Category Archives: Uncategorized

Labor violations force truckers into life of servitude

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Truck drivers are a crucial link in the supply chain of getting imported goods from ports to stores. An investigative report by “USA Today” shows those drivers work long hours for low pay, all while being heavily in debt from leasing their trucks. The story, “Rigged,” published yesterday, recounts how at least 140 truck companies in southern California have been accused of labor violations, and forcing truckers into working conditions akin to indentured servitude.

The article’s author, Brett Murphy, joins me from Naples, Florida, to discuss the story. Tell us what’s happening to these truckers?

BRETT MURPHY, USA TODAY: Well, the companies found a loophole in the labor law. By calling these guys independent contractors instead of employees, no real rules apply. They can kind of do whatever they want — or they think they can.

So, what they’ve been able to do was sort of find a large population of truck drivers, mostly immigrants, about 16,000 immigrant drivers. And when the state told these companies that they had to use newer, cleaner trucks, instead of paying for it themselves, they came up with this idea of lease-to-own contracts, lease-to-own agreements.

And when the drivers came into work one day, just like they had been for decades, the company said, if you want to keep your job here, if you want to keep driving, you need to sign this contract. They didn’t translate it….

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Pope Francis: Labor unions are essential to society

Today’s post was shared by Steven Greenhouse and comes from

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion, Pope Francis said.

"There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that isn’t reborn every day in the peripheries, that doesn’t transform the rejected stones of the economy into corner stones," the pope said on June 28 during an audience with Italian union leaders.

"There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones," he told members of the Italian Confederation of Union Workers.

Unions, he said, risk losing their "prophetic nature" when they mimic the very institutions they are called to challenge, he said. "Unions over time have ended up resembling politicians too much, or rather political parties, their language, their style."

Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those "outside the walls," particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are "also excluded from rights and democracy."

Pope Francis denounced situations in which children are forced to work rather than being allowed to study, which is the "only good ‘job’ for children."

Turning to one of his frequently voiced concerns, the pope told the union…

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Chaos for Workers’ Compensation Programs–The Elimination of Social Security Numbers?

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is readying a fraud prevention initiative that removes Social Security Numbers (SSN) from Medicare cards to help combat identity theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars. The question remains whether the elimination will cause chaos in state workers’ compensation programs since the SSNs have historically been utilized as personal identifiers.

For decades private and public insurance systems have relied upon SSN as a major identifier for benefits delivery and record keeping programs. The change surely is going to increase industry costs for the actual conversion process and create some bumps in the road going forward. Workers and their attorneys may also experience inconvenience in initially obtaining benefits and researching prior records. Furthermore, investigatory resources will suffer the burden additional costs in an attempt to convert information and have it readily available on demand. A critical issue remains for lawyers who handle this data and their ethical responsibility to maintain confidentiality.

CMS has rationalized that the new cards will use a unique, randomly-assigned number called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI), to replace the Social Security-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) currently used on the Medicare card. CMS will begin mailing new cards in April 2018 and will meet the congressional deadline for replacing all Medicare cards by April 2019. Today, CMS kicks-off a multi-faceted…

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Fear of Immigration Raids May Harm Workplace Rights

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

Editor’s Note: Our WA State workers’ compensation system allows benefits to be provided to workers injured on the job without verification of immigration status. – kc

The Trump administration’s increased immigration enforcement could have an unintended consequence: reduced willingness to report workplace rights violations.

Getting workers to come forward about workplace rights violations has “always been an issue,” Adrienne DerVartanian, director of immigration and labor rights at Farmworker Justice, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 23. But the “current environment, with a real focus on immigration enforcement and raids,” has created an “increase in the level of fear and concerns,” she said.

With the highest rates of wage and hour violations among undocumented immigrants—particularly women—employer threats of calls to Immigration and Customs Enforcement are “very strong,” Haeyoung Yoon, director of strategic partnerships at the National Employment Law Project, said Feb. 23.

“Even prior to Trump’s immigration policies, there was a culture of fear in our workplaces across the country,” Yoon said. Employers have been known to lob threats to call ICE if workers complain, Yoon said. And now that nearly every undocumented immigrant is subject to enforcement, “there’s greater fear,” she said.

NELP is working on pressuring state labor agencies to adopt policies to “act very swiftly when they hear of employers engaging in any kind of retaliatory actionֿ,” Yoon said. Reminding employers that there are consequences for…

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Brian Wright Chairs Workers’ Compensation Seminar

Causey Wright featured prominently in the annual statewide workers’ compensation seminar conducted by the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ). This event, held last month in Seattle, provides education to legal professionals working on behalf of workers injured on-the-job.

Brian Wright had the honor of co-chairing the event. Also on the program was Jane Dale participating in a panel discussion of ethics topics. Jay Causey was awarded WSAJ’s President’s Award for a lifetime of achievement in the field of workers’ compensation.

Yay, Team! 


