The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: osha

OSHA Failed These Meatpacking Workers — And Now They’re Suing Agency

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Frustrated by the lack of response to their complaint of the “imminent danger" posed by COVID-19, three meatpacking workers at the Maid-Rite Specialty Foods plant outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, took the unusual step Wednesday of filing a lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.

The lawsuit, filed in a Pennsylvania federal court, accuses the government of failing to protect essential workers from dangerous conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus. It relies on a rarely used provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that allows workers to sue the secretary of labor for “arbitrarily or capriciously" failing to counteract imminent dangers.

Read Now Show less

How Labor Secretary Scalia Failed America’s Endangered Workers

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute

Thousands of workers across America begged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate when their employers failed to take steps to protect them from COVID-19. They reported a lack of face masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer. They warned of having to share desks and stand right next to one another on production lines, despite the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the disease. They put their faith in OSHA and waited for the agency to come to their aid.

But help never came.

Read Now Show less

Former OSHA Officials Warn Against Trump Policy Toward Infected Workers

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump's Labor Department has quietly issued guidance informing most employers in the United States that they will not be required to record and report coronavirus cases among their workers because doing so would supposedly constitute an excessive burden on companies.

The new rules, released Friday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), were met with alarm by public health experts and former Labor Department officials who said the new rules are an absurd attack on transparency that could further endanger frontline workers.

Read Now Show less

Federal Agencies Are Failing Front-Line Health Workers

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Kimberly Delbrune-Mitter, a cardiac nurse, cares deeply about her patients and remains steadfast in her desire to help them, even as COVID-19 spreads across America.

What plagues her about the new disease isn’t that she might encounter it. It’s the lack of guidance, vital information that would help her balance quality care and her own health.

Medical professionals looking to the Trump administration for leadership will hear nothing but a resounding silence.

Instead, people on the front lines have to fight for their own health and safety even while they care for their patients.

A group of labor unions, including the United Steelworkers (USW), sent Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia a petition on March 6 demanding that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implement an emergency safety standard to protect health care workers, first responders and others at risk of contracting the virus on the job.

The unions and the workers they represent want OSHA to specify the types of equipment employers must provide and the procedures they must follow to keep workers safe.

For hospitals, this could mean providing doctors, nurses and others with the most advanced face masks on the market. It could mean minimizing the number of people who enter a patient’s room, screening workers for sickness at the start of their shifts or providing staff members with a vaccine when one becomes available.

So far, they’ve received no response.

While the Trump administration fiddles, hundreds of health care workers already are quarantined because of possible exposure to COVID-19, and many others have questions about how to do their jobs without contracting the disease.

“Do we need to wear eye shields? Do we need hair caps? Do we need gowns?” asked Delbrune-Mitter, president of USW Local 9620, which represents about 500 nurses in New Jersey.

Right now, each hospital, clinic and doctor’s office is largely free to take whatever precautions it wants. At some hospitals, nurses cite a lack of personal protective equipment like face masks and say their employers haven’t even told them how to identify patients who might have the disease.

If large numbers of health care workers get sick or quarantined, the whole treatment system could collapse.

When severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck Toronto in 2003, health care professionals became the biggest victims, making up 45 percent of those infected. A doctor and two nurses died. The city’s hospitals were so poorly prepared for infection control that they became breeding grounds for the disease, the very places where most people contracted it.

Clearly communicated safety precautions for COVID-19 will prevent a similar catastrophe limiting medical personnel on the job at a time they’re crucially needed.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time health care workers had to lead OSHA to provide commonsense protections in the face of a deadly disease.

HIV struck seemingly out of nowhere more than 30 years ago, battering patients’ immune systems before killing them. Unsure how it spread and fearful of the future, health care workers risked their own lives to treat the victims.

Research soon showed that HIV is spread through an infected person’s blood. Health care workers risked infection when they accidentally got stuck by a needle or when a patient’s blood got into a cut or scrape. Other serious diseases like hepatitis B are spread the same way, and workers demanded that OSHA set standards so they would remain safe on the job.

OSHA implemented those measures, known as the bloodborne pathogens standard, in 1991 and revised them several years later.

Workers made this happen.

Among other provisions, the standard requires that needles be equipped with safety devices that cover or retract them immediately after use.

Employers must provide gloves and other personal protective equipment to workers, decontaminate surfaces any time they’re touched by blood or other fluids, and track accidental needle sticks. Needles and other sharp objects must be discarded in puncture-proof containers. These provisions protect patients as well as health care workers.

Some hospitals opposed the bloodborne pathogen rules because they didn’t want to shell out a few extra bucks to keep workers safe.

But the standard’s effectiveness cannot be denied. Since it was implemented, HIV and hepatitis B infections among health care workers plummeted.

Even after OSHA imposed the standard, health care workers continued fighting to make their workplaces safer.

At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick in New Jersey, that meant looking for new ways to further reduce the accidental needle sticks that can transmit HIV and hepatitis.

