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health and safety

Black Lung is Killing Coal Miners Again; They Don’t Have to Die

By Kim Kelly, Union Jake and Adam Keller - The Valley Labor Report, August 16, 2023

Kim Kelly, labor journalist, author of "Fight Like Hell: The Untold Story of American Labor," and friend-of-the-show, joins us to talk about another disease epidemic that no one's talking about that is hurting some of the country's hardest workers.

Read Kim Kelly's full report on how Silica is destroying the lives of coal miners and their families: here.

During Some of the Hottest Months in History, Millions of App Delivery Drivers Are Feeling the Strain

By Gina Jiménez - Inside Climate News, August 15, 2023

Around 4 million people in the U.S. work as contractors for app services like DoorDash delivering pizzas, salads and pad thai. Those in areas with extreme heat are taking new measures to keep working through it.

Jessica Fawcett wakes up at 5:30 a.m. so she can deliver groceries and take-out orders throughout Tempe, Arizona by 6:30 a.m. She has been working 12- to 14-hour shifts for Instacart and DoorDash since December, but lately, the heat in Tempe has been making them harder. 

Some days, Fawcett must walk 20 minutes or climb four floors of stairs in a 116-heat index just to deliver one order. “I joke and say I don’t need to go to the gym because I already walk a lot with this heat,” she says, “I have lost so much weight.” 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this year’s June was the hottest the Earth has ever registered, and last week the Copernicus Climate Change Service said July was the hottest month ever recorded. High temperatures have continued this month, and over 100 million Americans were under an extreme heat alert at some point during July.

Nevertheless, app delivery workers in states with extreme weather, like Arizona and Texas, have kept working. Some feel the consequences on their health, and others are changing their working hours and carrying around cold water to survive long shifts in the blistering heat. 

“It feels like you are standing in an air fryer or a microwave,” says Hector Mejía, a 30-year-old who has been working doing DoorDash deliveries in Phoenix for around a year. He compares heat these days in Arizona with standing next to a campfire. “It’s almost hard to breathe.” 

The number of people working for app delivery platforms in the U.S. has exponentially increased in the last few years, from just over one million in 2018 to over four million in 2021, a recently published study found. That represents almost three times Amazon’s global workforce. 

While some platform workers like the flexibility of the job, they are especially vulnerable to inclement weather, sickness or any situation that keeps them from working since as independent contractors, their livelihood depends on them being on the streets.

In New York City, app delivery workers have been fighting to get an hourly minimum wage, but in the rest of the country, organization efforts are scarce, said Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the Workers Justice Project, an organization that has supported app delivery workers in New York. 

It’s Too Hot to Keep Using Pesticides

By Harrison Watson - In These Times, August 15, 2023

Farm workers are being sickened by agrochemicals—and, due to extreme heat, by the PPE they wear to protect themselves.

It’s summer and time to take in the sunshine. But beware: because of climate change, the planet is rapidly warming. Outdoor temperatures are climbing above 100oF. Raging heat waves are causing debilitating illness and death. In some places, floods sweep through the streets. In others, precipitation is declining and water sources are evaporating. The Union of Concerned Scientists has dubbed this time of year, from May to October, the ​“danger season.”

Humans have not evolved to withstand such levels of heat stress. Still, over 2 million farm workers find themselves out in the fields. Some are suited up in heavy layers of clothing, including flannel shirts, pants, boots, gloves and coveralls. The purpose of this personal protective equipment (PPE) is to shield farm workers from the chemical threats they face from working with and around toxic pesticides and herbicides.

Each year, farmers and farm workers use billions of pounds of pesticides to suppress pests across 250 million acres of crop fields in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does work to educate farm workers and help them navigate pesticide-treated fields safely. Still, according to the National Agricultural Worker Survey nearly one-third of all farm workers do not receive the annual, mandatory training.

“So some farm workers just don’t know how harmful pesticides are,” says Mayra Reiter, director of the Occupational Safety and Health division at the organization Farmworker Justice. ​“The EPA approves chemicals because they assume that farmworkers will wear PPE, but those farm workers aren’t wearing it.”

Every year, pesticides sicken 300,000 farm workers, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. No one has an accurate count of how many of them die.

And the PPE farmworkers need to protect them from these chemicals can’t protect them from the danger sealed therein: Wrapped tight in their PPE, the heat they generate working at a feverish pace has nowhere to dissipate. In some places, a third of farm workers out in the fields suffer from heat-related illnesses every year. 

