safety hearing

05.26.14

APRIL 2014, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

USWU members participate in workplace safety hearing

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, March 31st- The United Steelworkers (USW) Union provided testimony at the public hearing held in Washington DC by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) regarding the proposed standard to protect workers from silica exposure. The hearing was conducted by the DOL’s, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during March 18th to April 4th.

The proposed rule would cut permitted dust exposure in half from current levels; require exposure monitoring; and have medical exams for implementation of dust control methods. The new standard would effect more than two million workers exposed to the deadly silica dust.

According to the USW, silica dust is a killer. It causes silicosis, a disabling lung disease that literally suffocates workers to death. It also causes lung cancer, respiratory and kidney diseases.

The USW members that testified included Mike Wright, the Unions Director of Health, Safety and Environment Department in Pittsburgh.

Also, Tim Tuttle, USW Glass Industry Council of Pittsburgh; John Scardella, Program Administrator; and Tom Mazzocchi, Center for Worker Health and Safety Education, in Pittsburgh provided testimony and the DOL hearing.

Silica exposure occurs daily while employees work where respirable crystalline occurs. USW and other workers are exposed to silica in foundries, glass making, refractory manufacturing and in shipyards.

The hearings were conducted in the Cesar Chavez Auditorium at the United States Department of Labor building on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC.

The USW is the largest private-sector labor union in North America representing 850,000 workers employed in many industries.

Philadelphia Commemorates Workers Memorial Day

05.11.14

by John O. Mason

Members of Philadelphia’s Labor community honored workers killed or injured on the job at a commemorative breakfast, held at Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Hall, 1301 South Columbus Blvd., on Friday, April 25, 2014.

The event was sponsored by the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia Area Project for Occupational Safety and Health (PHILAPOSH).

Kathy Black, Health and Safety Director of AFSCME District Council 47 and Chair of the PHILAPOSH Board, welcomed everyone, and the Reverend Colleen M. Butler prayed the blessing over the food. Kathy Black gave a special welcome to the families of workers killed on the job recently-Jeff Davis, Scott Shaw, Thomas Hetrick, Richie Brady, Kevin Sparks, Joseph Matejik, Anne Bryan, and Roseline Conteh.

Pat Eiding, President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, said, “Our work is really ahead of us” in advocacy for workers’ safety. Pointing out that the Philadelphia AFL-CIO office was across the street from the building that collapsed at 22nd and Market streets in June 2013, and which resulted in people’s deaths, Eiding said, “We as Labor people know that was an accident ready to happen from the day the demolition started. We tried to send that message across the city, but typically, the people (of) organized Labor, for some reason or another, are looked on as troublemakers instead of problem solvers. That’s certainly a shame, because we have a lot to offer.” Due to union representation and training, said Eiding, “we’ll be able to go home the way we left the house this morning.”

If one was to go through the man part of Philadelphia or the neighborhoods, added Eiding, one “can see the mess of the (building) contractors, with some pieces of scaffolding on three legs and a board holding up the fourth leg, and nobody paying attention…As bad as it is for those workers, people in the community suffer because of that.”

Barbara Rahke, PHILAPOSH Director, said of this year’s program, “This year, it was very obvious to us that the connection between workplace safety, workplace health, and public health and safety are connected. This is an old issue that we’ve been talking about for a very long time. Communities around refineries (have been) working with workers inside the refineries to make sure the communities were safe. The environmental justice movement has been built around that.”

Rahke added that there would be a focus on the families of workers killed on the job, “the families who have suffered,” she said, “in ways that I can only imagine.” Rahke commended the work of Holly Shaw, PHILAPOSH’s outreach person to the families of workers killed on the job, and whose husband, Scott, was killed falling off a barge in the Schuylkill River.

Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science and Occupational Health and Safety for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, spoke of his work with several other unions along with PFT, saying, “I’ve chosen to work with unions, workers, and the pubic for more than thirty years, because of my firm belief that those who are directly exposed to hazardous (material) have an absolute right to know about those hazardous conditions, and they have the right to participate in designing and implementing those measures to prevent their own injuries, illnesses, or worse. I’m proud to be able to add my voice to the voices of so many others today who are fighting to eliminate workplace health and safety hazards that impact on the lives of so many of us.”

Roseman called the building collapse on Market Street last year “a catastrophic example of the connection between public safety and workers’ safety.” But, he added, “there are many other situations, even if less immediately devastating, that put workers and the public at great risk.

“Sand-blasting and high-speed sawing and cutting of sitting stone and cement block,” added Roseman, “can pose serious silica dust hazards to workers and to the public. Improperly controlled lead removal, or removal and demolition work in buildings with asbestos, also result in exposures that cause sickness and death. These types of exposures are much too common, and demonstrate that even the less obvious and unseen hazards must be recognized and controlled. Unlike a fall from a roof, or a bridge, or a scaffolding, where the hazard and direct result are clear, what these health hazard situations have in common is not just the workers and the public are put at risk of developing cancer or respiratory diseases, like asthma, silicosis, and asbestosis, but that these diseases can take years before they show up, making it harder to connect the cause and the effect, and sometimes difficult to convince employers and building owners to do the right thing.”

The keynote speaker for the event was Jordan Barab, Deputy Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who commended the staff, volunteers, and officers of PHILAPOSH for their work, along with the regional OSHA staff; “These are the people,” he said, “who work their butts off every day, including weekends and nights, to make sure workers are safe in this country,” and he encouraged everyone in the audience to work with them.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created OSHA, Barab said, “was passed in 1970, with one very simple premise, (that) workers have the right to a safe work place, and employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe work place.” Of course, he added, “It’s not that simple, it requires work on our part every single day. To make sure that promise comes true.”

During the past year, added Barab, “We had the shut down of the federal government, and sequestration, it’s been rough for everybody to do the kind of work that we need to do, and we had to cancel a lot of events” with PHILAPOSH, but the OSHA main office and field operations continued working; Barab spoke of OSHA inspectors in Ohio, who found “a bunch of workers on top of a building with no fall protection.” The inspectors confronted the workers’ employer, who told the agents, “I’m really sorry about that, I didn’t think OSHA was on the job this week.”

