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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Rail Worker Rights Leaving 19th Century Behind

IBEW Press Release - IBEW.org, July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The author is also not affiliated with Railroad Workers United. This article is reposted in accordance with Fair Use guidelines.

J.J. Giuliano has been local chairman of the Selkirk unit of Albany, N.Y., Local 770 since 2003. Keeping his members safe is Giuliano’s top priority, and along with the leaders of the other trades at Selkirk, he sat on the shop’s safety committee.

“For 10 years we made recommendations to management and for 10 years not one of them was funded by the company,” Giuliano said. “I stayed on because I wanted to look out for my guys. But at a certain point we were letting the company get away with avoiding solving safety problems.”

In September 2013, Giuliano was done with the charade. He sent a letter to the plant superintendent telling him that he was quitting the committee. He listed 21 safety violations that threatened the health of IBEW members, public safety or both that had repeatedly been brought to the company’s attention and never fixed. They included everything from managers green-lighting locomotives for use without testing safety equipment to requiring workers to repair trains covered in pigeon feces but refusing to provide, or even allow the use of, protective clothing.

“When local management decides to act as though safety is a priority, this organization will re-evaluate its position in this matter,” he wrote. “Until that time, should it ever come, our concerns will be brought elsewhere.”

Giuliano handed over the letter Friday and posted a copy of it to the local’s glass-enclosed bulletin board. Two and half hours into his next workday, Giuliano was cited for violating safety rules and was later suspended for five days.

“It’s typical. Instead of fixing a problem, they attack the person who points it out,” Giuliano said.

Up until 2008 that would have been the end of the story. As a 2007 congressional hearing found, punishing workers instead of fixing safety hazards has been standard in the rail industry since the days of the robber barons more than a century ago. It was nearly that long ago that President Theodore Roosevelt signed many of the laws still regulating the rail industry.

As Social Security, workers’ compensation insurance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration oversight and whistleblower protections were made standard for most working people, rail workers were left outside looking in.

The first safety protections for rail workers weren’t even enacted until the Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970, said Larry Mann, an attorney and noted rail safety expert. But Mann says the scope of the law was extremely limited and enforcement by the Federal Rail Administration, which has historically been run and staffed by former rail company managers, was lax at best.

But in 2007, the late congressman from Minnesota, James L. Oberstar, inserted a few paragraphs into the massive bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. Section 100 of 106, in part written by Mann, dramatically expanded the rights and protections of rail workers. Oberstar later said that the goal of the law was a complete overhaul of a safety culture” preoccupied with blame, with fault and with individuals.”

The law protected rail workers from retaliation for reporting safety hazards and injuries (see sidebar for full list of protections and prohibited retaliations) that echo whistleblower protections for aviation, nuclear, pipeline and financial industry workers.

The penalties for doing so were purposefully harsh. Workers were to “be made whole” meaning if they lost their job, had their credit rating ruined and lost their house, the company would have to reinstate the worker, pay to fix their credit rating and recover the house or pay for its loss if it was found guilty. All that in addition to back wages, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

“We snuck it in,” Larry Mann. “The companies didn’t see it coming, thank God.”

It wasn’t just the companies who were surprised. Charles Goetsch, one of 14 attorneys designated by the IBEW to represent injured railworkers. (Find the full list here). He found out about it only after it passed.

“I thought ‘I’ve been waiting for this law for 30 years,’” Goetsch said. “It was huge transfer of power to the workers and they didn’t have to negotiate away a thing to get it.”

Sugar Plant Removed Safety Device Thirteen Days Before Temp Worker's Death

By Michael Grabell - ProPublica, July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Inside the sugar plant in Fairless Hills, Pa., nobody could find Janio Salinas, a 50-year-old temp worker from just over the New Jersey border.

Throughout the morning, Salinas and a handful of other workers had been bagging mounds of sugar for a company that supplies the makers of Snapple drinks and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. But sugar clumps kept clogging the massive hopper, forcing the workers to climb inside with shovels to help the granules flow out the funnel-like hole at the bottom.

Coming back from lunch that day in February 2013, one employee said he had seen Salinas digging in the sugar. But when he looked back, Salinas was gone. All that remained was a shovel buried up to its handle. Then, peering through a small gap in the bottom of the hopper, someone noticed what appeared to be blue jeans.

It was Salinas. He had been buried alive in sugar.

As harrowing as the accident was, federal safety investigators recently discovered something perhaps even more disturbing: A safety device that would have prevented Salinas' death had been removed just 13 days before the accident because a manager believed it was slowing down production.

U.S. INDUSTRIAL SAFETY LAGS ALARMINGLY BEHIND DEVELOPED WORLD: U.S. Industrial Loss Burden 3 Times European Union and Gap Is Growing

Press Release - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — America’s industrial infrastructure is substantially more susceptible to catastrophic failure than those in other industrialized countries, according to reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain key sectors, such as petrochemicals, aging U.S. refineries are become more dangerous with each passing month.

