Category Archives: Government

Small Increase Predicted for Social Security COLA

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Social Security benefits are slated to go up, but not by much. “The cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security for 2014 is likely to be very small, marking the fourth year in the last five that recipients receive little or no increase in benefits,” according to a recent CNNMoney article

The American Institute for Economic Research estimates the increase to be 1.4% to 1.6%.  Last year’s increase was 1.7%, and the 2012 increase of 3.6% was the only “significant rise in benefits in recent years,” according to the article.

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Let OSHA Do Its Job

OSHA is being prevented from fulfilling its mission.

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr. from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety & Health Act (the Act), which created the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Among other things, the Act requires every employer to provide a safe workplace. To help employers reach this goal, OSHA promulgated hundreds of rules in the decade after it was created. OSHA’s rulemaking process has, however, slowed to a trickle since then.  

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently identified over 600 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed, in the last 16 years OSHA has added only two toxic chemicals to its list of regulated chemicals. This is because Congress, Presidents and the courts have hamstrung OSHA. For example, in March 2001 the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress effectively abolished OSHA’s ergonomics rule, a rule the agency had worked on for many years. 

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses.

These delays and inactions have caused more than 100,000 avoidable workplace injuries and illnesses. Workers are being injured and killed by known hazardous circumstances and OSHA can’t act.

Congress and the President need to break this logjam – we need to free OSHA to do its job of safeguarding workers.

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Factory Fires in Pakistan Are A Painful Reminder Of Safety Oversights

A recent fire at a Pakistani garment factory is reminiscent of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm.

The fires in two clothing factories in Pakistan on August 12, 2012, where locked exit doors and lack of safety inspections helped fuel the flames of death for over 300 people, has similarity with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York (147 deaths) in March of 1911, and the chicken factory fire in Hamlet, N.C.  (54 deaths) in 1991. Both sites had locked exit doors that trapped workers. Two brothers owned the Triangle factory and two brothers owned the factories in Pakistan. Garment workers jumped to their deaths in New York and workers in Pakistan were forced to jump out of upper-floor windows to try to escape the flames.  It was reported that Punjab province safety inspections were abolished in 2003 to develop a more “business friendly environment,” and the Hamlet factory had never been inspected in 11 years of operation.

The latest news is that the factories that burned in Pakistan were allegedly inspected just weeks before the fires by Social Accountability International (SAI), a nonprofit monitoring group that gets much of its financing from corporations. Western companies (like Gap and Gucci), who make clothes in Pakistan and other countries where the labor is cheap, relied on SAI to give them some peace of mind about working conditions, but the total failure of SAI to do it the job is evident. Either it was sleep walking while doing inspections and just going through the motions, or it was just a front for major corporations.

In the United Sates, as we strive to downsize government in the years ahead, we need to keep in mind that government regulations concerning safety must be enforced. If not, safety everywhere will become an issue  - on the highway, in the products we use and the food we eat – and we may similarly find ourselves, or a family member, trapped in a deadly situation, with no way out.

 

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OSHA Reaches Employer Agreement to Stop Discouraging Employee Accident Reports

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Statistics regarding the reporting of accidents have historically been challenged for accuracy as employees have been fearful about reporting events, and employers have been reluctant for numerous reasons, including the potential of increased insurance costs. Now OSHA has taken a significant step to legitimize the process by seeking an employer accord not to take adverse actions against employees for reporting injuries in the workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has signed an accord with BNSF Railway Co., headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, announcing BNSF’s voluntary revision of several personnel policies that OSHA alleged violated the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act and dissuaded workers from reporting on-the-job injuries. FRSA’s Section 20109 protects railroad workers from retaliation for, among other acts, reporting suspected violations of federal laws and regulations related to railroad safety and security, hazardous safety or security conditions, and on-the-job injuries.

“Protecting America’s railroad workers who report on-the-job injuries from retaliation is an essential element in OSHA’s mission. This accord makes significant progress toward ensuring that BNSF employees who report injuries do not suffer any adverse consequences for doing so,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “It also sets the tone for other railroad employers throughout the U.S. to take steps to ensure that their workers are not harassed, intimidated or terminated, in whole or part, for reporting workplace injuries.”

The major terms of the accord include:

  • Changing BNSF’s disciplinary policy so that injuries no longer play a role in determining the length of an employee’s probation following a record suspension for a serious rule violation. As of Aug. 31, 2012, BNSF has reduced the probations of 136 employees who were serving longer probations because they had been injured on-the-job.
  • Eliminating a policy that Continue reading

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Reversing A Century Of Progress – Are We Back In Upton Sinclair’s Jungle?

Many workers no longer have paid sick days.

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Health Care Is Just The Beginning

At a time when a flu epidemic is exploding out of control, killing thousands of people, forty-two million Americans have no sick leave. Many of these people are lower paid, often work part time, and continue to work when ill because they can’t stay home to recover without losing their income. I am shocked and dismayed that many hard-working folk are forced to work when sick because staying home is not economically possible. Making matters even worse, these highly vulnerable workers often have no employer-provided health insurance so even serious illnesses go untreated, putting us all at a higher risk for infection from a contagious worker, like a server in a restaurant, for whom taking an unpaid day off is impossible.

…the trend toward low pay, long hours and few benefits is getting stronger.

I fear that if the current trends continue, the lives of the millions of Americans who struggle at low-paying jobs will remain miserable, desperate and be lacking in real hope. It appears that the trend toward low pay, long hours and few benefits is getting stronger. At the turn of the 20th century when Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” describing immigrants struggling in Chicago, the jobs were more physical, dangerous and just plain disgusting. However, millions of “New Jungle” workers still struggle and suffer today.