This is because many farm workers are constrained by the current wage system to ignore workplace hazards or skip water, bathroom and cooling breaks. In several states, farm workers receive ​“piece-rate” wages — that is, instead of an hourly wage, they’re paid by the bucket, bushel or piece of crop they pick. 

OSHA: Employers Are Responsible for Protecting Workers from Heat Illness

By staff - AFGE, August 14, 2023

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a heat hazard alert and announced more enforcement as a reminder to employers that they have the duty to protect workers. 

OSHA’s heat hazard alert comes as most states are experiencing record-breaking heat that puts workers at risk.

“It’s the law! Employers have a duty to protect workers against heat,” OSHA said in the alert. “Employers have a legal and moral responsibility not to assign work in high heat conditions without protections in place for workers, where they could be literally worked to death.” 

“The department [of Labor] also announced that OSHA will intensify its enforcement where workers are exposed to heat hazards, with increased inspections in high-risk industries like construction and agriculture,” the Department of Labor said. “These actions will fully implement the agency’s National Emphasis Program on heat, announced in April 2022, to focus enforcement efforts in geographic areas and industries with the most vulnerable workers.

OSHA’s alert applies to both workers in the public and private sectors. AFGE members are voicing concerns on the heat issue as well. To date, we heard from locals representing TSA, EPA, and Ft. Belvoir employees. 

“They talked about TSA workers passing out. They filed an OSHA complaint, and TSA did the right things for about three days. Then it went back to the same old -- meaning no heat protections for workers,” said AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez. 

According to OSHA, employers should provide cool water, breaks, and a cool rest area for employees. They should train employees on heat illness prevention and what to do if they see another employee suffering from heat illness. They should also allow employees to become used to working in hot temperatures.

Under the OSHA Act, if workers don’t feel their working conditions are safe, they can file a confidential complaint with OSHA online or call OSHA at 800- 321-OSHA. It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against a workers who exercises their legal rights and file a complaint with OSHA.

The Climate Culprits Blocking Workers’ Heat and Wildfire Protections

By Rebecca Burns - The Lever, August 9, 2023

Fossil fuel and corporate lobbying groups blocking action on climate change are also fighting labor protections meant to safeguard workers from its intensifying effects. As record-high temperatures kill the workers who grow our food, deliver our packages, and build our homes, industry lobbying has stalled heat safety measures in Congress and at least six states, according to a Lever review.

As a result, most of the nation’s workers still aren’t guaranteed access to water, rest, and shade — the basic precautions needed to fend off dangerous heat stress. Heat exposure could already be responsible for as many as 2,000 workplace deaths each year, and research suggests that it is three times as deadly when combined with exposure to air pollution from sources like wildfire smoke.

Business lobbies representing the agriculture, construction, and railroad industries have also opposed state rules protecting outdoor workers from smoke exposure.

The key opponents to worker climate protections include the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a well-funded influence machine that describes itself as “the voice of small business” while pushing corporate agendas like the rollback of child labor protections. The group reported spending more than $1 million lobbying the federal government last year on issues including legislation to fast-track heat protections for workers. Soon after, the bill stalled.

In a Summer of Record Heat, These Striking Workers Are Making Climate Demands

By Sarah Lazare - Workday Magazine, August 8, 2023

July was the hottest month on record, and possibly the hottest in the history of human civilization, and August is bringing more scorching temperatures and supercharged storms. On July 16, the heat index at the Persian Gulf International Airport weather station in Iran climbed to 152 degrees Fahrenheit, a level that tests humanity’s ability to survive. Meanwhile, in vast swaths of the United States, people watched smoke from Canadian wildfires turn their skies noxious hues of orange and gray, only to then be hit with storms and heat waves. The scientific consensus has long held that climate change is human-made and real. But this summer, it seems a threshold has been crossed.

Amid this climate crisis, 1,400 locomotive builders and clerical workers on strike in Erie, Penn. are modeling how unions—and workers walking off the job—can make climate justice demands of an employer. 

Locals 506 and 618 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) have been on strike since late June. One of their demands has already captured nationwide attention for its centrality to building labor’s overall power. They are insisting on the right to strike over non-discipline grievances—things like subcontracting work, or forcing someone to take vacation they don’t want to. Such language, the workers hope, will build more accountability into the grievance process, as well as protect the union’s strongest tool: the strike. Workers are also asking for the guarantee that their employer will not make unilateral changes to their healthcare benefits throughout the duration of the contract, and they are asking for improved pay to keep pace with inflation. Their employer is the Fortune 500 company Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (or Wabtec), which is valued at some $20 billion and manufactures railway locomotives. The mammoth company acquired GE Transportation for $11.1 billion in 2019.