Photo credit: Erik Bell

Asbestos Deaths Remain A Public Health Concern, CDC Finds

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

People are still dying of cancer linked to asbestos, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says, despite decades of regulations meant to limit dangerous exposure.

Starting in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has regulated how much asbestos workers can be exposed to, because it contains tiny fibers that can cause lung disease or cancer if they are swallowed or inhaled.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates asbestos too, setting requirements for inspecting, demolishing and renovating buildings that contain materials made with asbestos, like insulation, vinyl tiles, roofing, shingles and paint.

But, a recent CDC analysis found that thousands of people are still dying each year from a type of cancer called malignant mesothelioma that is associated with inhaling asbestos fibers, even briefly or in small amounts. Even after decades of regulation, between 1999 and 2015 there were 45,221 mesothelioma deaths in the U.S. The majority of those who died were men.

The greatest increase is among people over 85 years old, who were likely exposed to asbestos many years ago. It can take anywhere from two to seven decades for mesothelioma to develop after a person inhales asbestos fibers. And early deaths among people 35 to 65 are down overall.

But, investigators say, the fact that people younger than 55 are still dying of a disease linked to asbestos means that workers are still being exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos despite federal regulations.


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Amazon to hire 5,000 at-home workers in massive hiring binge

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

Editor’s Note: work-from-home, particularly on a large scale, can make for interesting workers’ compensation coverage questions. – kc

Amazon announced Thursday it plans to add 30,000 part-time positions in the U.S. over the next year, part of a massive hiring binge by the online retailing giant.

The part-time hiring includes 5,000 jobs in Virtual Customer Service, which would allow employees to work as a customer service agent from home. The remaining 25,000 would be at Amazon warehouses. Any part-time employees who work 20 hours or more a week are also eligible for benefits.

"There are lots of people who want or need a flexible job — whether they’re a military spouse, a college student, or a parent — and we’re happy to empower these talented people no matter where they happen to live,” said Tom Weiland, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide customer service, in a statement.

It’s not clear how many warehouse jobs will be coming to Tennessee, but the state has one of Amazon’s largest shipping footprints with multiple warehouses around both Nashville and Chattanooga.

The part-time plan is part of a larger hiring spree by Amazon. In January, the company said it would add 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. with full benefits over the next 18 months. Most positions will be filled at fulfillment centers and in new fields including cloud technology and machine learning.

Amazon has bolstered its workforce over the last several years. In 2011, Amazon had more than 56,000 full- and part-time employees. By the end of its 2016 fiscal year, that number swelled to more than…

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Port of Seattle Effort to Address Urgent Need for Skilled Workers as Current Workers Retire

Port of Seattle opens 150 paid high school and college summer internship slots, expands comprehensive effort to address urgent need for skilled workers as current workers retire.

The Port of Seattle announced their kick off of its 2017 summer intern program with 150 paid roles for high school and college students. The internship program, which tripled the number of positions offered from two years ago, is one element of the Port’s community-based effort to close the labor gap as the Boomer Generation leaves the workforce.

“We need to tackle three fundamental challenges in our economy right now: a coming labor shortfall in skilled trades and Port-related industries, fewer industries creating good paying jobs that support the middle class, and a lack of opportunities in disadvantaged communities,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman. “Port-related industries offer those good paying jobs. We designed our internship program and partnerships to do more to inspire students to explore these industries, learn about skills training and get connected to opportunities.”

In addition to the open roles at the Port, area businesses in the maritime and manufacturing sectors are participating in an expanded pilot program to host and train their own interns. In 2016, companies like Vigor and Status Ceramics partnered with the Port to create additional opportunities for students.

This year, even more companies are encouraged to take part. Participation in the program means the placement of a Port-recruited intern and support in the form of training for intern supervisors, access to youth counselors, and off-site education and enrichment opportunities.

“Some of our students are looking to join the workforce immediately after graduating, and they need to make a living in this rapidly growing region,” said Chris Names of the Aerospace Science and Technology Skill Center program of the Seattle Public Schools. “These jobs can provide the solid skills and industry connections for kids that want to start a career here.”

The Port of Seattle, private employers, and other public sector agencies are applying lessons from the aviation and technology industries that drove students to careers in STEM. Sarah Scherer is managing the recruitment program for the Youth Maritime Collaborative, an organization of maritime industry companies, educational institutions, non-profits, community service providers, and public agencies established to help address the maritime industry’s urgent need for skilled workers.

“The Seattle Maritime Academy welcomes this partnership with the Port of Seattle. Classes at the academy can put students in trades paying around $70,000 a year, well above the state average,” Scherer said. “Our region was built on the skill and vision of an entire generation of workers and we must carry that work forward to keep our region inclusive and competitive.”

“Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Skills Center are excited for this opportunity to collaborate with the Port of Seattle and our other partners in the Youth Maritime Collaborative to help prepare our students for careers in the maritime industry,” said Dan Golosman, Principal of the Seattle Skills Center. “With thousands of job openings predicted in the next five years in maritime manufacturing and transportation and logistics, we need to provide opportunities for training that will prepare our students for these careers. Whether our students go straight into a job right after high school, continue into post-secondary education, or complete post-graduate work, the Career and Technical Education training we can provide through partnerships like the Youth Maritime Collaborative will help prepare students for the careers of the 21st Century.”

