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health and safety

New Miner Safety Initiative from MSHA

A new coalition demands healthcare and justice for East Palestine

Ford’s Battery Flagship Socked by Mold Sickness, Workers Say

By Schuyler Mitchell and Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, February 22, 2024

The smell of mold hit James “Lucky” Dugan the moment he walked into the plant.

Last fall, Dugan was one of thousands of union construction workers to arrive in small-town Glendale, Kentucky, to build a vast factory for Ford and SK On, a South Korean company. The plant, when completed, will make batteries for nearly a million electric pickup trucks each year.

When Dugan walked in, huge wooden boxes containing battery-making machines, largely shipped from overseas, were laid across the mile-long factory floor. Black streaks on those wooden boxes, plus the smell, immediately raised alarm bells for workers. But for months, those concerns were met with little remedy from the contractors hired by BlueOval to oversee construction.

Dugan and scores of others now believe they are in the midst of a health crisis at the site. “We don’t get sick pay,” Dugan said. “You’re sick, you’re out of luck.”

The BlueOval SK Battery Park, billed to open in 2025, is a banner project for President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a program of public subsidies and financing to companies moving away from fossil fuels. The Department of Energy has pledged to support the construction of three BlueOval plants in Tennessee and Kentucky with a $9.2 billion low-cost loan.

But under all the high-tech green fanfare, several construction workers, including some who wished to be anonymous, say the site has been gripped by mold and respiratory illness—medieval hazards that workers feel managers neglected in the pressure to quickly open the plant.

Chapter 31 : Spike a Tree for Jesus

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

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

In spite of all of the Corporate Media’s claims that both Redwood Summer and Forests Forever could potentially polarize timber dependent communities into opposing “green” and “yellow” camps, and despite all of the efforts by Corporate Timber to manifest those divisions, Earth First! – IWW Local #1 continued to slowly gain support and influence among rank and file timber workers on the North Coast. As a result, Judi Bari was invited to participate in a “Labor and the Environment” workshop, called “Bridging the Gap” at the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference in early March in Eugene, Oregon. [1] Several Earth First!ers from the Pacific Northwest were invited to participate and did, including Karen Wood from an Oregon Earth First! chapter; George Draffan, Mitch Friedman, and Mike Jakubal from various Washington Earth First! groups; as well members of the Save Opal Creek, the Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN), and Jeff Debonis of Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (AFSEEE). Oddly, however, no rank and file timber workers received invitations. [2]

The Labor and Environment Panel consisted of Judi Bari, a university professor whose area of study was physics, and “the owner of a company who (made) fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated.” Bari felt that the panel wasn’t representative enough, so she gave the organizers the name of a certain rank and file mill worker from Roseburg, Oregon, with whom she had happened to have been corresponding. Gene Lawhorn had recently been speaking publically for the preservation of the Spotted Owl, against the yellow ribbon campaign, and in defense of union timber workers, and Bari intended to cede some of her time to him, because the organizers had not thought to include any actual timber workers on the panel, and they had refused to let Lawhorn be on the panel. [3]

A week before the conference it seemed as if the AFL-CIO intended to keep both Bari and Lawhorn off of the panel. Bari received a phone call from Paul Moorhead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIW) who identified himself by name, and said, nastily, “You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome…If any member of my union talks to you, they’ll be out of a job.” [4] Moorhead also contacted the conference organizers and the University of Oregon and told them that Bari was an inappropriate speaker for the panel. [5] He had no real grounds to complain, however, because the WCIW no longer represented any workers in Mendocino County, as its last bargaining unit had been eliminated in 1986. In response to his threats, Bari notified the press and conference organizers. She also contacted the WCIW and requested that they openly debate the issue with Bari (and Lawhorn) at the conference. The conference organizers agreed to the debate, but the WCIW declined the invitation. [6]

Gene Lawhorn would get his chance to speak. There was just one small problem, however. In between the time that Bari had extended the invitation to Lawhorn (who accepted) and the conference, an IWW member in Oregon gave the latter a copy of Darryl Cherney’s album, They Sure Don’t Make Hippies Like They Used To, which has four songs on it that include references to tree spiking, all of which are favorable to the tactic. In spite of the fact that Cherney had declared two years earlier that he “would never spike a tree (himself)” [7], at the same time he had written “pro spiking” songs, including Earth First! Maid (set to the tune of Union Maid), They Sure Don’t Make Hippies the Way They Used To, Ballad of the Lonesome Tree Spiker (coauthored with Mike Roselle), and Spike a Tree for Jesus. [8]

Kingspan Campaign Update: Environmental Groups Stand with Workers Calling out Greenwashing