“That tells you something about,” added Barab, “certain companies in this country, and it tell you something about the importance of having a watchdog agency that can make sure that employers do what they’re supposed to be doing.” Barab added that OSHA has been criticized to carrying out too much or too little enforcement, for dong regulatory action and “sub-regulatory” actions, for helping unions organize, for targeting conservative activists, for being “at war” with family farms; “We’ve even been criticized for criticizing our own out of date chemical standards,” he added, and “we’ve been criticized for issuing press releases that are critical of companies that break the law and cause the death of workers. Alll that criticism means to me, is that we’re doing something right.”

The day’s program ended with a funeral procession down Columbus Boulevard to Penn’s Landing, accompanied by Brian Widelitz playing the bagpipes. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling led a memorial service for workers killed on the job in the past year; it concluded with the reading of names of slain workers, while participants tossed roses into the Delaware River while Widelitz played “Amazing Grace.”

Wilkes-Barre Labor Council conducts event to mark OSHAct of 1970

05.16.13

MAY 2013, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

Wilkes-Barre Labor Council conducts event to mark OSHAct of 1970

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, April 29th- The Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council (GWBLC) labor federation, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington DC, and its Community Services Committee recently held their “9th Annual Workers Memorial Candlelight Vigil” at the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1776 building on Highway 315 in Pittston.

The ALF-CIO request their affiliated labor councils to conduct an event each year around April 28th to mark the anniversary date of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) in 1970.

According to Walter Klepaski, the AFL-CIO United Way Community Services Liaison, the go-between the labor community and the community based organization, the virgil is held each year by the labor federation to memorialize Luzerne County residents who died in work related accidents or incidents.

In addition to honoring the hundreds of local individuals who died over the years, many in coal mines, special honor was paid to those who lost their lives since last year’s program.

Those individuals include: Charles Kratz of Plymouth, died in September 2012 as a result of a fork lift accident at Core Mark in Hanover Township; Shailskumar Patel of Duryea, died September 2012, when struck by a piece of equipment at Letica Corporation of Pittston; Michael Martin of Hazleton, died in November 2012, while participating in a fire brigade training exercise at Luzerne County Community College (LCCC); and Eric Williams of Wapwallopen, died in February 2013, a federal Corrections Officer (CO) after being killed by an inmate at the Federal Penintentiary at Canaan.

Ed Harry, President of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council, Wayne Namey, a UFCW Local 1776 member, and Joe Padavan, President of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) Union Local 15253, were principal speakers and called on elected officials to strengthen job safety laws. They stated that although workplace safety has improved since congress enacted the OSHAct still too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job, an average of 13 workers each day, and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases, in 2010, the latest data available.

You Can’t Wash Away Fracking’s Effects

02.21.13


by WALTER BRASCH

José Lara just wanted a job.

A company working in the natural gas fields needed a man to power wash wastewater tanks.
Clean off the debris. Make them shining again.

And so José Lara became a power washer for the Rain for Rent Co.

“The chemicals, the smell was so bad. Once I got out, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I couldn’t even talk,” Lara said in his deposition, translated from Spanish.

The company that had hired him didn’t provide him a respirator or protective clothing. That’s not unusual in the natural gas fields.

José Lara did his job until he no longer could work.

At the age of 42, he died from pancreatic and liver cancer.

Accidents, injuries, and health problems are not all that unusual in the booming natural gas industry that uses horizontal hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to invade the earth in order to extract methane gas.

Of the 750 chemicals that can be used in the fracking process, more than 650 of them are toxic or carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Several public health studies reveal that homeowners living near fracked wells show higher levels of acute illnesses than homeowners living outside the “Sacrifice Zone,” as the energy industry calls it.

In addition to toxic chemicals and high volumes of water, the energy industry uses silica sand in the mixture it sends at high pressure deep into the earth to destroy the layers of rock. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) issued a Hazard Alert about the effects of crystalline silica. According to NIOSH there are seven primary sources of exposure during the fracking process, all of which could contribute to workers getting silicosis, the result of silica entering lung tissue and causing inflammation and scarring. Excessive silica can also lead to kidney and autoimmune diseases, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In the Alert, NIOSH pointed out that its studies revealed about 79 percent of all samples it took in five states exceeded acceptable health levels, with 31 percent of all samples exceeding acceptable health levels by 10 times. However, the Hazard Alert is only advisory; it carries no legal or regulatory authority.

In addition to the normal diesel emissions of trucks and trains, there are numerous incidents of leaks, some of several thousand gallons, much of which spills onto roadways and into creeks, from highway accidents of tractor-trailer trucks carrying wastewater and other chemicals.

The process of fracking requires constant truck travel to and from the wells, as many as 200 trips per day per well. Each day, interstate carriers transport about five million gallons of hazardous materials. Not included among the daily 800,000 shipments are the shipments by intrastate carriers, which don’t have to report their cargo deliveries to the Department of Transportation. “Millions of gallons of wastewater produced a day, buzzing down the road, and still nobody’s really keeping track,” Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania state director for Clean Water Action, told AlterNet.

Drivers routinely work long weeks, have little time for rest, and hope they’ll make enough to get that house they want for their families.

But fatigue causes accidents. And contrary to industry claims, workers don’t always wear protective gear when around toxic chemicals they put into the earth, and the toxic chemicals they extract from the earth. Or the toxic chemicals they drive on public roads.

In the Great Recession, people become desperate for any kind of job. And the natural gas industry has responded with high-paying jobs. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is ecstatic that a side benefit of destroying the environment and public health is an improvement in the economy and more jobs—even if most of the workers in Pennsylvania now sport license plates from Texas and Oklahoma.

The drivers, and most of the industry, are non-union or are hired as independent contractors with no benefits. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. It means there are no worker safety committees. No workplace regulations monitored by the workers. And if a worker complains about a safety or health violation, there’s no grievance procedure. Hire them fast. Fire them faster.

No matter how much propaganda the industry spills out about its safety record and how it cares about its workers, the reality is that working for a company that fracks the earth is about as risky as it gets for worker health and safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Rain for Rent nine violations for exposing José Lara to hydrogen sulfide and not adequately protecting him from the effects of the cyanide-like gas.

It no longer matters to José Lara.

The effects from fracking should matter to every everyone else.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels. The book is available at amazon.com, http://www.greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits

11.30.12


by WALTER BRASCH

Imitating Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Walmart executives claimed they knew nothing—NOTHING—about working conditions in a garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died and more than 150 were injured in a fire.

