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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Chapter 27 : Murdered by Capitalism

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

“They intimidate the workers by fear and that’s why they have him there. Everybody around here is so afraid that if something gets crossed up…lumber gets crossed up…they will try to fix it without stopping the machine for fear of being yelled at by the foreman if they do not stop the machine. It’s a constant environment of fear, totally.”

—Randy Veach, L-P Millworker, interviewed by Judi Bari, August 1992 [1]

“Management doesn’t care about our feelings—it’s insignificant to them. OK? Basically we’re nothing but a paid robot. And we’ve been told…our jobs are graders…both of us we’ve been told graders are a dime a dozen.”

—Don Beavers, L-P Millworker, interviewed by Judi Bari, August 1992 [2]

Earth First! – IWW Local #1 knew about the state of affairs in G-P’s and P-L’s mills, thanks to the efforts of its members, but what were conditions like at L-P? Local 1 had tried, unsuccessfully, to try and get one of their members, Allen Anger—who had relocated from Washington—hired at an L-P mill in order to try and organize the mill from within. [3] Without a willing organizer in the plants, IWW Local #1 had to settle for using information supplied by underground dissidents within the mill to provide a picture of what took place on the inside. Luckily, thanks to the coalition being forged in opposition to L-P’s outsourcing, at least two, Don Beavers (a grader who had once worked in the Potter Valley Mill before it closed) and Randy Veach, were able to reveal that if safety and working conditions were bad enough in the nominally union Georgia-Pacific mill in Fort Bragg, they were substantially worse in Louisiana-Pacific’s nonunion mills. Yet, the L-P workers were least likely to openly declare their opposition to such repression. As Judi Bari explained in 1991, it wasn’t difficult to understand why:

“How does a company as cold and crass as (L-P) keep their workforce so obedient? A look behind the barbed wire fence that surrounds their Ukiah mill might yield some clues.

“‘It’s their little world, and when you step through the gate you do what they say or you don’t stay in their little world,’ says one millworker. The work rules are designed to turn you into an automaton. There’s a two-minute warning whistle, then the start-up whistle. You have to be at your work station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows, or you can be written up for lateness (three white slips in a year for the same offense and you’re fired). You stay at your work station doing the same repetitive job over and over for two and a half hours (two hours in the planing mill and a half hour in the sawmill) until the break whistle blows. Then you get a ten-minute break, except that it takes you two minutes to walk to the break room and two minutes to walk back, so you only get to sit down for six minutes. And don’t get too comfortable, because there’s a two-minute warning whistle before the end of break time, then you have to get back to your station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows again. If you ever wondered what they were training you for with all those bells in public school, here’s the answer—life at L-P.

“In the Land of the Free, democracy stops at the plant gates. The Bill of Rights is supposed to protect against unreasonable or warrantless searches. But not at L-P. Their drug policy reads like the Gestapo: ‘entry onto company property will be deemed as consent to inspection of person, vehicle, lockers or other personal effects at any time at the discretion of management. Employee refusal to cooperate in alcohol and other drug testing, or searches of other personal belongings and lockers are subject to termination [sic].’ And, before you even get hired you have to submit to a urine test and sign a consent form to let them test your urine any time ‘for cause,’ again at the discretion of management.” [4]

Such rules were obviously designed to maximize production and quell dissent, particularly about the lax safety standards, which—had they been stronger—would have threatened Harry Merlo’s “log-to-infinity” profit-oriented forestry.

“Loss of life or limb is a constant danger at L-P, but it doesn’t happen every day. What does happen every day is the mind numbing tedium of the job, and L-P’s constant rush for production. Take the job of lumber grader. Rough cut lumber, 2x12 and up to 20 feet long, comes up on the chain, and the grader has to scan it, turn it over, decide the best way to trim it for length and split it for width, and put the grade marks and trim marks on the board. You have two to three seconds to perform all these tasks, while the chain keeps moving and the next board comes up. All night long. Back injuries, tendonitis, and shoulder strains, common among graders and other millworkers, are caused by turning over the heavy lumber. But the company just wants its production quotas. ‘We broke a production record in our section,’ said one of my sources. ‘We used to get pizzas and beer for that, but this time they just got us one of those six-feet submarine sandwiches. We probably made them $200,000 in L-P’s pocket that night and they gave us a sandwich.’