The union’s demands are also aimed at improving society as a whole. There is another stipulation that workers put forward in the bargaining process: They want the company to help the union win a green overhaul of the rail locomotive industry, with the overall goal of drastically reducing emissions that spew carbon and pollution into the atmosphere.

This is not the first time that a union has pushed for environmental improvements. Unions threw their support behind an Illinois law passed in 2021 aimed at creating clean energy jobs and retraining fossil fuel workers. And the United Auto Workers, under the leadership of reformer Shawn Fain, are calling for the growing electric vehicle industry to provide dignified union jobs. But UE general president Carl Rosen says that the fact that UE is “directly challenging a private-sector major employer on this has made environmental justice groups very excited.”

New Texas law strikes down rights for immigrant workers

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, August 7, 2023

Workers and allies protested July 14 outside Houston’s City Hall, denouncing what they are calling “la ley que mata,” or “the law that kills.” HB 2127, which eliminates critical labor and housing protections for workers, takes effect September 1. 

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127—also known by critics as the “Death Star” bill—last month, leading workers to call on President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent more workers’ deaths. The bill nullifies municipal laws and regulations, specifically taking aim at progressive ordinances that improve worker protections, including regulations related to overtime pay, rest breaks, and water breaks—changes that will directly impact Texas’ immigrant workers. More broadly, the law also has the potential to bar cities from creating regulations related to agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property. In short, as reported by the Texas Tribune, “the Legislature decided there was too much Democracy afoot in Texas, so it did something about it.”

Houston and San Antonio have sued the state to block the law, arguing that HB 2127 violates the state’s constitutions and prohibits cities from self-governing. According to a survey by the University of Texas/Texas Real Politics Project, nearly half of those surveyed said the state government mostly ignores the needs of Texas residents. Nearly 60% opposed exactly what HB 2127 does, which is “reduce the power of cities and counties to pass laws or regulations in areas where state and local governments have traditionally shared authority.” 

During a press conference on July 14, dozens of neon yellow construction hats lined the steps of Houston’s City Hall, representing the workers who experienced heat-related injuries on the job. On July 1, construction worker Felipe Pascual collapsed due to extreme heat at a job site in Fort Bend County and later died from hyperthermia. As of late June, at least 13 people have died from heat-related illness in Texas alone.

Miners Deserve Protection from Black Lung Disease

Biden Admin Issues New Protections for Outdoor Workers Amid Deadly Heat Wave

By Zane McNeill - Truthout, August 1, 2023

The Biden Administration has announced new protections to keep outdoor workers safe from extreme heat, and instructed the Department of Labor to issue a heat hazard alert and increase enforcement of heat-safety violations.

“Millions of Americans are currently experiencing the effects of extreme heat, which is growing in intensity, frequency, and duration due to the climate crisis,” the administration said in a factsheet. “Today’s announcements build on numerous actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to bolster heat response and resilience nationwide.”

Experts have stated that July was likely the hottest month in 120,000 years, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to warn that “the era of global boiling has arrived.” In the United States, a summer heat wave in the South has lasted three months and affected more than 55 million people, killing at least a dozen people.

An average of 702 heat-related deaths occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of the climate crisis, heatwaves have become more frequent and intense.

As heat strikes, so do workers

By Katie Myers - Grist, August 1, 2023

The heatwave enveloping much of the world is so deadly that, in Europe, it has acquired two hellish mythical names: Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards Hades, and Charon, the man who, legend has it, ferries the dead to the afterlife.

Workers are taking a stand against the brutal conditions, using walkouts, strikes, and protests to call attention to the outsize danger the heat poses to the people who must work outdoors or in conditions where air condition isn’t available. The ongoing threat has taken the lives of people, from a construction worker in the Italian city of Lodi to farmworkers in Florida, and letter carriers in Texas. 

The organizing efforts started in Greece, where workers in the tourism industry — which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP — are chafing under the strain. Athens’s most famous archaeological site, the Acropolis, closed for a few days earlier this month, but even as the government reopened it, temperatures continued soaring to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The Acropolis’s staff, which is unionized through the Panhellenic Union for the Guarding of Antiquities voted to strike during the hottest four hours of each day.

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