Tazreen Fashions made Walmart’s Faded Glory brand clothes, as well as clothes for Sears and other dozens of other major retailers. Walmart officials told the news media they had previously terminated Tazreen as a direct supplier because of concerns about fire hazards, but that another supplier had subcontracted the work to Tazreen. Walmart refused to identify the supplier. In an official statement, Walmart said that the fire was “extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work with the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

News reports indicate that survivors said fire extinguishers didn’t work, exit doors were locked, and there were no emergency exits. The AP reports that most fire extinguishers were not used, the workers having no knowledge of how to use them. According to the AP, most of the workers, about 70 percent of them women, were from the poorest sections of Bangladesh. More than 700 workers have died since 2005 from fires in the Bangladesh’s growing clothing manufacturing industry, according to the International Labor reporting Forum.

As with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911, where 146 women, most of them recent Jewish and Italian immigrants working in sweatshop conditions, the workers at Tazreen were burned alive trying to get through the doors that never opened, died from smoke inhalation, or jumped to their deaths. Many of the dead in both fires were buried in unmarked graves, their bodies unrecognizable. The Triangle fire eventually led to improved safety conditions and the rise of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to protect workers from management callousness.

Walmart has a fierce anti-union policy for its own stores and employees, but doesn’t say much about working conditions in companies that supply merchandise, nor does it actively oppose unions in other companies overseas. There is no organized representation for most of the workers in Bangladesh sweatshops. Most workers earn $8.50 to $12.50 for a 48 hour work week, with mandatory overtime that can push them to as many as 80 hours. They receive two or three days off in a month. If Americans wonder why their clothes may not be as good as American-made clothes produced in union shops, the answer could be that the workers in Bangladesh may be mentally and physically fatigued, and that multinational corporations pressure suppliers to cut costs on material and labor. Bangladesh, now competing with China, shipped about $18 billion worth of merchandise to American and European corporations last year.

About 40 percent of all merchandise sold by Walmart is produced by contracts with manufacturers (most overseas), where low wages, excessive work hours, and poor working conditions are accepted practice. Walmart doesn’t make public the names of the companies which produce those “low prices” merchandise. However, it is known that it has contracts with several Bangladesh companies, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese manufacturers.

With revenue of more than $447 billion a year and about a 25 percent profit, Walmart is the largest public company in income in the world. But with its “low prices” slogan comes significant risk.

Walmart and other corporations have pushed American suppliers to outsource their own merchandise to overseas suppliers. More than 3.3 million American jobs will have been outsourced by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, Goldman Sachs projects that as many as seven million jobs will have been lost by 2014. Most are in clothing and computer/electronics manufacturing, and in service centers where American customers call “help” lines and often get a heavily-accented representative who says his name is “Sam.” What most politicians, business people, and the public don’t understand is there is a direct correlation between the number of jobs outsourced and high unemployment in the U.S.

Walmart, which originally established a “Buy American” slogan before strutting its “lower prices” philosophy, now claims that over half its merchandise is made in America. This may or may not be accurate—Walmart doesn’t give specifics. But, if accurate, most of that is from its expanded grocery stores. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and thousands of other products are still made overseas—usually in conditions that are, at best, sweatshops; at worst, death traps. Every Congressional bill to ban the import of products produced in sweatshop conditions has been smothered in the committee process.

It’s possible that Walmart executives and upper management of the 2.2 million employee corporation that has eyes in almost every spot of the world did not know about working conditions in Tazreen—or any of the other sweatshops in Asia. It’s also possible they did know, but did a PR shuffle to explain their indifference. It really doesn’t matter.

The sweatshops allow the corporations to sell the cheap merchandise that results in higher return on investment for American corporations that rely upon American consumers who want cheap merchandise, and don’t seem to care where it comes from or how it’s produced.

But, even those Americans who do care, and would pay higher prices for merchandise produced by workers in unionized American manufacturing plants, usually don’t have a choice. It’s hard to find “Made in America” labels on clothes and numerous other products sold by major retailers that have largely ignored sweatshop conditions in order to maximize profit.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, which looks at working conditions. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]

Hurricane Sandy message from Richard Trumka- President, AFL-CIO

10.29.12

I’m in Washington, D.C., right now and conditions are getting progressively worse.

I hope you and your family are staying safe. We wanted to share with you some resources and tips for dealing with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

Click here to check out this information now.

I also wanted to take a minute to thank all the workers who began preparing for the storm early, will be working through it and will keep up their work long after it passes to help repair and rebuild our communities.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said it best in a statement yesterday:

We’re hopeful that preparations will prove unnecessary, but we have peace of mind knowing that union workers–public sector, private sector and building trades–will be there for us: supermarket and retail workers making sure that supplies are available; utility and communication workers laboring day and night to keep the lights and phones on; police officers, firefighters and EMS professionals maintaining our safety; transportation workers preserving our subway, commuter rail and bus infrastructure; state, county and municipal employees keeping the roads clear; construction workers repairing our homes, businesses and communities; hospital workers providing care to our family, friends and neighbors; teachers and child care workers keeping our children safe until we can be with them; and hotel workers making sure there is a place to stay for those who cannot remain home.

Their work and the work of others will get our communities back up and running.

Find important resources and information for dealing with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath at the link below:

http://go.aflcio.org/Stay-Safe

We hope you and your family and friends stay safe. Thanks for all you do.

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

New nurses survey released by PASNAP Union indicates fear regarding workplace violence

05.27.12

JUNE 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

New nurses survey released by PASNAP Union indicates fear regarding workplace violence

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, May 15th- The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union, which represents nurses employed at medical centers in Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, released a survey of 25,000 Registered Nurses (RN’s) regarding workplace safety.

The survey was released on May 8th, and shows nurses are concerned about staffing, and workplace violence.

The report indicated that nurses continue to be alarmed by chronic unsafe nurse staffing at their facilities and that most believe they have much less time to spend with their patients than in prior years.

“These results clearly show that the issues of adequate staffing and patient safety continue to dominate the concerns of Pennsylvania nurses. All of the academic research lines up with the day to day concerns of nurses, minimum nurse to patient ratios would both keep patients safer and save millions for the health care system.