On March 30, the Youth Maritime Collaborative hosted an interactive event where those interested in maritime careers could meet potential employers and explore a variety of opportunities in the field. The event allowed participants to learn about and experience:

  • marine safety
  • cold water survival techniques without getting wet
  • some seamanship skills like knot tying and line handling
  • the science of oil spills
  • oceanography
  • hydrography and nautical charting
  • commerical diving
  • a research submarine
  • USCG damage control simulator
  • bridge and engine room simulations
  • boat tours

The Port supports year-round workforce and career development programs with youth and adults. In addition to youth career exploration events, the Port supports programs with local private employers and unions to improve career pathways for airport workers looking to take on more challenging and higher wage work, and is working to increase adult referrals to pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship, and union trades job opportunities through a trades partnership with local governments and nonprofits.

 Photo credit: Port of Seattle

PBS: California Reports Thousands of Workers Exposed to Elevated Lead Levels

The highest lead levels were found in the blood of people who work with guns and ammunition, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

More than 6,000 California workers in munitions, manufacturing and other industries have elevated levels of lead in their blood that could cause serious health problems, according to a recent report from the state’s public health agency.

The report, containing the results of tests conducted between 2012 and 2014, comes as the state’s workplace health and safety agency, Cal/OSHA, is considering a major update of its safety standards for workplace lead exposure for the first time in decades. The current standards are based on 35-year-old medical findings, which at the time did not recognize the dangers of even low-level exposure to lead. More recent science shows chronic, low-level lead exposure can cause lasting harm.

“It doesn’t surprise me. This is a huge problem,” said Doug Parker, executive director of Worksafe, a worker health and safety advocacy organization based in Oakland. “Clearly, there haven’t been adequate actions taken” by some employers, he said.

READ MORE: 7 things you didn’t know about lead

Lead is a naturally occurring element. The soft gray metal and its various compounds have been used in many products, including pipes, paint, batteries, ammunition, industrial equipment and gasoline. Workers can be exposed to lead in the form of dust, either inhaled or swallowed, or by handling lead-tainted items.

Most public health actions have focused on protecting children from lead exposure and quickly treating those who are exposed, since the metal can severely impair their development.

But adults also can face serious health problems from lead exposure, including heart disease, reproductive problems, cognitive difficulties and kidney failure. Some workers exposed to lead dust in the workplace have unwittingly carried it home on their clothes, exposing their families to it.

The authors of the report examined data from the California Occupational Blood Lead Registry, which tracks workplace exposures. From 2012 to 2014, 38,440 workers had their blood tested for lead, and 6,051 workers were identified with an elevated level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter (about 3.3 ounces) of blood. Most of these workers were men between the ages of 20 and 59 and had Hispanic surnames. Many lived in Southern California, particularly in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The California Department of Public Health, which released the report last month, did not make an expert available for comment.

About 14,000 of the workers had two or more blood lead tests, which showed about a fifth of them had elevated blood lead levels, according to the report. More than one elevated blood test suggests chronic exposure linked to health problems, the researchers noted.

[Read the rest of the PBS article here.]

Photo credit: LSE Library via / No known copyright restrictions

How Long Should Injured Pro Athletes Get Workers Comp?

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from

NOTE: In Washington State’s workers’ compensation system, any injured worker receives time loss compensation benefits until they recover medically to the point that they are again able to return to “reasonably continuous, gainful employment,” regardless of projected retirement age. There is no provision for long-term lost earning capacity and the monetary benefits paid for permanent impairment are quite limited. kc

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Center Jeremy Zuttah #53 of the Baltimore Ravens lays injured against the San Diego Chargers during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.
BALTIMORE, MD – NOVEMBER 01: Center Jeremy Zuttah #53 of the Baltimore Ravens lays injured against the San Diego Chargers during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Should injured pro athletes be allowed to earn worker compensation benefits until they are 67 years old, like other workers, even if their athletic careers normally would have ended more than 30 years earlier?

That issue is being debated between the Chicago Bears and the NFL Players Association in the Illinois Legislature as one unlikely element of a compromise proposal to end a nearly two-year-long fight over the state’s budget.

The Bears are leading other Chicago sports franchises in backing a measure that would reduce a former player’s ability to tap into workers compensation after a career-ending injury. They want to cap certain payments to athletes at no older than 35 or five years after their injury. Currently they can claim benefits up to age 67, like other workers.

Neither the teams nor players’ advocates will say how much money is at stake. They agree it is not a relatively big pot — while theoretically some could claim millions, most if not all athletes settle their claims for reduced sums up front, the players association says.

Only a handful of pro players filed for the benefit here in the past four years, although the association would not identify them or describe their individual cases.

But one…

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