“...In such a petty, dictatorial atmosphere, some petty dictators are bound to arise. And there is none better known at L-P than Dean Remstedt, swing shift foreman in the planing mill. Remstedt runs his shift with threats and favoritism and is known as a racist. A few years ago he passed out a flyer making racist jokes about Jesse Jackson. It offended some of the millworkers so much they took it to the Ukiah Daily Journal (anonymously of course). Remstedt denied that there was a problem. ‘It was something laying in the break room that we was laughing about,’ Remstedt told the Journal. But Hispanic workers, who make up about one-third of the shift, were not laughing. ‘To me, when I got that, that was from the company,’ One of them told the Journal reporter. And of course, L-P’s upper management did nothing to change that impression. [5]

This wasn't just a case of a petty dictator throwing his weight around however. Evidently such behavior was rampant throughout L-P. For instance, in April 1989, African-American sawblade filer Cigam Nam X sued L-P for five years of racial discrimination he experienced while working at the Samoa mill. In his complaint, he stated that he was routinely called “nigger” and even subjected to images of lynched blacks with the slogan “KKK all the way!” at his workstation. His supervisor dismissed his concerns by telling him that KKK was “just letters of the alphabet.” He was also demoted from his job and told that the company “would make it hard on him” if he complained. [6] Remstedt was the rule rather than the exception, and he did not especially set a good example either:

“Millworkers say Remstedt is ‘a fanatic about production’ and that he ‘intimidates people into taking chances [with safety] for fear of being disciplined or of losing their job.’ He sets the example with his own reckless behavior, which has led to him having several on-the-job accidents himself. He once climbed onto an automatic lumber stacking machine that was not properly turned off, and he was knocked to the ground when the auto-cycle started up and the lumber moved forward, sending him to the hospital with minor injuries. Another time he stood on the forks of the forklift raised to a high position so he could reach something overhead. He fell off and knocked himself out cold. They wrote up the forklift driver for that one, but they never write up Remstedt, even though the injuries to others on his shift have been a lot more serious than his own, including a woman who lost her leg walking between roller cases on a machine that bands lumber.” [7]

Randy Veach and Don Beavers elaborated further a year later when they finally openly criticized the company. According to Veach,

“…A board got crossed up on what’s called the landing table that comes out of the planer. We had to stop the landing table chains to get this cross up fixed. Well, one of the workers was trying to do it, the chains were turned off and he was trying not to get up on the landing table, he was trying to do it from his work station so he wouldn’t have to lock everything out...because he was safe from where he was. (Remstedt) came along and started yelling at that particular employee. He told him, ‘We don’t have all night to run this stuff.’ And that intimidated that employee to jump up there and fix it immediately. And that’s what happened. The employee jumped up on the landing table. Nothing was shut down.” [8]

Under such conditions it was inevitable that someone would eventually be killed, and sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

There’s a lot we don’t know about farmworker deaths

By Tina Vásquez - Prism, November 15, 2023

At a small press conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Nov. 3, farmworkers, activists, and advocates gathered to honor the dead. 

Steps away from the state’s Department of Agriculture, farmworker advocates transformed Bicentennial Plaza into a public ofrenda for Día de los Muertos that included images of farmworkers who recently died in the line of work—including José Arturo González Mendoza. The 30-year-old and most of the other men honored were young, fit, and in the prime of their lives—factors that make little difference when the body is exposed to extreme temperatures for long periods while deprived of water, shade, and rest. 

A tobacco worker who spoke at the event said he was there to support his colleagues who died. 

“We cannot lose any more lives,” he said. It was both a plea for help and a demand.

At one point during the press conference, an organizer yelled, “Ni una vida más,” or not one more life. The crowd followed suit, their chants bouncing off the walls of the North Carolina State Capitol and legislative buildings. 

But would the state agencies and elected officials in North Carolina’s center of power heed their call? 

Extreme Heat Pushes More Farmworkers to Harvest at Night, Creating New Risks

By Kristoffer Tigue - Inside Climate News , October 31, 2023

American farmworkers are increasingly at risk of heat-related illness and death as climate change drives temperatures around the world to record highs. That’s pushing more and more workers to harvest crops at night to avoid extreme heat, according to recent reports, which is creating a host of new risks that experts say need to be more thoroughly studied.