This new survey confirms what front line nurses have been saying for years, the hospitals industry should listen,” stated PASNAP member Patricia Eakin, an emergency department nurse at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Legislation was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in November, 2011 which would require Pennsylvania hospitals and other health care facilities to take proactive steps to protect nurses and other health care workers from suffering violence on the job.

House Bill 1992 was supported by PASNAP and would require hospitals to assess the security risks in their facilities, find ways to create a safer workplace, and help victims of violence report incidences.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released data in November 2011 that showed the incidence rate for health care workers that require days away from work because of nonfatal occupational injuries increased 6 percent in 2010. There were 283 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, almost 2 1/2 times the rate for all private and public sector workers at 118 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.

The rate among nursing aids, orderlies and attendants rose 7 percent to 489 per 10,000 workers. Also, the rate of musculoskeletal disorder cases with days away from work for nursing aids, orderlies and attendants increased 10 percent to a rate of 249 cases per 10,000 workers.

The PASNAP survey revealed a significant uptick in verbal and physical violence directed on the job. The union is affiliated with the California Nurses Association (CNA). The CNA is a member of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation in Washington, DC.

Eighty percent of surveyed nurses say that during the past five years they have had less time for their patients, citing low nurses-to-patient ratios as the main cause, and that 70 percent believe that having less time with each patient has negatively effected patient outcomes.

Other findings of the survey found that 46 percent of all nurses feel that threats to their safety and workplace violence are issues on their unit and 24 percent of nurses plan to retire in the next 3 years, 48 percent in the next 10 years.

“It is unacceptable that the workers who have dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related injury and illness,” stated OSHA’s Assistant Secretary, Dr. David Michaels.

GWBLC honors workers killed on the job and late federation President

05.13.12

MAY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

GWBLC honors workers killed on the job and late federation President

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, May 2nd- The Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council (GWBLC), which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation, held their 8th Annual Workers’ Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil observance on April 26th.

Since 1989 the labor community throughout the nation have held events, just like the one conducted at the United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) Local 1776 building in Pittston Township, recognizing April 1970, the anniversary date of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct).

As part of the event a special prayer was led by Father William Pickard and Luzerne County Council member Tim McGinley read a proclamation honoring workers killed on the job.

According to Walter Klepaski, the AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison of the Wyoming Valley United Way, one new name was added to the list of workers that were killed because of workplace injuries during the past twelve months.

Mr. Jason Rowlands of Dalton died on February 10th, 2012 after an accident at work. He was employed by Wyoming Pallet.

In addition to the Workers Memorial event, two labor history books were donated to area libraries in memory of decreased labor council members. Books were donated to honor Sam Bianco, long-time President of the GWBLC, and Jack Costello, a member of the Utility Workers of America (UWA) Union Local 406.

Rick Bloomingdale, President of the Pennsylvania State AFL-CIO attended the event and stated that worker rights, such as OSHA, the 40 hour work-week, and the minimum wage, are under attack throughout the nation.

“He was the first occupier,” said Mr. Bloomingdale referring to Jesus Christ after chasing the money changers from the temple of Jerusalem.

Business group study calls for employment regulation cuts

07.01.11

MAY 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Business group study calls for employment regulation cuts

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, April 29th- According to a study released by the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, states in the nation could create jobs by cutting safety programs that protect employees at work and cut government regulations regarding worker rights on the job.

The organization, which is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses as well as state and local chambers and industry associations, released a study that was conducted by Seyfarth Shaw LLP and Navigant Economics that revealed that states with the “largest burden of labor and employment regulation are sacrificing opportunities to reduce their employment rate and generate new business startups.”

The United States Chamber of Commerence, financed the study, and found if each state were to improve their regulatory climates to the level discussed in the report, the effect would be equivalent to a one-time boost of 746,462 net new jobs nationwide. The rate of new business formation would increase by 12 percent resulting in the creation of 51,590 new firms nationally each year. Reducing the “burden of labor and employment regulation in the states could act as a free shot of economic stimulus, equal to approximately seven months of job creation at the current average rate,” stated the business group.

The study was conducted by surveying states’ labor and employment policies across six categories: the employment relationship and the cost of separation; minimum wage and living wage laws; unemployment insurance and workers compensation; wage and hour policies; collective bargaining issues; and the litigation/enforcement climate.

“Governors across the country from both parties are looking at ways to encourage economic growth in their states, and reform of state labor and employment regulations could make an important contribution to returning the United States to a more rapid-growth trajectory,” stated Lisa Richard, of the Chamber of Commerence.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett supports many of the study’s findings including making the commonwealth a right-to-work state; making changes or the eliminating of prevailing wage laws; cutting teachers salaries and benefits; and selling the unionized state liquor stores.

“Without cost to state governments or the federal government or the taxpayers, states can take steps now to improve their economic conditions and begin to prime the pump of job creation and new business formation,” added Ms. Richard.

Judge uphold’s Wal-Mart citation regarding worker death

05.10.11

APRIL 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Judge uphold’s Wal-Mart citation regarding worker death

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, March 27th- The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) applauded a ruling by Chief Administrative Law Judge Covette Rooney of the Independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upholding the citation and full penalty issued to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadeguate crowd management following a November 2008 trampling death of a worker at one of the company’s retail locations in New York.

In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management, concluding an investigation launched after a worker was trampled to death on November 28th, 2008, at its Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, New York. The worker was knocked to the ground and crushed by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers surging into the store for its annual “Blitz Friday” holiday sales event. OSHA’s inspection found that the store’s workers were at risk of being crushed by the crowd due to the store’s failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management practices. Those practices would have provided the store’s workers with the necessary training and tools to safety manage a large crowd of shoppers.

“This is a win for both workers and consumers. It’s only fitting that today the 100th anniversary of the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City where 146 workers lost their lives that a judge affirmed OSHA’s right to protect the safety and health of workers from clearly recognized hazards. Today’s ruling supports OSHA’s position that, even in the absence of a specific rule or standard, employers are still legally responsible for providing a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death. If not properly managed by retailers, a large crowd poses a significant threat to the lives of workers and customers,” stated Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

Under its General Duty Clause, OSHA issued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. one serious citation for exposing workers to the recognized hazards of asphyxiation or being crushed by a crowd. The citation carried a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law. A violation is serious when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

The OSHAct was passed in 1970.

