Category Archives: Labor Organizing

Getting OSHA on the Job

Pearl River     If there were ever a time that workers needed to feel safe on the job, it’s got to be now in the middle of a pandemic.  Even with the lifting of restrictions in different states and various businesses reopening, many workers are still voting with their feet, and their feet are firmly planted at home because they are wary of work, church, and public spaces in many cases.  In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) is charged with protecting our health on the job, so “What me worry?”  Yes, indeed, we all should!

OSHA has been strangely silent and passive during this period when you would expect that they would be leading the calvary charge to assure that businesses opened correctly and safely so that workers were able to return to the job with confidence.  Instead, they seem like a footnote in this crisis.

When Local 100 United Labor Unions was confronting the giant service contractor, ResCare, about the lack of personal protection equipment in their community homes and their failure to isolate coronavirus positive consumers and inform workers fully of the situation, we filed an OSHA complaint.  They promised to move forward and take it seriously.  The company has now stepped up its game.

News broke recently that the warden in the federal prison system responsible for the huge facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, in the center of the state recently found himself reassigned to a desk job in the Atlanta regional office for the Bureau of Prisons and summarily replaced.  Reading carefully, his quick trip came when prison employees – and their union – confronted the warden directly about not providing PPE, not informing the workforce of positive cases, and not isolating the prisoners who had contracted Covid-19.  The union filed a formal OSHA complaint, and they got quick action from the bureaucrats and away the warden went.

I could add a third example:  Amazon’s warehouses in France.  Workers and their union objected to the lack of protection and health standards, filed suit, and the courts shut the companies warehouses down except for bare essentials.  They are now gradually coming back to work on a volunteer basis with a $2 per hour raise according to their union.

I think there’s a very clear lesson here from these examples.

OSHA is a sleeping dog, whether on orders from the Trump administration, weak appointees and vacancies, Congressional defunding, or just incompetence and indifference.  Like any sleeping dog though, if you give it a sharp tug, that dog can still move quickly and bark loudly.

Workers by themselves can’t get any action from OSHA.  It takes collective action, like the prison guards’ confrontation, the Local 100 workers’ petition and demands on local supervisors, or the CGT in France.

Oh, and don’t forget, it’s crystal clear that you have to have a union, if you are going to get action from OSHA or any assurance that your health and safety is as importance to your employer as the cha-ching on the cash register.

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Paid Leave, Who Knew?

Little Rock      I thought I was paying pretty close attention, but this one slipped right by me.  Who knew that part of the giant stimulus package included a first-of-its-kind paid leave provision?  It must be me, but why do I have the sneaky suspicion that maybe I missed the reports about paid leave, because they were deliberately being kept on the down-low, confusing, and obscure?

We’ll come back to that, but in the meantime, here’s the skinny, according to a New York Times’ report:

Eligible workers can receive two weeks off at full pay, up to $511 a day, for sick leave, and 12 weeks at two-thirds pay, up to $200 a day, if their children’s schools or child care are closed.

Wow!  That’s not bad at all!  Three months paid leave to take care of the kids with everything closed down at up to $1000 a week.  Why don’t we all know about this program.

Of course, you have to be eligible and that takes some crawling through the eye of a needle.  You can’t be working for a company with more than 500 workers, and that knocks off about half of the US workforce, because their employers are too big.  You also can’t be working for a company with less than 50 workers, and that knocks off another big group of workers, because their employers are too small.  You have to find yourself in the sweet spot working for a medium-sized employer, if you have one in order to be eligible.  Come to think of it, I know a lot of workers, including many our union represents who fall perfectly in that category.

As I said before, you also have to know the program exists in order to ask your boss to let you take advantage of it, and this new and temporary benefit is a well-kept secret.  The Department of Labor is not publicizing it.  Many companies are skeptical about it, because it requires that they make a frontend payment to the worker and get reimbursed by the government later. Mostly though, I think a lot of workers and bosses are walking in my shoes, and just didn’t realize the benefit was available.  Once again the Times reports that a survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center of over 500 business leaders whose operations were qualified,

“…showed a split: 44 percent thought it was helpful, and 37 percent thought it was harmful. A large share, 70 percent, said the need to provide paid leave contributed to their decision to lay off or furlough workers. Forty percent said no employees had taken the leave, and 20 percent said only a few had….”

As opposed to some of the other programs where the line is long and the money seems to run out before you know it, this program was estimated to cost over $100 billion.  Right now, hiding in the open, with plenty of money, few customers, and short lines, this is a program where workers need to start knocking on their bosses’ doors.  Schools are closed.  Day care isn’t open.  Workers are being called back to work who are single parents with young children or both parents working with no way to handle young children.  This paid leave is for you, come on, go for it!

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