Phillips 66 Refinery has been fined $324,000 for failing to correct serious workplace safety and health violations. A Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) inspection of the Ferndale, WA facility found the violations put refinery workers at great risk in case of a fire or explosion.
L&I cited the refinery for three instances of not correcting violations that it was previously cited for in September and October of 2014. These are considered “failure to abate” serious violations.
The 2014 citations are under appeal to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. State law requires employers to correct hazards even if the violations are under appeal, unless a “stay of abatement” is granted to allow a delay in making the corrections. The company’s stay of abatement request was denied by the board.
Two of the violations, each with a penalty of $108,000, involve the refinery’s firefighting and fire suppression systems. Phillips did not inspect or follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices in respect to the firefighting water tank or the buried firefighting water distribution piping. Inspection and maintenance of these systems is required by state regulation and the National Fire Protection Association. The company also failed to address the potential loss of firefighting water, which puts employees and emergency responders at risk of serious injuries, disability or death if the system were to fail during a fire or explosion.
L&I cited Phillips for a third “failure to abate” serious violation for not consulting established, peer-reviewed industry references before writing a policy related to opening chemical piping. This violation also comes with a $108,000 penalty.
The company’s hazard assessment allowed workers to be potentially exposed to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, and explosive flammable hydrocarbon vapors at much higher concentrations than considered safe. Employers in high-hazard chemical industries are expected to make sure that their internal policies and guidelines reflect current good engineering practices across those industries and that they meet local regulations, which may be stricter than national regulations.
The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.
A couple of months ago, Causey Law Firm gave me the opportunity to take part in a tour of Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal, Ship Canal, and the surrounding Ballard Locks. The tour was put on by Port of Seattle, and was part of their “Ship 101” tour series.Through this tour, I came to appreciate just how essential the area is to the shipping and fishing industries of the Northwest.
Our tour started at Fishermen’s Terminal, where we loaded onto Argosy Cruises’ Lady Mary and disembarked to snake through the Terminal’s aisles of docked boats.Fishermen’s Terminal serves as a freshwater haven, providing moorage for over 600 of the Pacific Northwest’s fishing and pleasure vessels.
While moorage for pleasure craft was first allowed back in 2001, the Terminal has still retained its industrial roots. Fishing boats were everywhere I looked, and the places on shore seemed to primarily serve the fishermen and women heading to and from the rich fishing areas off the coast of Alaska.As the Lady Mary shimmied its way to the Ship Canal proper, I could see dozens of ships, large and small, streaming sparks and glimmering with fresh paint as repair crews made sure they were ready for their next voyage.Maritime business seems to thrive here, with Vigor Industrial building and repairing boats, Ballard Oil fueling them, Trident Seafood processing their goods, and Foss Maritime shipping those goods and providing towboats as needed.
In fact, Seattle’s highly experienced maintenance, repair, and shipbuilding workforce is a key factor driving Alaskan fishing fleets to travel all the way down to moor at Fishermen’s terminal. Another is the fact that the Terminal’s moorage is in freshwater, which is significantly less corrosive on ships’ hulls than seawater.Furthermore, the Terminal is home to a variety of facilities that serve the crews themselves.Restaurants, a barber shop, maritime law offices, safety training schools, and a post office inhabit Fisherman’s Terminal, providing fishermen easy access to the services they need most.
Freshwater moorage would not be possible without the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.Commonly known as the Ballard Locks, it provides boats a way to travel between Puget Sound and Lake Washington by traversing a series of chambers and gates that slowly raise or lower the vessel into the desired waterway.The locks ensure that The Boat Canal and Lake Washington maintain the salinity of their freshwater by keeping them roughly 20 feet higher in elevation than the salty Puget Sound’s low tide.The locks also have a fish ladder, allowing migrating salmon to travel to and from spawning grounds.Perhaps what surprised me most was that this unassuming yet incredibly useful feat of engineering carries more boat traffic than any other lock in the United States, and attracts over a million visitors annually.With botanical gardens just across the canal from industrial wharves and marinas, it was refreshing to see a space where form and function melded so easily.
After the Lady Mary returned to its moorage at Fishermen’s Terminal, I thanked the tour guides for their informative narrations and, on a whim, decided to grab a bite to eat.I walked towards a Fishermen’s Terminal pub just as fishermen and support staff got off their shifts and headed in the same direction.As I dug into a basket of fish and chips and slurped a local IPA after my not-so-long and not-so-treacherous voyage, I couldn’t help but admire the workers that began to fill the place.I may be a landlubber, but it felt good to be surrounded by these hard-working men and women, and for a moment I almost felt like one of them.Almost.