Researcher finds right-to-work laws also jeopardize workers safety on the job

05.06.11

MAY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Researcher finds right-to-work laws also jeopardize workers safety on the job

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, April 14th- According to a University of Michigan researcher, right-to-work laws not only hurt labor unions financially, they also jeopardize worker safety.

Right-to-work laws are found predominantly in the southern and western United States but recently the legislation has become an issue because former Lehigh Valley House of Representative and current United States Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Pat Tooney announced he supports passage of national right-to-work legislation.

Right-to-work legislation would prohibit contract language in labor agreements that makes joining a union a condition of employment. Often, after an employee serves a probationary period usually between 30 and 90 days, the employee must join the union or be dismissed.

There are 22 states that prohibit any contract language that forces union membership as a condition of employment.

New research by Richard Zullo of the University of Michigan Institute for Research of Labor, Employment and Economy shows that right-to-work laws result in the underfunding of safety training and accident-prevention activities.

“Several states are currently considering adopting right-to-work laws, (including Pennsylvania) but passing these laws may have the unintended consequence of elevating workplace fatalities. States attempting to reduce worker fatalities should consider encouraging trade union growth and repealing right-to-work laws,” stated Mr. Zullo.

Mr. Zullo explained that right-to-work laws enable workers at union companies to forgo paying union dues if they object. These workers, however, still enjoy the same benefits and protections that dues-paying members receive.

Mr. Zullo examined construction industry and occupation fatality rates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2001 to 2009. Industry fatality rates include people who are not usually members of the building trades, such as drivers, while occupational fatality rates include people in the building trades who are not employed in the construction industry, for example in local government.

He found that the rate of industry fatalities is 40 percent higher and the rate of occupational fatalities is 34 percent greater in right-to-work states. Mr. Zullo acknowledges that these numbers alone fall short of testing whether right-to-work laws are responsible for the relatively high fatality rates.

Using statistical analysis, Mr. Zullo tested whether state-level unionization is related to industry or occupational fatality rates and if so the extent to which the association between unionization and fatalities relate to right-to-work laws.

According to the results higher union density in a state equals higher worker safety, a finding consistent with the view that unions act to protect member safety. A 1 percent increase in union density equates with a 0.12 percent decline in the industry fatality ratio and a 0.22 percent decline in the ratio of occupation fatalities.

Department of Labor re-establishes construction safety charter

01.13.11

JANUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Department of Labor re-establishes construction safety charter

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, December 14th- The United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced the agency will re-establish the charter of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH). The group advises the secretary on formulating safety and health standards and policies that affect construction workers and the construction industry. The charter will expire in two years.

“Since OSHA’s inception, ACCSH has played an important role in furthering the safety and health of workers in the construction industry. The members’ advice and recommendations are extremely valuable to the agency because they have a wealth of knowledge and real-world experience on a wide range of construction trades, activities and issues,” stated Assistant Secretary of labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.

Established in 1969 as a continuing advisory committee under the Contract Work Hours Standards Act, commonly known as the Construction Safety Act (CSAct), the ACCSH is comprised of fifteen members appointed by the Secretary of Labor.

The advisory committee consists of five representatives of employers in the construction industry, five representatives who represent the viewpoint of employees in the construction industry, who are generally from various building trades unions, two public representatives of state safety and health agenices and one from the National Institute of Occupational Health. The members generally serve staggered two-year terms and may be re-appointed.

As part of its advisory role, ACCSH provides comments and recommendations on OSHA proposed rules affecting the construction industry. In addition, the committee provides other recommendations and develops various work products such as quick cards and fact sheets for OSHA’s consideration.

Currently, ACCSH also has a number of active work groups focusing on areas including women/diversity in construction, education and training, green jobs, multilinual issues in construction, power fastening tools such as nail guns, prevention by design, residential fall protection, and silica and other construction health hazards. The meetings of ACCSH and its work groups are open to the public.

For more information on Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health and the group’s reports and recommendations go to
http://www.osha.gov/doc/accsh/index.html

New residential roofing construction requirement issued

01.13.11

JANUARY 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

New residential roofing construction requirement issued

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, January 4th- The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington announced a new directive withdrawing a former one that allowed residential builders to bypass fall protection requirements. The directive being replaced, issued in 1995, initially intended as a temporary policy and was the result of concerns about feasibility of fall protection in residential building construction. However, there continues to be a high number of fall-related deaths in construction, and industry experts now feel that feasibility is no longer an issue or concern.

“Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction. We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths. Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof. We can stop these fatalities, and we must,” stated Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

The national Association of Home Builders recommended rescinding the 1995 directive, as did OSGHA’s labor-management Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health; the AFL-CIO labor federation; and the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association, which represents the 27 states and territories that run their own occupational safety and health programs, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

According to data from the DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 40 workers are killed each year as a result of falls from residential roofs. One-third of those deaths represent Latino workers, who often lack sufficient access to safety information and protections and are mostly nonunion. Latino workers comprise more than one-third of all construction employees in the nation.

According to the DOL, construction and roofing companies will have up to six months to comply with the new directive. The Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration has developed training and compliance assistance materials for small employers and will host a webinar for parties in learning more about complying with the standard. To view the directive and for more information visit: http://www.osha.gov/doc/residential_fall_protection.html.

OSHA and Iron Workers Union renews safety alliance

01.04.11

JANUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

OSHA and Iron Workers Union renews safety alliance

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, December 16th- The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recently announced a renewed alliance with the Steel Erectors Association and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Re-Inforcing Ironworkers Union in Pennsylvania.

The agreement means OSHA and its alliance partners will continue to promote workplace safety and health, and provide guidance and training resources for steel erection workers.

Local 36 in South Whitehall represents Iron Workers Union members throughout the Lehigh Valley.

“The first two years of our alliance have been a tremendous success. With fall hazards a leading cause of death in the construction industry, we will keep working closely with our alliance partners to identify methods for reducing falls and other hazards,” said Al D’Imperio, director of OSHA’s Philadelphia Area Office.

According to OSHA, since its inception in November 2008, the alliance has provided safety and health cross-training sessions to more than 1,000 steel erection workers and safety and health professionals in Southeastern Pennsylvania alone.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to assure these conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training education and assistance.

Through the Alliance Program, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration works with groups committed to worker health to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses.