Nurses represented by USW Local 4-200 tested various syringes, lancets and IV insertion tips, then began using the ones they considered least likely to cause accidental sticks. Between 2010 and 2014, the hospital reduced needlestick injuries by 70 percent, an achievement that won the nurses recognition in a national health care journal.

These kinds of safety measures are the result of workers’ and unions’ relentless fight for health and safety.

The USW and other unions began pressuring OSHA for an infectious disease standard long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

Their demand for infectious disease controls goes back years, amid outbreaks of other diseases, including SARS in 2003 and the H1N1 flu in 2009, that exposed the nation’s lack of readiness for epidemics.

OSHA’s top officials finally put an infectious disease standard on their to-do list. Then Donald Trump, an enemy of industry regulation and worker safety, took office. OSHA suddenly put infectious disease control on the back burner.

That delay now haunts the nation. The federal government and health care organizations are as poorly prepared for an epidemic as workers knew they’d be.

Delbrune-Mitter said the lack of clear safety direction from federal officials leads some staff members to mine TV and the internet for information.

“We don’t really know what’s true,” she said.

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

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Will Democrats Be Democrats — Or Fraidy-Cats?

“Trust me!” bellowed the billionaire Donald Trump to working-class voters in 2016, promising he’d be the champion of what he called “the forgotten Americans.”

Trust him? He’s a lifetime real estate huckster infamous for ripping off workers and opposing union labor. You’d have better odds trusting a coyote to guard your last lamb chop!

Nonetheless, many working stiffs did buy his promises to stand up for them against corporate and political elites. But he quickly proved that, true to form, his promises had been just another Trump scam. Again and again, he has carelessly stiffed working stiffs, consistently siding with corporate powers to transfer more money and power from workers to corporations.

For example, candidate Trump pledged to hike the minimum wage to $10 an hour, but once in office, President Trump coldly turned his back on underpaid workers, never mentioning — much less fighting for — any increase in our nation’s shameful, poverty-level wage floor of $7.25 an hour.

Also, Trump’s Labor Department — headed by anti-labor corporate executives he intentionally appointed — ruled that millions of service workers are “independent contractors” rather than company employees. Thus, he decreed, they’re not entitled to any minimum wage, overtime pay or other labor protections. Then, last year, this “worker’s champion” mandated that, instead of monitoring corporate violations of wage laws, his administration would trust top executives to monitor themselves and self-report any violations. Plus, he grants them clemency if they do cheat workers.

Moreover, the Trumpsters have gutted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, cutting the numbers of job safety inspectors to the lowest level in the agency’s history. As a result, it’s open season on maiming workers. For example, when an assembly line worker at an Arkansas chicken processing plant had a finger cut off last September, OSHA didn’t even send an investigator. The next month, Trump’s OSHA “regulators” let the plant’s owners speed up their assembly line. Then, two months later, another worker lost a finger. Again, Trump’s job safety officials didn’t inconvenience the corporation by sending an inspector to question its practices.

It’s true that Trump has not “forgotten” the forgotten working class. Indeed, the pampered son of privilege remembers to slap them with plutocratic policies every chance he gets.

As an old saying puts it, “Where there’s a will, there are a thousand won’ts.”

Sure enough, while there’s a large and steadily growing public will across our country to take bold steps to battle the plague of inequality ripping America apart, here come the won’ts: The corporate powers, plutocratic elites and their political hirelings hate the very idea of public action to restore economic fairness and equal opportunity for all people. So they’re frantically trying to scare the public away from big ideas like Medicare for All, free college tuition and a wealth tax by branding them with the hoary old right-wing bugaboo: “Socialism!”

However, they have three major problems in selling this scare tactic:

1. Such progressive ideas are quite popular.

2. The greedy rich are quite unpopular.

3. The cry of “socialism” has lost its sting.

A July poll shows that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s idea of a new tax on fortunes greater than $50 million is favored by two-thirds of Americans, including 55 percent of Republicans. Nearly 6 out of 10 people favor Medicare for All, including a majority of high-income Americans. And nearly 60 percent of us — including 72 percent of independent voters — favor free tuition.

Ironically, the major barrier to passing such changes is not the one thrown up by big money lobbyists and Republican congress critters. Rather, it’s the meekness of establishment Democrats — including many elected officials and operatives — who don’t have the courage of their party’s democratic convictions. They whimper that it will be hard to pass the sweeping changes Americans need and want, that those ideas might offend some of the party’s big donors and scare off some crossover Republicans in 2020. So rather than respond to the grassroots will for real change, those weak-kneed forces are opposing strong advocates like Warren and Bernie Sanders. They’re urging the party to back off from its core values and fighting spirit and instead seek small incremental adjustments in the status quo that might win support from Republicans and corporate chieftains.

If the meek ever inherit the earth, these timid do-nothings will be land barons! If Democrats don’t stand for the people, why should people stand for them?