More than 2 million U.S. farmworkers, who typically toil outdoors under a hot summer sun, are exceptionally at risk of succumbing to heat-related illness, the Environmental Defense Fund warned in a July report, with heat-related mortalities 20 times higher for crop workers than in other private industries, as well as employees in local and state government. About three weeks of the summer harvest season are now expected to be too hot to safely work outdoors, the report’s authors added, and that number will only increase as global warming continues.

Government data and other studies have found that an average of 43 farmworkers die every year from heat-related illness. But top officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees U.S. working conditions, say that number is significantly undercounted, largely because heat doesn’t get factored into deaths from cardiac arrests and respiratory failures. One advocacy group estimated that heat exposure could be responsible for as many as 2,000 worker fatalities in the U.S. each year.

In fact, this summer was the hottest on record for the entire northern hemisphere, federal scientists announced in September, in large part because of climate change. Parts of the Midwest and large regions of Europe are also experiencing record hot Octobers.

As the daytime heat has gone up, a growing number of agriculture workers—many of whom are Latino and undocumented—now work while it’s still dark out. But that could be trading one risk for a set of others, labor and safety advocates are warning.

After Hottest Summer on Record, Local Governments Are Underreporting Deaths

By Greg Harman - Truthout, October 27, 2023

Throughout the blazing summer of 2023, reporters dutifully marked prior heat records being demolished repeatedly across the nation. New record-setting high temperatures were noted almost daily, and in city after city, a raft of new hottest June, July and August monthlong records were marked in towering fonts. Far fewer stories, however, sought to document what that extreme heat meant for working people.

“I’m surprised I lived through it,” said Mark Moutos, 65, leaning back against shaded concrete beneath a dusty highway off-ramp on San Antonio’s west side. “I kept thinking, ‘I’m getting older; maybe I just don’t handle the heat as well.’”

Today we know that the Earth has just experienced its hottest summer in more than 125,000 years — a crisis being driven by the rampant release of heat-trapping gases through the burning of fossil fuels. In Texas, 2023 now ranks as the state’s second-hottest year, just a degree-average behind 2011. But in many parts of the state — including San Antonio — it was the hottest summer since record keeping began. Meteorologists here also marked the most triple-digit days and the most 105-plus degree days, according to Spectrum News. And with just two inches of rainfall, it was the city’s third-driest summer.

Moutos, who has been living unhoused since leaving a job at a car dealership years ago, said he drank as much water as he could, but that making the trips to the corner store to collect fluids and food became increasingly arduous beneath this summer’s punishing heat dome. He passed out twice on the sidewalk near his camp, he said, and had to be revived by EMS teams.

How Florida farmworkers are protecting themselves from extreme heat

By Katie Myers and Siri Chilukuri - Grist, October 27, 2023

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

On any given summer day, most of the nation’s farmworkers, paid according to their productivity, grind through searing heat to harvest as much as possible before day’s end. Taking a break to cool down, or even a moment to chug water, isn’t an option. The law doesn’t require it, so few farms offer it.

The problem is most acute in the Deep South, where the weather and politics can be equally brutal toward the men and women who pick this country’s food. Yet things are improving as organizers like Leonel Perez take to the fields to tell farmworkers, and those who employ them, about the risks of heat exposure and the need to take breaks, drink water, and recognize the signs of heat exhaustion. 

“The workers themselves are never in a position where they’ve been expecting something like this,” Perez told Grist through a translator. “If we say, ‘Hey, you have the right to go and take a break when you need one,’ it’s not something that they’re accustomed to hearing or that they necessarily trust right away.”

Perez is an educator with the Fair Food Program, a worker-led human rights campaign that’s been steadily expanding from its base in southern Florida to farms in 10 states, Mexico, Chile, and South Africa. Although founded in 2011 to protect workers from forced labor, sexual harassment, and other abuses, it has of late taken on the urgent role of helping them cope with ever-hotter conditions. 

It is increasingly vital work. Among those who labor outdoors, agricultural workers enjoy the least protection. Despite this summer’s record heat, the United States still lacks a federal standard governing workplace exposure to extreme temperatures. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the agency has opened more than 4,500 heat-related inspections since March 2022, but it does not have data on worker deaths from heat-related illnesses. 

Heat alerts issued in counties across the U.S. from May through September expose the magnitude of danger workers face

By Public Citizen - Common Dreams, October 20, 2023

Ninety-five percent of counties in the United States faced alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS) from May to September, 2023, according to a new map released today by Public Citizen.