These groups include labor unions, consulates, trade or professional organizations, faith and community-based organizations, businesses and educational institutions.

OSHA and the groups work together to develop compliance assistance tools and resources, and to educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities.

Alliance Program participants do not receive exemptions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration programmed inspections but are encourage to participate in the safety training.

For more information on the program visit OSHA’s website at:
http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/alliances/index.html.

Nurses Blast ‘Final’ Debt Panel Report, Call on Congress, White House to Stand Up and Protect Retirement Security

12.02.10

For Immediate Release
December 1, 2010

Contact: Joe Jurczak, 202-974-8307, Michelle Evermore, 202-288-8561, or Charles Idelson, 415-559-8991

Nurses Blast ‘Final’ Debt Panel Report, Call on Congress, White House to Stand Up and Protect Retirement Security

The revised, final report by the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is an “unwarranted, outrageous attack on the health, safety, and retirement security of millions of nurses and tens of millions of other working people and should be immediately rejected by the Obama administration and Congress,” said the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses today.

“It is time for the White House and Congress to stand up and send a clear message to the American people that they will not agree to further erode our retirement security and standard of living while continuing to promote further tax breaks and concessions to Wall Street and the most wealthy among us,” said Karen Higgins, RN, co-president of the-160,000-member National Nurses United.

Among its most egregious proposals, the report calls for raising the retirement age to 69 and the age for early retirement to 64, which especially targets workers with the most physically demanding jobs, including nurses who suffer more back injuries, for example, than any other employment group. NNU also opposes the proposal to cut benefits of up to 36 percent of younger workers, reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment, and the decision to put far more of the burden of deficit reduction on working people than those on the top.

“Most long-term RNs worked for years with substandard pensions, and many now face new demands by employers to sharply erode their retirement plans. Therefore, cuts in Social Security would hit nurses especially hard. Raising the retirement age to 69 would force nurses, like other working people with physically demanding, stressful employment to delay retirement, at risk to themselves and their patients,” Higgins said.

Cook County RN Dorothy Ahmad, a Chicago resident, criticized Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a commission member, who said that raising the retirement age to 69 would be “acceptable to me.”

“How would he like his nurse to be 69, rolling into his hospital room in a wheelchair or scooter with his medication, trying to take care of him? At 69 years old, a nurse should be able to retire in dignity with security for herself and her family, not be forced to still be working at risk to her patients and herself. Chicago nurses are disappointed with Sen. Durbin’s response,” Ahmad said.

Higgins, who works in critical care, said she “cannot even fathom nurses at 69 still being required to work. You need to have the highest mental and physical alertness to be able to provide safe care. The idea that nurses would be able to do that at 69 is dangerous to patients, but forcing us to be in a position that we would have to is disgraceful.”

Retired California RN Elizabeth Pataki of Sacramento said protecting Social Security is vital for the many RNs who have been forced to “retire early with back injuries and a long work history that involved great stresses on their backs and joints. Most nurses cannot work to the usual age of retirement.”

Too many RNs, said Pataki, “have seen their pensions lessened and their savings lessened, and don’t have a comfortable margin to retire on. So Social Security is critical. To require them to work longer is unacceptable and will further handicap a nurse for the rest of her life.”

Women are also particularly threatened by the proposal, said Higgins. “More women are living below the poverty level and must depend on Social Security. They are frequently paid less than men and are also likely to move in and out of the workforce as they raise families and therefore the benefits they receive are less.”

“We see elderly people coming in who are just trying desperately to hold on, to provide for themselves and sometimes others. They are trying to pay their rent, put food on the table, and pay for their medications. It is often the medications that they give up, running the risk of being declared ‘noncompliant.’ Many are helpless, having nowhere to turn.”

“I think it is disgusting that we should even consider cutting back on Social Security benefits or reducing Medicare provision.”

Because of lack of benefits, restaurant workers serve sick

10.31.10

NOVEMBER 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Because of lack of benefits, restaurant workers serve sick

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, October 15th- According to a study released by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United ROC United, a national organization with more than 6,000 members which includes seven restaurant worker groups across the country that is dedicated to improving conditions for industry workers, the majority of restaurant workers serve while sick.

The ROC United revealed their findings on October 1st, and indicated the high rates of injury and illness puts the workers and consumers at risk and was caused because of a lack of health insurance and paid sick days within the industry. The jobs sector is mostly nonunion.

The study was based on 4,323 surveys of restaurant workers in cities nationwide, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Miami.

The organization findings include that restaurant workers largely lack paid sick days and health insurance to cope with high rates of injury and illness.

Highlights from the study include:

• Nearly 90 percent of workers said they did not receive paid sick days. As a result, two-thirds of respondents said they had worked while sick in the previous year, preparing, cooking and serving food.

• Around 90 percent of people reported not having insurance through their employers, and 61 percent reported not having health insurance at all.

Almost one quarter (22.7 percent) reported that they or a family member had gone to the emergency room without being able to pay last year.

• Health and safety violations reported by restaurant workers include: fire hazards; missing mats on the floor to prevent slipping; and missing guards on cutting machines. Fourty-six percent of respondents have been burned on the job and 49 percent reported being cut on the job.

With more than 10 million workers, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy.

“Restaurants should offer workers safer places to work, and workers should have access to benefits including health insurance, paid sick days and workers’ compensation insurance. Without these improvements, the industry will continue to put both workers and consumers at risk,” stated ROC United Director Saru Jayaraman.

New Report Charges Exploitation of Immigrant Labor on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

07.18.10

AFL-CIO Blog is reporting on a new academic study that documents exploitation of immigrant labor in the seafood industry on Maryland’s famed Eastern shore. James Parks writes:

“In a stinging indictment of our broken immigration system, a new report shows that crab-picking houses on Maryland’s Eastern Shore rely mainly on hundreds of immigrant women workers who are forced to pay excessive and illegal fees to foreign recruiters only to end up in low-paying jobs in isolated rural areas with poor housing.”

“The report, “Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry,” was released today by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM). The transnational non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the working conditions of migrant workers in the United States.”

“The immigrant women, who are in the country on H-2B guest worker visas, must work only on the job for which they were recruited and cannot work elsewhere. Many employers exploit the women by paying them low wages and threatening to send them back home if they complain about living or working conditions.”