Class Warfare

After over 100 years of progress, the American middle and lower classes are under constant attack. The efforts to limit rights of workers are ongoing and supported by big business. Every day I read of measures being introduced in state legislatures to limit access to and decrease the benefits of workers’ compensation. The right to collective bargaining is being attacked as well. Local elections are overrun by anonymous innocent-sounding Super PACs funded by 21st Century versions of robber-barons who are using their wealth and power to squeeze out a few more dollars in profits to add to the tens of billions of dollars already sitting in their bank accounts. These are not job creators, they are their own personal wealth creators. Income equality is at an all-time low in the United States, and the trends are getting worse.

How can this be happening in 21st century America? How can we call ourselves civilized? Can we really allow such maltreatment of workers and disregard public health in what we call an “advanced,” “modern,” and frequently, an “exceptional” county? 

A Path Forward

We are not without hope, though. Crusaders like Senator Elizabeth Warren are working hard to reverse the trends and preserve the American Dream for future generations. But our protectors are few. We cannot assume that someone else is looking out for us. We must engage with government at the local, state and federal levels so that the voices of regular working folk are not drowned out by a cabal of rogue billionaires trying to keep score by increasing their own personal fortunes at the expense of working people. I fear that if we sit by passively, our children will all be working in the New Jungle, America will have lost its middle class, and with it, the American Dream will be a distant memory. The time to act is now. 

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Workplace Violence and Sandy Hook Elementary School

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In light of the horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week it may be time to re-evaluate workplace violence, which seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Technically, workplace violence is any act where an employee is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted in the workplace. It can include threats, harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as physical attacks by someone with an assault rifle. 

Two million American workers are victims of workplace violence every year. What’s worse is that workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States. Last year, for example, one in every five fatal work injuries was attributed not to accidents but to workplace violence,  and  some employees are at an increased risk for harm. For example, employees who work with the public or who handle money are more at risk (i.e. bank tellers, pizza delivery drivers, or social workers). According to the 2011 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, robbers were found to be the assailants in almost a third of homicide/workplace violence cases involving men, whereas female workers were more likely to be attacked by a relative (i.e. former spouse or partner) while at work.  

Preventing workplace violence is a challenging task and OSHA advises employers to create a Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Creating a safe perimeter for employees is crucial. Likewise, having an emergency protocol in place should reduce the number of fatalities in an attack, and that’s exactly what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut when the school’s protocol saved the lives of many children.

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Report: Poor Health Costs Cost U.S. $576 Billion Yearly

The U.S. loses more GDP to poor health than Sweden’s total GDP

Today’s post comes from guest author Nathan Reckman from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a nonprofit health and productivity research organization for businesses, recently reported that poor health costs the U.S. economy $576 billion per year. Of this amount:

  • $227 billion is lost due to sick days or reduced productivity due to illness,
  • $232 billion is spent by employers on medical and pharmacy treatments, and
  • $117 billion is spent on workers’ compensation and short- or long-term disability wage replacement.

To give you a sense of the scale of this loss, it is larger than the entire gross domestic product (GDP) of all but the top 20 countries. Our $576 billion loss dues to poor health costs would fall directly behind the GDP of Saudi Arabia (2011 GDP: $577.6 billion) and in front of the Swedes (2011 GDP: $538.2 billion). For comparison, the U.S.’s $15,090 billion GDP was the largest in the world, followed by China at $7,298 billion.

…for every $1 employers invest in improving their employees’ health and wellness they save $3…

Sean Nicholson, Ph.D., quoted in the IBI report, has stated that for every $1 employers invest in improving their employees’ health and wellness they save $3 (quite a good return on their investment!). As wisely pointed out by IBI’s President, Thomas Parry, Ph.D., this report puts employers on notice that their investment in workers’ health and wellness will benefit both the workers and their employers.

This report, in addition to  pointing out the dual benefits posed by increased employer investment in their employees’ health and wellnes, points out one of the important choices facing our country’s healthcare system.

Source for 2011 GDP information: CIA World Factbook

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Cancer Risk, Workplace Carcinogens and a Government Report

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Our law firm recently completed successful litigation involving eight families against various chemical companies. A member of each family got cancer from working at a local plant where industrial solutions were used to make rubber products.

Stating the obvious, cancer is universally bad, regardless of how much money a person has; what their religious or political views are; how old they are; or how/where/why they got cancer. That being said, I think workers especially need to be aware of the dangers and exposures to carcinogens that can occur because of chemicals in the workplace. According to a United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, “Carcinogens are agents that can cause cancer. In industry, there are many potential exposures to carcinogens. Generally, workplace exposures are considered to be at higher levels than for public exposures. Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) should always contain an indication of carcinogenic potential.” 

Respected colleague Jon Gelman from New Jersey shares his thoughts on the subject in this blog post at http://workers-compensation.blogspot.com/2012/10/romney-regulation-risk-of-cancer.html. And I thank him for sharing the op-ed resource from a recent Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. 

According to the Times piece, lobbyists associated with the chemical industry want to “shoot the messenger” by limiting or getting rid of the U.S. government’s Report on Carcinogens. Because if workers don’t know about carcinogens in their workplace, they won’t get cancer? Or more accurately, at least they won’t be able to tie that cancer to their workplace? Tell that to the American Cancer Society, whose web site includes a page specific to carcinogens and uses various sources, both national and international, to determine what carcinogens are.

Mr. Gelman also mentions in his blog post that certain lobbyists and politicians want to limit the regulation of these chemicals, which the Times story calls “scientific consensus” for their listing as cancer-causing carcinogens. It’s very challenging for consumers to know what substances, either naturally occurring or made by humans are safe to eat and use. To take that confusion into the workplace by limiting the information available to workers to be as safe as possible in their jobs, especially when long-term consequences like cancer are a possibility, is a shame.

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