The Port of Seattle Commission approved a motion to provide four weeks of paid parental leave for non-represented employees during the 12 months following the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child in the employee’s home – effective Jan. 1, 2016.
“This action ensures that every Port employee will have dedicated paid leave to recover from birth and/or bond with a new child,” said Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire. “We recognize those first days and weeks are important to the health of all the members of the family. Not only will paid family leave help the port attract and retain quality employees, it establishes a policy fundamental to supporting more women in the workforce.”
City Councilmember Jean Godden testified in favor of the motion and the positive impact it has had since the City of Seattle implemented a similar program this spring. King County is also expected to begin a paid parental leave program in the coming months.
The proposed parental leave plan will offer four weeks of paid time off to both men and women. The time must be taken in one consecutive block. The estimated annual cost of $250,000 is based on an estimated 32 eligible non-represented employees using the benefit each year.
Worth thinking about – this upcoming SCOTUS decision could have a big impact on unions/union workers. Reposting from NPR.org. – kw
Listen to the Morning Edition article here:
It’s the showdown at the Supreme Court Corral on Monday for public employee unions and their opponents.
Union opponents are seeking to reverse a 1977 Supreme Court decision that allows public employee unions to collect so-called “fair share fees.”
Twenty-three states authorize collecting these fees from those who don’t join the union but benefit from a contract that covers them.
The decision later this year will have profound consequences not just for the California teachers in Monday’s case, but for police, firefighters, health care workers and other government workers across the country.
To understand what is at stake, here is a primer in how the labor law works in states that have authorized these fees.
If a majority of the public employees at a given site vote to be represented by a union, that union becomes the exclusive bargaining agent for the workers. In California, some 325,000 teachers in more than 1,000 school districts are represented by the California Teachers Association and, to a lesser extent, the California Federation of Teachers.
Of those, 9 percent have not joined the union, but under California law, any union contract must cover them too, and so they are required to pay an amount that covers the costs of negotiating the contract and administering it. The idea is that they reap the bread-and-butter benefits covered by the contract — wages, leave policies, grievance procedures, etc. — so they should bear some of the cost of negotiating that contract.
They do not, however, have to pay for the union’s lobbying or political activities; they can opt out of that by signing a one-page form.
In addition, the state Legislature has carved out certain hot-button matters that are not subject to bargaining at all. Specifically, the union can’t bargain over pensions or tenure.
In 1977, the Supreme Court upheld mandatory fees for non-union members as constitutional. The court said they were justified by the state’s interest in maintaining labor peace and eliminating “free riders” who gain benefits without paying their “fair share.”
But in recent years, five Supreme Court justices have signed on to opinions strongly hinting that they were ready to overturn that precedent. Indeed, Justice Samuel Alito, the author of two key opinions, all but invited the challenge posed by Monday’s case.
The Face Of The Case
Rebecca Friedrichs is the public face of the lawsuit that bears her name. After 28 years on the job, she is currently a third-grade teacher in Buena Park near Anaheim, Calif.
“The union’s supposed financial benefits aren’t worth the moral cost,” she said. “They protect teachers who are no longer effective in the classroom … and they’re more focused on self-preservation than they are on educating little children.”
Friedrichs is a strong opponent of the $650 in yearly fees she says she is forced to pay, arguing that everything the union does is political.
The fees are “used to promote the union’s political agenda,” Friedrichs said, contending that they violate her First Amendment right of free speech and association.
Eric Heins, the current president of the California Teachers Association, counters that what is purely political is the Friedrichs case.
“It’s really about an agenda to weaken and destroy unions,” he said.
Heins added that he in fact got involved with the union because of concerns about teaching — especially No Child Left Behind and its “incessant” testing.
Heins said the union contract has allowed him to advocate for “good teaching” for his students “without fear of retaliation.”
He compares the case against fair-share fees to a group of four people going out to dinner. Three vote for one restaurant, the fourth for another. The group goes with the majority; they enjoy the meal, but when the bill comes, the guy who wanted another restaurant tells his friends, “the rest of you have to pick up the tab” because the restaurant wasn’t my choice.
In the Supreme Court on Monday, lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the challengers, will tell the justices that what are technically called “agency fees” are unconstitutional.
“You’re forcing the employee to subsidize somebody else’s speech,” Carvin said. Negotiating a public employee union contract, he maintains, is different from negotiating one for workers in the private sector.