“More than half of the women reported serious housing problems and payroll deductions for knives, gloves and safety equipment. Several also said that male immigrant workers who wash the crabs were paid more and given more hours, and some said older women were not treated as well as younger women. One said she was asked to perform sexual favors, according to the report.”

“Jayesh Rathod, an assistant professor of law at American University, said under the nation’s current guest worker system, unscrupulous employers who don’t want to address unjust working conditions can “just decide to send workers home, and that happens.”

“Migrant pickers are paid by the pound, earning typically between $2 and $2.25 a pound, with those who can’t pick fast enough often sent home, the authors said.”

“The report calls for changes to the H-2B visa program, including regulating recruitment practices and sanctioning employers who use recruiters who charge excessive or improper fees to workers. The authors also recommend that the visas no longer tie workers to one employer, which would allow the workers to leave abusive working conditions.”

“Further, the report calls for extending the Maryland minimum wage and overtime protections to seafood workers and educating migrant workers before each season about their rights.”

Philadelphia Unionists Commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day

05.15.10

Workers’ Memorial Day Held in Philadelphia
by John O. Mason

Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was the keynote speaker at the 22nd Annual Workers Memorial Day breakfast and march, held at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Hall, 1301 South Columbus Boulevard, on Friday, April 30, 2010.

The event was co-sponsored by Philadelphia AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia Area Project for Occupational Safety and Health (PHILAPOSH).

The event began with the playing of a video, produced by Brave New Films, titled “16 Deaths a Day,” about the number of workplace deaths that take place each day. The invocation was given by the Reverend Colleen M. Butler, of Campbell AME Church.

Tables were reserved for the families of workers in the Philadelphia area killed on the job-Kevin Sparks, Richie Brady, Thomas Hetrick, George Hamner, Fred Ware, Charles John McKelvey, Jeff Davis, Scott Shaw, William Palmer, Jeffery Martin.

Terry Gallagher, President of PHILPOSH, welcomed those who attended, and he recognized PHILAPOSH board members and staff-Director Barbara Rahke, Nicole Charles, and Bonnie Logue.

Patrick Eiding, President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, greeted the families of deceased workers, saying, “We welcome you here. I wish it was on some other occasion, but we’re (happy to ) stand with you and recognize those folks you lost. “ Eiding also recognized Holly, Shaw, wife to Scott Shaw and head of a support committee for workers killed on the job.

“As always,” added Eiding, “Workers Memorial Day is supported my workers in Philadelphia, in a very strong and emotional way at many times. Today, there are over fifty local unions here, and councils representing twenty-two different national unions.” Eiding recognized such public officials at US Congressman Pat Murphy, Pennsylvania State Senator Tina Tartaglione and State Representative LeAnna Washington, Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Greenley, and students of Mercy Vocational High School.

“We went through eight terrible years” of the Bush administration, said Eiding, “ and we have a President right now who has shown more courage for working people, and will show more affiliation for working people, than any President we’ve had since Franklin Roosevelt. We need to stand up and cheer (Obama), and we need to work in 2010 (In the congressional races), to make sure we don’t lose the people who supported him.” Eiding urged participants to work to elect pro-labor candidates to support Obama’s agenda, such as tightening OSHA rules to better protect workers from fatalities. Eiding stated the purpose of the Workers Memorial Day event, “to recognize the name of one hundred and thirty workers who have died from work related injuries and illnesses in the past twelve months in the tri-state area.”

Barab recalled the time he sat down with AFSCME members, to “listen to them, to listen to the kind of work they do, (what) they have to face every day…(T)hat is the basis of” his work in Washington, to help workers.

Occupational safety, added Barab, is a “very difficult (topic) for American workers,” and he mentioned the deaths of the workers in the Big Branch mine in West Virginia and in the off-shore oil rig off the Gulf Coast. The news media, he added, does not mention the workers’ “friends, their families, and their coworkers,” along with workers who have died from diseases from their worksites and received injuries from their jobs; “Their lives are irrevocably changed,” he said, and he commended the families of workers killed on the job for meeting with US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

Barab cited “a disturbing pattern of deadly neglect in this country” among corporations in terms of worker safety, adding “Paying fines and penalties is just the cost of doing business, but it’s really the cost of putting profits before people. Today we’re here to say that price is too high.” Workers getting killed on the job, added Barab, “get forgotten, they get neglected, and that’s why we have such a fight to get through legislation in Congress, to make sure everybody notices and knows what happens to workers in a dangerous workplace, and how many lose their lives.”

America has, Barab added, “a workplace safety and health crisis,” and he called for revising the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA); “We have heard stories about how the appeals process has been log-jammed, how justice has been delayed, how tougher enforcement has been blocked, how workers continue to be exposed to potentially lethal hazards.” Penalties for violating OSHA regulations, said Barab, “are barely noticeable, they’re so low.” Employers, he added, “are basically gambling with their workers’ lives, and we know what happens when someone gambles, someone always loses.”

Sean Gerie, General Chairman of the Commuter Rail System division of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, spoke of the work his union’s members do: “We build, maintain and inspect the nation’s railroads-the tracks, the buildings, and the bridges,” he said, “we represent workers throughout the country on railroads. We have done so since 1887. Our members work in the most grueling conditions, extreme heat and humidity, bone-chilling cold, rain, sleet. Snow and ice create added responsibilities for us. While the riding public sleeps, we clear the snow and ice from railroad switches, station platforms, and parking lots. In order to meet the physical and mental demands of the job, it takes a certain kind of person.

“On November fifth, 2009,” added Gerie, “I received news that hit home. Kevin Leroy Sparks was the kind of person who gave of himself…He was a man who served his country in the United States Marine Corps, prior to his career in the railroad. He gave every day to provide for his family, in a job, as I stated, is not for the faint of heart.” Kevin Sparks, a member of Local 2910 of BMWE, performed track inspection duties when he was struck and killed by a SEPTA train, “carrying passengers to their jobs and schools,” said Gerie, “during the morning rush hour…It was characteristic of Kevin to perish while he himself ensured the safety of others.”

Jim Savage, President of Local 10-1 of the United Steel Workers, spoke of the explosion at the Tesoro refinery Washington State on Good Friday, “which immediately killed three workers and sent four more to the hospital with severe burns over the majority of their bodies. All four of those workers eventually died of their injuries…Within hours of the explosion, the oil industry, through their mouthpiece the American Petroleum Institute, put out a statement applauding their safety record. OF course their were talking about personal safety, not process safety.”