The combined losses from the fires, explosions and spills regularly plaguing U.S. chemical plants takes a proportionately greater toll than in the rest of the world. For example, the reinsurance giant, Swiss Re, concludes that the sum of all reinsurance losses (the “loss burden”) in refining, petrochemical processing and gas processing industry in the U.S. is approximately three times that of the comparably sized sector in the European Union (EU), with the rest of the world similar to the EU cluster.

Beyond economic losses, the toll on American workers is also higher. A study entitled “Occupational Fatality Risks in the United States and the United Kingdom” published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found the fatality rate of U.S. workers approximately three times that of workers in the U.K. American worker deaths from chemical exposure were more than 10 times higher than their U.K. counterparts; death by fire nearly 5 times and by explosion nearly 4 times as likely.

Rather than improving, some key U.S. industrial sectors are declining.

Oil Boom Kills More Workers, But Government Takes No Action

By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, February 26, 2014 (used by permission)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Just last Friday [February 21, 2014], oil drilling claimed the life of another worker. Nathan James Scott, 26, was struck by a welding truck and died at a drilling site in Converse County, Texas, owned by Houston-based EOG Resources. An investigation into his death is in progress. But federal regulations and investigations haven’t been enough to stem the climbing death and injury rates in the oil and gas industry. In fact, the federal government has declined to issue even basic safety rules for onshore drilling, and is in the midst of cutting funding for workplace safety inspections.

The fatality rate for workers in onshore oil and gas drilling is startlingly high compared with other industries, seven times higher than the average, and injuries are far more common. In Texas, the oil industry kills more of its workers than any other. And as an investigation by the Houston Chronicle found, the federal government isn’t taking action to make it safer.

A Tale Of Two Explosions

By Andy Piascik - Industrial Worker, June 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On April 17, two days after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the West Fertilizer plant in Texas exploded. Fourteen people are known to have been killed and close to 200 were injured. Approximately 150 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.

For days, we were witness to nonstop media coverage of the events in Massachusetts, culminating in the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Once Tsarnaev was in custody, our television screens were alight with footage of local residents celebrating happily in the streets, complete with chants of “USA!” Though media coverage of the events in Texas was extensive, it was nowhere near that of the pursuit and killing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

The possibility that the bombing in Boston was the work of international terrorists was a major theme from the outset and the primary reason for the huge disparity in coverage of the two events. U.S. officials and media pundits have besieged us for years with the notion that we are at war, surrounded by enemies—they’re even in our midst!—so let’s be sure those SWAT teams have plenty of firepower, and by the way, let’s find another country to invade.

The explosion in Texas, on the other hand, was far less newsworthy because it was a workplace accident and workplace accidents happen all the time. And that’s precisely the point: they happen all the time. The massive BP oil spill is just three years in the past, yet it is largely forgotten by the punditocracy.

Never mind the massive ecological destruction and the 11 people who died as a result, or that not one single high-ranking BP executive or U.S. government official has been charged, let alone tried or convicted, for their deadly negligence. It’s old news and, more importantly, it’s business as usual. Similarly relegated to the “no longer newsworthy” file is Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, which also occurred three short years ago and killed 29 miners. As with BP, no high-ranking Massey executives or government officials have been brought to trial or convicted, though the trail of deceit, cover-up, documented negligence and possible bribery is long enough to fill a phone book. Some degree of justice is still possible in the Texas case but it certainly won’t come as a result of any government or judicial vigilance. In all of these cases, as in hundreds if not thousands of others of similar magnitude, so-called oversight bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are so weak as to be a joke. Higher-ups who underfund and obstruct the work of such agencies are thus complicit each time a workplace blows up or burns to the ground.

Tony Mazzocchi Talks About Chemicals and the Workers: 1978 National Film Board of Canada

IWW Local 1 Letters to OSHA on behalf of the IWA Rank and File Millworkers

First Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein - January 27, 1990

Re: OSRC Docket No. 89-2713.

Dear Judge Goldstein: We the undersigned, affected employees in the PCB spill at the Georgia Pacific mill in Fort Bragg, CA, (OSHRC Docket No. 89-2719) strongly urge you not to approve the settlement made by G-P and OSHA regarding this case. We believe this agreement was made without considering pertinent information, and we believe it will jeopardize the safety of workers at the G-P mill.

The settlement that was reached involved dropping the “willful” citation to “serious” and re-ducing the fine from $14,000 to $3,000. We were told by OSHA attorney Leslie Campbell that this was necessary because the toxicity of PCBs has not been established. Yet the record shows that mill-wrights Ron Atkinison and Leroy Pearl were ordered to weld in the spill area without protective clothing during two 10-hour shifts. They stood in PCB oil and welded machinery that was wet with PCBs. The welding vaporized the PCBs at high temperatures, creating dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man, and the fumes were inhaled by the millwrights as they worked.