“When we’re talking about public unions,” he said, “everything they do is inherently a matter of public concern, because every time they get pension, health care and salary benefits, that comes out of the public fisc … so every dollar you spend on health care or salary is a dollar you can’t spend on roads or children.”
Lawyer David Frederick, representing the union, counters that what the challengers are seeking is a free ride on the union’s back.
“No one is precluding the right of teachers to speak publicly about their beliefs concerning merit pay, to lobby the Legislature” or express their views on important issues related to education, he said. “All we’re talking about here is an efficient means for the government to determine what its contract with its workforce is going to be.”
The union and the state of California are on the same page in this case. They say that agency fees give the union the resources to be able to make some hard deals, as they did in California during the Great Recession when they negotiated teacher furloughs and some reductions in pay so that more teachers could keep their jobs.
The union and the 23 fair-share states say that if the court were to overturn its 1977 decision, it would trample on states’ ability to govern their own affairs. And more importantly, it would inevitably weaken unions. They would have to raise dues, pitting those who do pay against those who don’t, and the unions would likely have to dig in their heels unreasonably in negotiating to prove their mettle.
Lawyer Frederick pointed to New York City and state in the 1960s and ’70s, a time when agency fees were not authorized.
There were “literally hundreds of work stoppages in the public sector — we’re talking about the subway system … firemen, police, teachers — who went out on strike,” he noted. “And just one week of a strike of the transit workers in New York could cost a billion dollars to the economy.”
There were on average 20 public-sector strikes a year in New York state in the 15 years prior to the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision. Many of them lasted a month or more and closed down schools and other public services, from senior centers to garbage collection.
Even laws imposing harsh penalties for public employee strikes were ineffective.
But after the Supreme Court upheld agency fees, the state quickly passed a law permitting them, and the rate of strikes plummeted by well over 90 percent to fewer than two per year.
In Monday’s case, the union and nearly half the states urge the Supreme Court not to risk that kind of chaos again.
Politics At Play
The unions have seen the consequences quite recently when Republican-dominated state governments eliminated fair-share fees. In 2012 union membership in Michigan declined by 7 percent, and “free-riding” more than doubled, after the state enacted a public-sector right-to-work law and prohibited school districts from collecting union dues by payroll deduction, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
But the challengers’ Michael Carvin dismisses such justifications outright:
“The proof is in the pudding. Most states don’t require agency fees. The federal government doesn’t require agency fees. And those unions do fine in that environment.”
But, he added, in a moment of puckish clarity:
“It may impede their ability to become the largest political contributors to the Democratic Party.”
The court’s 1977 decision is so wrong, he contends, that it is time to reverse it.
The union, the state of California, 21 other states and the District of Columbia warn that if that happens, it would unsettle tens of thousands of union agreements across the country, an assertion that Carvin also dismisses.
There is a second issue brought by the challengers — a secondary spear, as it were, aimed at the union’s heart. The challengers contend that the opt-out provision authorized by state law is also unconstitutional.
Under that provision, the union is required to send all nonmembers a one-page form allowing them to check a box and automatically be exempt from sharing the expense of the union’s lobbying and ideological activities. The challengers want to reverse the process, and be automatically exempt unless they opt in. The union contends that would require a far more costly canvassing process.
Both the union and the state argue that the opt-out process is an administrative choice made by the state, and that there is no need to “constitutionalize” it.
Monday’s arguments promise to range from lively to ferocious, with a decision expected by summer.
Photo Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images via NPR.org
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Despite having been a paralegal in the field of workers’ compensation for over a decade, I am still surprised by the new things I learn having to do with the administration of claims. This happened just recently when a client called me, asking me to check on authorization of an MRI that had recently been requested by their attending doctor. I went to the only source available for such information: the Claim and Account Center. I scanned the notes and imaged documents for anything resembling a note from Qualis Healthcare, the company to which the Department of Labor and Industries sub-contracts for utilization review services. Zero. Zip. I assumed the doctor actually sent their request in, so I left a message for the claims manager asking them to look into it. The reply came in the form of a secure message. They had not received any recommendations from Qualis regarding an MRI.