The sweeping scale of excessive heat alerts issued across the U.S. from reveal the dire nationwide need to safeguard workers from heat-related illness, injury, and death. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to consider rules to protect workers from excessive heat, individual workers lack protections from workplaces that have yet to adapt to the nationwide epidemic of extreme heat .

“National Weather Service heat alerts broadcast the critical need to exercise simple safety precautions — reducing strenuous activities, taking refuge from the sun, drinking plenty of water, and using air-conditioning or fans,” said Dr. Juley Fulcher, health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “But employers dictate whether workers can take these life-saving measures. An OSHA safety rule is essential ensure workers are protected.”

The National Weather Service issues alerts when the heat index is expected to reach or exceed 100ºF, with some variability based on local temperature norms. These high temperatures place serious limits on the body’s ability to cool itself, leading to a breakdown of the systems that keep us alive.

Nearly 800 counties across 16 states were under extreme heat alerts for more than a month between May and September, 2023, with seven states enduring more than two months of nearly unlivable temperatures. From coast to coast, 1,100 counties suffered through more than three weeks of deadly heat. Portions of every state in the continental U.S. were under at least a full week of heat alerts.

OSHA began developing a heat standard in 2021, but the statute-driven process takes an average of seven to eight years. Congress has the power to speed up that process. In July 2023, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Alma Adams (D-N.C.), reintroduced the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, legislation that, if passed, would direct OSHA to issue an interim heat standard until a final standard can be completed.

“Our map of extreme heat alerts faced by the vast majority of workers in 2023 is a warning of the the deadly conditions workers will confront in 2024,” said Fulcher. “We must have an OSHA heat standard in place before next summer. Congress must act immediately to ensure employers provide commonsense protections for workers.”

Workers are dying from extreme heat. Why aren’t there laws to protect them?

By Jana Cholakovska and Nate Rosenfield - Grist, October 19, 2023

This story is co-published with The Guardian and produced in partnership with the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. It is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

Jasmine Granillo was eager for her older brother, Roendy, to get home. With their dad’s long hours at his construction job, Roendy always tried to make time for his sister. He had promised to take her shopping at a local flea market when he returned from work. 

“I thought my brother was coming home,” Granillo said. 

Roendy Granillo was installing floors in Melissa, Texas, in July 2015. Temperatures had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when he began to feel sick. He asked for a break, but his employer told him to keep working. Shortly after, he collapsed. He died on the way to the hospital from heat stroke. He was 25 years old. 

A few months later, the Granillo family joined protesters on the steps of Dallas City Hall for a thirst strike to demand water breaks for construction workers. Jasmine, only 11 years old at the time, spoke to a crowd about her brother’s death. She said that she was scared, but that she “didn’t really think about the fear.” 

“I just knew that it was a lot bigger than me,” she said.

Chapter 26 : They Weren’t Gonna Have No Wobbly Runnin’ Their Logging Show

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

Now Judi Bari is a union organizer,
A ‘Mother Jones’ at the Georgia-Pacific Mill,
She fought for the sawmill workers,
Hit by that PCB spill;
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling GP shots from Atlanta,
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago,
They weren’t gonna have no Wobbly,
Running their logging show;
So they spewed out their hatred,
And they laid out their scam,
Jerry Philbrick called for violence,
It was no secret what they planned…

—lyrics excerpted from Who Bombed Judi Bari?, by Darryl Cherney, 1990

Meanwhile, in Fort Bragg, the rank and file dissent against the IWA Local #3-469 officialdom grew. Still incensed by Don Nelson’s actions over the PCB Spill, and not at all satisfied with a second consecutive concessionary contract, the workers now had yet another reason to protest: a proposed dues increase. Claiming that the local faced a financial crisis, the embattled union leader proposed raising the members’ dues from $22.50 per month to $29, an increase that amounted to more than a 25 percent rise. Ironically, IWA’s Constitution limited the monthly dues rate to 2½ times the wages of the lowest paid worker. The local’s financial shortage had resulted from a decrease in the wages and the loss members due to G-P’s outsourcing logging jobs to gyppos and automation of jobs in the quad mill. [1] The usual suspects readied themselves to blame “unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs” once again.