By Veronica Wilson - Labor Network for Sustainabilty, January 30, 2024

Workers calling out greenwashing inspired 26 environmental and environmental justice groups to call for an investigation into Kingspan’s marketing claims. LNS moderated a call last month, inviting allies to hear directly about safety violations and exposure to toxic materials at Kingspan plants in California. Now local and national organizations—including the California Green New Deal Coalition, Communities for a Better Environment, Center on Race Poverty and the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Greenpeace USA, 350.org, Food and Water Watch, among others—have issued a public letter calling on SCS Global Services to investigate the claims made by insulation manufacturer Kingspan in an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for its star product, QuadCore insulated metal panels. You can help spread the word and watch for more actions with workers calling out greenwashing—follow and like #CleanupKingspan today!

Why are Alabama’s Auto Jobs so Bad?

Twenty-Six Environmental Groups Call for Investigation into Kingspan’s Marketing Claims 

By staff - Clean Up Kingspan, January 22, 2024

Over two dozen environmental and community organizations – including Greenpeace, 350.org, Food and Water Watch, and the California Green New Deal Coalition – have issued a public letter calling on SCS Global Services to investigate the completeness and accuracy of claims made by insulation manufacturer Kingspan in an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for its star product, QuadCore insulated metal panels. SCS Global provided the third-party verification for the QuadCore EPD in 2022, but it has since acknowledged that it was not required to and did not perform a site audit to verify the information Kingspan submitted. 

Kingspan is a $15 billion global manufacturer of building products which presents itself as “Planet Passionate.” California-based SCS Global Services is one of the leading players offering environmental labeling and certification services including Fair Trade and Carbon Neutral Certifications.

In their open letter, the green groups note that the EPD omits mention of certain labor- and waste-intensive manufacturing processes that were at the center of an OSHA complaint filed by Kingspan workers in September 2023. This apparent omission is raising concerns that the increased demand for products with EPDs and the lack of site audits by third-party verifiers may be presenting an opportunity for greenwashing. 

Public Ownership of Rail Is on the Agenda. Here’s What It Could Look Like

By Alex Press and Maddock Thomas - Jacobin, January 7, 2024

Nearly one year ago, on the night of February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Videos of the smoke and fire released by the nearly two-mile-long train went viral, and residents in the community reported severe health effects.

The rail disaster triggered an outcry: Why did this happen, and what can any of us do about it? Soon, there were articles detailing the alarming state into which the country’s railroads have fallen: accidents are up, and oversight is hard to come by. Plus, there is a severe squeeze on rail workers, many of whom lack sick days of any kind and are effectively always on call.

Railroad Workers United (RWU), a caucus of rank-and-file workers spanning all thirteen national rail unions, recently released a video offering one answer to the rotten state of US rail. “Putting America Back on Track: The Case for Public Rail Ownership” opens in East Palestine, with a resident of the area showing the viewer photos he took the night of the Norfolk Southern derailment. The video goes on to make the case for public ownership of rail, which has been a focus for RWU over the past year.

As Ross Grooters, RWU cochair and a union locomotive engineer, told Jacobin, the workers came out with the demand amid their ugly contract fight in 2022, which ended with Joe Biden intervening to quash a potential rail strike.

“It became really clear between the contract negotiations and the fact that the railroad companies are making obscene amounts of money operating the railroads purely for the purpose of extracting wealth from what should be critical infrastructure, that the only way for rail to work would be outside the for-profit model that it exists in currently,” said Grooters.

So RWU passed a resolution endorsing the campaign. The case has been articulated by RWU members in several publications, from Jacobin to In These Times to FreightWaves, but with the release of RWU’s film, I wanted to hear more about the models under debate, so I called up Maddock Thomas, who is writing a policy paper on public rail ownership for RWU. We spoke about the current structure of rail ownership, alternative public models, and which country has the most functional rail system. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Turner heat study finds workers at risk even on ‘cooler’ summer days

By Zachary Phillips - Constructive Dive, January 4, 2024

Dive Brief:

  • A study looking at the effects of working outside in hot weather by New York City-based Turner Construction discovered many workers’ core body temperatures reached risky levels even on moderate summer days.
  • The heat pilot study, conducted over three days last summer with an average peak temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit, found that 43% of the 33 workers monitored had core temperatures reach over 100.4 F, even in “cooler than typical summer conditions.” OSHA lists 100.4 F as the benchmark for an elevated risk of heat stress.
  • In partnership with the University of New Mexico, Indiana University and La Isla Network — an Alpharetta, Georgia-based organization researching the effects of heat on workers — the study was designed to better understand how increased temperatures affect jobsite safety.

What’s Next for the Teamsters?

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