We also feel that the case for toxicity of PCBs has recently been enhanced by a November 24, 1989 decision of the Ninth U.S, Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. This case involved workers at a Crown-Zellerbach lumber mill in Oregon, whose exposure to PCBs was significantly less than ours. Yet the court ruled that “A jury could conclude that coming into contact with PCBs at a strength sufficient to produce a body level of PCBs six to ten times higher than normal, and to trigger serious health concerns constituted an injury.” G-P lead millwright Frank Murray swallowed PCBs when they were dumped on his head, and four months later had a bodily PCB level well over 100 times the EPA standard, We are concerned that the leniency of the settlement reached by G-P and OSHA in this case will not restrain G-P from continuing to subject the workers to unsafe conditions in the mill. As recently as last month, G-P ordered Ron Atkinson and other millwrights and electricians to do maintenance work on moving, high-speed machinery. The computerized green-chain had malfunctioned and could not be locked out without causing a long downtime while the computer was reset. Only by calling CAL-OSHA were the employees able to force the company to provide instructions for lock-out procedures to maintenance employees working on the green-chain. Even after OSHA’s intervention and inspection, another employee had three fingers severed in an accident on the same machine.

Mill Workers Exposed

By Daniel A. Faulk – Hard Times, February 1983

Michael Welch lived in Humboldt County for the past eleven years. Since 1975, Welch worked in local lumber mills as a laborer, chipper tender, and apprentice millwright.

While working at McNamara and Peepe’s Arcata mill last year, Welch was asked to work with lumber being dipped into Pentachlorophenol—an anti-fungicidal agent used to prevent discoloration of milled fir.

According to Welch, the lumber to be treated is secured to a forklift using fabric straps which absorb pentachlorophenol when dipped into a treatment tank. After dipping, the workers unstrap the soaked wood and attach another load. Welch states, “It is impossible to unstrap or strap on a load of lumber without coming into contact with this chemical.” Indeed, gloves and aprons are usually provided to workers performing this function, but these, Welch states, “are generally inadequate protections.”

On the night Welch was requested to perform the strapping task, no gloves were available. And, when Welch questioned the safety of working on the dipping process without gloves, the manager told him that “this stuff is completely safe, you could take a bath in it.”

It is interesting to note that OSHA requires signs to be posted around dip tanks using this chemical, warning workers to be very careful in handling this poison. These signs were posted at McNamara and Peepe until a few months before Welch was asked to help with the dipping process—but Welch says the signs were removed “some months back, without explanation”.

Welch ended up refusing to do dip tank work, but other workers are not so cautious or assertive. Noting the high unemployment rate in the area, many workers feel such a refusal could cost them their jobs.

The workers who do work on the dip tank rou-tinely get the chemical on their clothes, breathe the fumes from the uncovered dip tank and work with gloves that are drenched and leak.

An increasing amount of evidence, moreover, suggests that taking a bath in pentachlorophenol, or even breathing the fumes regularly, may be very ha-zardous to a mill worker’s health.

The U.S. Labor Department has found that pentachloro-phenol dust and vapors, even in very small doses, causes head-aches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory dysfunction.

Studies also indicate that the chemical is a muta-gen (causes birth defects) and may cause cancer as well. One of the most dangerous parts of pentachlo-rophenol is dioxin, TCDD, which has been directly linked to numerous health hazards. Many Vietnam veterans are still suffering from their exposure to “Agent Orange” which was also polluted with TCDD.

Pentachlorophenol is not isolated in one Arcata mill. It is in widespread use throughout the timber industry.

Workers are exposed daily to the chemical’s dangers and many are developing sub-fatal, short-term reactions. These people may become long-term fatalities.

Mike Welch observed at least one case of what he believes represented chronic, if not acute, exposure at McNamara and Peepe’s. One of Welch’s fellow workers who had been working at the dip tank for over a year complained to Welch of losing the feeling in his fingers.

Later, other complaints followed, which Welch recalls included “constantly irritates eyes, reoccurring feelings of dizziness and nausea. Despite these not so subtle indicators of potential poisoning, when Welch left the mill to move south, the dip tank worker was still working at the same job.

Needless to say, workers in Humboldt County are not the only timber workers exposed to anti-fun-gicides like pentachlorophenol. Surveys in both the U.S. and Canada indicate a significant incidence of toxic and even fatal reactions to these chemicals. In Canada, labor unions and labor organizers are lob-bying to enclose the pentachlorophenol process and to ban the chemical completely. Here in Humboldt County, we should do the same.

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