Nelson presented his proposal in the form of a leaflet posted on the employee bulletin boards and distributed in the employee break rooms throughout the G-P Mill in Fort Bragg. The leaflet stated, “we are voting to maintain the ability of our union to function.” A group of rank and filers, however, led by a mill maintenance janitor, named Julie Wiles and her coworker Cheryl Jones, as well as some of the eleven workers affected by the PCB spill and others who had been most dissatisfied with the recent round of contract negotiations, responded by producing a leaflet of their own opposing the dues increase. Their leaflet stated, “Last year Union officers’ wages plus expenses were $43,622. This year they were $68,315. That’s a whopping 69 percent increase! Considering our lousy 3 percent pay raise, how can the Union ask us for more money?” The rank and file dissidents’ leaflets were quickly removed from the employee bulletin boards. [2] This wasn’t to be the worst of it, though.

Nighttime Harvests Protect Farmworkers From Extreme Heat, but Bring Other Risks

By Amy Mayer - Civil Eats,September 27, 2023

In the summer months, Flor Sanchez and the members of her harvest crew rise before dawn and arrive at a cherry orchard in Washington state’s Yakima Valley when there is only the slightest hint of daylight.

“We use headlamps,” she says, to carry ladders to the trees. Climbing up into the branches to harvest the ripe fruit in near-darkness, she says, “seems a little dangerous.” Headlamps cast shadows that can make it difficult to see the fruit. Setting up ladders in the dark also poses a danger.

Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns with United Farm Workers, says for field crops like onions and garlic, harvesting at night by headlamp or flood lights poses less risk than picking tree fruit because ladders aren’t needed, the short plants don’t create shadows, and workers know exactly what to pick even if they can’t completely see what they’re doing. The produce itself is also more durable. Winegrape harvest also often takes place at night.

Across super-hot regions, nocturnal harvest, as Strater calls the practice, has become increasingly common. As climate change pushes summer temperatures higher on more consecutive days, and scientists are forecasting even warmer years ahead, more workers may find themselves in the field at night and in the early morning hours. And while some safety measures have been put in place, more data is needed to assess the challenges workers face.

To Beat the Heat, 'We Can't Rely on Management. We Have to Keep Each Other Safe'

By Alexandra Bradbury - Labor Notes, September 20, 2023

The death of UPS driver Chris Begley, 57, who collapsed in August while making a delivery in 103-degree Texas heat, was no isolated incident.

Monitoring co-workers for signs of heat exhaustion has become a routine feature of the job, says fellow driver Seth Pacic, a shop steward in Begley’s union, Teamsters Local 767.

Pacic has learned to discern over the phone when a co-worker needs to find air conditioning ASAP—and when they’re deteriorating so badly that he should call paramedics and brave management’s wrath.

The problem is that managers are always trying to speed workers up, and reluctant to call an ambulance because they report those numbers to higher-up management.

When a supervisor reached Begley, they offered him medical attention—but he refused it, so they took him home. “Therein lies one of the biggest problems: these supervisors aren’t trained in what to do about heat,” Pacic said.

“You can’t trust people when they say they’re ok. Because of the nature of heat exhaustion, your mental acuity is first thing to go. You get really foggy-minded.

“People get single-minded on trying to get home and get into the AC; they almost get fixated. That can be really dangerous if they push through, trying to get done with their day—or a supervisor pushes them.”

Four days after Begley’s collapse, he took a turn for the worse. He was taken to a hospital and life-flighted to another, where he died of massive organ failure.

Pacic wonders if IV fluids right away could have saved Begley’s life. Pacic himself has overheated on the job three times, and says his recovery took two days when he got IV fluids—versus two weeks when he didn’t.

Last year management allowed another driver, Pacic’s friend, to drive himself home despite heatstroke so bad he was vomiting; he totaled his car and sustained a brain injury. Another UPS driver was already in the same ICU.

Pacic believes air conditioning in the delivery truck would have saved his friend. When you overheat you’re supposed to seek out a “cool zone,” like an air-conditioned library or McDonald’s. But those are few and far between in sprawling residential areas.

AC in the truck would mean “a rolling cool zone that follows you wherever you go.”

The year before that, a 23-year-old driver died outside a Waco facility after overheating and wandering in circles. He had never clocked out, but rather than go look for him, management apparently falsified his timecard to close out the shift. His worried mother eventually came looking.

After great fanfare and consulting with Gatorade and Nike, earlier this year UPS issued everyone cooling sleeves and hats.

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