A day or so passed and my client contacted me, again asking for status. I repeated my search on CAC. Again, nothing. I asked my client to have their attending doctor refax the request to Qualis, certainly the fact that I was not able to see any sort of review online meant they most likely had not received it. A day later my client contacted me to tell me that their attending doctor had contacted Qualis and was told that MRI requests could be authorized directly by claims managers and that any recommendation made by Qualis can be overturned by the Department depending on the specific issues in the claim. To be on the safe side I told my client to have the attending provider send a fax to both the claims manager and Qualis, just to cover all our bases. I again contacted the claims manager to be on the lookout. A few days later, she again informed me that she had not received any authorization recommendations from Qualis, and clearly, she was not comfortable authorizing the MRI without some input from them.
A week has passed. Nothing has happened. I am annoyed. My client is really annoyed. Treatment is stalled because guess what…we need an MRI! So I called Qualis myself. This is not my first time making this phone call. I have called Qualis (which I liken to the Great and Powerful Oz, the entity behind the curtain with all the power…who are these people anyway?) many times, mostly to check on receipt of treatment requests from providers when the request seems to be languishing. I have always had receipt of treatment requests confirmed by some human on the other end of the phone. But not this time. This time, they asked my name, where I was calling from, my birthdate, the name of my first born child….ok not really. But they asked for a heck of a lot more information than they ever wanted previously. I identified myself, my client’s name and claim number and the reason for my call. In my heart, I was grateful for the added level of security, I mean I was calling to find out about medical treatment after all, but in my head I was simply annoyed that I had to take this step.
I was immediately told that Qualis is “not allowed to speak to attorney’s offices” and that any request I had needed to be addressed by a supervisor or director. Even if we represent the claimant? Yes, even then. So I was politely placed into said supervisor/director’s voicemail to be lost forever, presumably. 48 hours passed. A lifetime in a claim, especially when you are waiting for treatment. No call back. Qualis has obviously not adopted the Department’s return call policy. I decide to harass the claims manager since I am allowed to talk to her and by some miracle, I actually reach her! She tells me Department employees aren’t even allowed to contact Qualis. What? As a third party contractor, Qualis is only allowed to speak to the providers who are making treatment requests. The appropriate protocol is for the doctor to make the request to Qualis and also make the follow-up calls to ensure their request was received and is being reviewed. The only thing she can do is write to the Office of the Medical Director on my behalf.
Please remember the only thing I am trying to do is confirm that a request for an MRI was received. I am not looking for a specific diagnosis or treatment recommendations, I just need to confirm that the people behind the curtain got a request from a doctor. Does Qualis or the Department actually believe that these doctors, many of whom are reluctant to treat injured workers in this system to begin with, are willing to not only go through the trouble of making a request to some random third party to see if their treatment suggestions are appropriate, but are also going to take the time to follow-up? I think we all know the answer.
By not allowing any other source to make this confirmation, not even the claimant (yes, I had my client try and he was shuffled off to some unknown voicemail too with the same explanation I was given) we are slowing down an already slow process , essentially, to a standstill. This is EFFICIENCY FAILURE in a system that very desperately needs every ounce of efficiency written into its protocols.
Maybe I was wrong, maybe it isn’t The Wizard of Oz but another fairy tale we are living in…
Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.propertycasualty360.com
(Bloomberg) — Seattle’s City Council voted unanimously to give collective bargaining rights to drivers-for-hire, such as those who work for ride-share companies Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc.
The bill, proposed by city council member Mike O’Brien, requires taxicab and for-hire car companies to negotiate with a "driver representative" over the terms and conditions of work, if a sufficient number of drivers choose to be represented.
For-hire drivers are generally considered independent contractors by the companies who employ them, and aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows collective bargaining. Independent contractors also aren’t entitled to labor standards such as minimum wage, health and safety guidelines or reimbursements for work-related costs. While the Seattle vote is aimed at giving drivers more of a say in their job conditions, it’s not clear how this will work in practice with Uber, Lyft and any other car-booking company.
"Lyft drivers are entirely in control of where or when they work, and this flexibility is exactly why the service is so popular with with people looking to make extra income," said Sheila Bryson, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Lyft. "Unfortunately,…
Back in October, I was able to attend the Airport 101 educational program offered by the Port of Seattle, in partnership with The Common Acre. The program is part of the Port 101 Series offered each year and provides the public a chance to tour SeaTac’s airfield and learn about the current challenges facing the Airport, its projected growth and development plans, and its wildlife management program.
SeaTac Airport was the fastest-growing airport in the U.S. for 2014, and it’s not slowing down. The passenger growth rate was 4.7% for 2013, and 7.7% for 2014. As of October, the growth rate was already 13.4% for 2015, and this trend is expected to continue over the next 20 years. The Airport is projected to reach 66 million annual passengers in 2034 (compared to 37.5 million in 2014). The property’s size constraints (2.5 square miles) present a unique challenge when addressing this rapid growth.
The Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) is in development in order to help accommodate this level of growth, meet the needs of travelers, and reduce environmental impacts. SAMP’s focus areas include airfield enhancements, terminal development, roadway improvements, and expansion opportunities. Based on projected growth, it is estimated SeaTac will require 35 additional standard aircraft gates and 16 additional international wide-body gates. The International Arrivals zone is an especially high-need area, with peak passenger levels of 1,700 – 1,900 per hour in an area designed to accommodate 1,200 per hour.
You may recall the story of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s emergency landing on the Hudson River back on January 15, 2009, after his plane’s engines were disabled by a huge flock of birds flying directly into them. The large expanses of open land surrounding most airports have a tendency to attract wildlife which, as Captain Sullenberger learned firsthand, can be dangerous. In order to both maintain safety and protect local wildlife, SeaTac Airport employs a comprehensive wildlife management program. SeaTac became the first U.S. airport to employ a full-time biologist back in the 1970s, and became the world’s first airport to utilize aviation radar to detect on- or near-site bird activity in 2007. The program employs various methods to divert potentially hazardous wildlife – especially large flocking birds – from the airport area, including habitat modification, netting, and fencing.
Habitat modification helped pave the way for SeaTac’s honeybee conservation program. In partnership with The Common Acre, SeaTac became one of the first airports to host an apiary. On a 20-acre former golf course, the Port of Seattle planted over 20,000 plants to create a honeybee habitat. The area became home to 500,000 honeybees in June 2013. With bee populations in decline, the program’s goal is to help grow and sustain the local population, while contributing to the Port’s conservation efforts.
The program is part of a broader movement to restore honeybee populations, and the hives are managed by the Urban Bee Company, which produces and sells the cultivated honey and beeswax products.
A short video about the SeaTac honeybees is available via the Port’s website: Click Here
Also available is a video about the use of aviation radar at SeaTac: Click Here
Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com
The United States Congress has voted to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act as part of a major spending bill that now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The bill will extend the World Trade Center Health Program to 2090, and provide full compensation to survivors and first responders through the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
The two programs were in the process of shutting down after Congress missed a September 30 reauthorization deadline. In the end, 68 Senators, and 272 House Members backed the bill.
“Our courageous first responders stepped up when our country needed them the most . During the September 11thattacks, thousands of brave first responders sacrificed their safety for the good of our country and as a result have been forced to battle serious health issues,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “In New Jersey, over 5,000 survivors and first responders still require medical treatment because of their exposure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will enable us to give these courageous Americans the respect and care they rightly deserve.”
“As someone who first introduced the Zadroga Act and had to fight to pass it that first time, I am thrilled that we are fulfilling our moral obligation as a grateful nation to support our first responders and send a powerful message to all future first responders that we…
In 2008, Army Reserve Capt. LeRoy Torres returned home to Robstown, Texas, after a tour in Iraq. He went back to work as a state trooper with the Texas Highway Patrol.
Torres was a long-time runner. So when a suspect took-off on foot one morning, Torres sprinted after him. But something was wrong. A burning sensation in his chest hurt so bad, it almost knocked him down.
"I was able to catch-up, but afterwards, my goodness, I remember just — I laid on the ground, I was so exhausted," Torres says. "One of my buddies said, ‘Man what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Man I don’t know. I just feel really, really tired — my chest feels really tight. I don’t know.’ I couldn’t catch my breath."
A few years later, Torres was diagnosed with a rare disease called constrictive bronchiolitis. Scars in his lungs block the flow of air.
He’s among a growing number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who believe their respiratory ailments are linked to burn pits. These were acres-wide mounds of waste near bases that contained everything from batteries to vehicle scraps to amputated body parts. The refuse was usually ignited with jet fuel.
Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com
Editor’s note: Make a New Years resolution to verify your Facebook privacy settings are secure. kc
An employer was permitted to utilize photographs taken from Claimant’s public Facebook as impeachment evidence without prior notice to Claimant. Public Facebook photographs of Claimant holding her grandson with her injured arm and hand as impeachment evidence against Claimant.
The Employer did not have to provide prior notice to the Claimant of "video" evidence.
Court held that it was not prejudicial to admit the Claimant’s Facebook images into evidence.
MacFadyen v Total Care Physicians, C.A. No. N15A–05–001 ALR, 2015 WL 9303624 (2015 Del.Super.), Decided December 15, 2015.