After the explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, said Savage, USW conducted a survey in all the refinery workers they represent in the US; “One or more of the root causes,” he said, “that lead to the tragedy in Texas City existed in over ninety percent of the facilities we represent.” OSHA also conducted a study of safety in refineries, and, said Savage, “the results were deplorable. More recently, our union began tracking every process safety incident in every facility we represent… a grassroots effort, operators, maintenance employees, writing it down when they see something, and we would gather all that information and get it to our safety department,” and the results were “shocking, stunning.”

Martin Brigham, an labor attorney in Philadelphia, spoke of the passing of attorney Robert Sloan, from cancer. “Our community,” said Brigham, “lost a famous advocate.” Twenty-five years earlier, said Brigham, “Bob Sloan and I first met, and we started working on the very first edition of Injured On The Job (a handbook published by PHILAPOSH for workers on their rights if they are injured). Over those twenty-nine years, Bob donated hundreds, if not thousands of hours to PHILAPOSH, giving advice to injured workers, and working constantly on revising (the handbook).” Bob Sloan, added Brigham, dedicated such work to the rights of injured workers.

Celeste Monforton, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at George Washington University, declared “Philadelphia rocks!”, showing her appreciation for the city’s Labor movement. “I never had the privilege to have a union in any of my workplaces,” she added, “but I found the spirit of solidarity through two organizations; one is the American Public Health Association, (particularly) its health and safety section, which is a seven-hundred person strong organization of advocates, physicians, nurses, educators.” Her other “sisterhood of support and collective action,” said Monforton, “is the United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, an organization founded by Tammy Miser, who lost her brother in an aluminum dust explosion…I’m proud that two of our organization’s members, Holly Shaw and Tonya Ford, testified in the House and Senate earlier this week” in support of the Protecting America’s Workers Act.

Peggy Cohen spoke about her father-in-law, Fred Ware, 59 years old, who was killed in the Sago mine explosion in West Virginia in 2006. “My husband lost his father,” she said, “my children lost their grandfather, and my uncle lost his brother.” She spoke about the continuing accidents that have killed mine workers, adding, “our miners deserve better than this,” and how mine owners “have unpaid fines while miners continue to lose their lives.”

After the presentation, participants joined in a funeral procession in honor of workers killed on the job, led by Brian Widelitz playing the bagpipes. The procession ended at the Grand Plaza of Penn’s Landing, where Rabbi Mordechai Liebling read prayers and the 23rd Psalm. At the end of the program, participants lined up by the Delaware River and read the names of workers killed on the job in the Philadelphia area and threw roses into the river while Widelitz played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

USW Union Local 2599 member dies from job incident

04.24.10

MAY 2010, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

USW Union Local 2599 member dies from job incident

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, April 19th- Bridget Geist, 37 of Walnutport, died on April 15th from injuries received after a blast and fire at her employer.

Ms. Geist was one of two employees of the Victaulic Company of America in Alburtis hurt at the industrial incident when apparently she was struck by molten metal.

She was a member of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) Union Local 2599 in Bethlhem for more than 20 years according to Jerry Green, President of Local 2599. “She was a good union member,” said Mr. Green.

Mr. Green told the newspaper the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) office in Allentown is investigating the incident and the union will receive their findings of what cause the blast. Mr. Green said the other Victaulic employee hurt is doing well and has been released from the hospital.

The union has two labor contracts with the Victaulic Company. Local 2599 represents around 130 employees of the Alburtis facility and approximately 260 workers, not counting those that are currently laid-off, at their Forks Township facility. The company manufactures pipe couplings.

The Forks Township contract agreement expired on January 31st, 2010. On February 8th, 2010 the union membership rejected Victaulic’s “final” contract proposal 269 to 0. The two sides have agreed to work under the terms and conditions of the previous contract.

The company’s contract proposal requested many union concessions including the removal of much of the working condition language. The agreement offered no wage increase, an increase for health care, and lower wages for laid-off employees when recalled. Mr. Green told the newspaper laid-off workers had no reason what-so-ever to vote in favor of the pact. “If they supported it they were giving themselves a pay cut,” Mr. Green told the newspaper.

The Victaulic Company facility in Alburtis contract does not expire with the union until September 2013. The membership voted on September 15th 2008 to ratify the five-year agreement.

Local 2599 represents approximately 1,500 workers throughout the Lehigh Valley which includes 19 separate units of employees.

Ms. Geist, who had five children, died at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest. “I know things have been published about safety violations at Victaulic, but they were aways responsive to safety problems during walk-throughs at the plant,” said Mr. Green.

The union will establish a special fund to help the family of Ms. Geist, Mr. Green said.

W.Va. Coal Mine Blast Kills 6, 21 Miners Missing

04.05.10

W.Va. Coal Mine Blast Kills 6, 21 Miners Missing

by Mike Hall, Apr 5, 2010

http://blog.aflcio.org/2010/04/05/wva-coal-mine-blast-kills-6-21-miners-missing/#more-27732

An explosion at a Raleigh County, W.Va., coal mine late this afternoon killed six miners and 21 other coal miners remain unaccounted for, according to news reports. The Associated Press reports that the blast occurred at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine

Mine rescue crews, including those from the Mine Workers (UMWA), were dispatched to the mine. There are no further reports about the missing miners.

The non-union mine is operated by Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. In a statement, UMWA Workers President Cecil Roberts says “hearts and prayers of all UMWA members are with the families of those lost today. “

He says the mine rescue teams are “putting their lives on the line, entering a highly dangerous mine to bring any survivors to safety.”

As a mine operated by a subsidiary of Massey Energy, the Upper Big Branch mine is a nonunion mine. Nevertheless, I have dispatched highly trained and skilled UMWA personnel to the immediate vicinity of the mine, and they stand ready to offer any assistance they can to the families and the rescuers at this terrible and anxious time. We are all brothers and sisters in the coalfields at times like this.

The AP reports that three miners have been killed at the mine since 1998, the most recent in 2003 when an electrician died after being electrocuted while repairing a shuttle car there

We will follow the rescue efforts and bring you updates.