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The State of Worker Safety in America

U.S. worker safety remains unsatisfactory. We turn to a new report from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) titled “The Dirty Dozen.” It spotlights firms putting workers and communities in harm’s way through unsafe practices, released on Workers’ Memorial Week (April 23-30) to honor those who died and were hurt on the job.

“It’s heartbreaking to see workers lose their lives when we know these tragedies could have been prevented,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH, said in a statement. “Time and again, employers are warned about unsafe conditions. When companies fail to correct safety hazards, it is workers who pay the ultimate price.”

The 12 companies named in the report are: Amazon (Seattle); Case Farms (Troutman, N.C.); Dine Brands Global Inc. (Glendale, Calif.); JK Excavating (Mason, Ohio); Lowe’s Home Improvement (Mooresville, N.C.); Lynnway Auto Auction (Billerica, Mass.); New York and Atlantic Railway (New York City); Patterson UTI Energy (Houston, Texas); Sarabandad Farms (Sumas, Wash.); Tesla Motors (Fremont, Calif.); Verla International (New Windsor, N.Y.) and Waste Management (Houston).

Patterson UTI Energy is a drilling company that had an explosion killing five workers near Quinton, Okla.: Roger Cunningham, 55; Josh Ray, 35; Cody Risk, 26; Matt Smith, 29; and Parker Waldridge, 60. According to NCOSH, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Agency issued Patterson UTI 110 OSHA violations during the past 10 years, a decade in which 13 company workers lost their lives.

Labor conditions in energy extraction can be awful. What about the service sector for working people? Consider Dine Brands Global, Inc. (IHOP and Applebee’s) in Glendale, Calif., where “demands for sex, groping, threats of violence against workers (and) more than 60 complaints about sexual and harassment and abuse,” revealed an ugly pattern, according to NCOSH.

While the national rate of union membership was 10.7 percent in 2017 and 2016, workers in food services and drinking places had a 1.4 percent unionization rate in 2017 compared with 1.6 percent rate in 2016, according to the federal Labor Dept. As a result of this low unionization rate, food and beverage workers are more vulnerable to mistreatment than union members. The biggest group of organized women are labor union members.

“NCOSH’s listing of Dine Equity matches our own experience of receiving complaints from the company’s workers on sexual harassment and assault,” according to Saru Jayaraman, head of Restaurant Opportunities Center United in N.Y.C., a workers’ advocacy group. “Unfortunately, Dine Equity is not unique; the restaurant industry has the highest rates of sexual harassment and assault of almost any industry, and corporate restaurant chains set the low standards on this issue for the industry. Our legal department is supporting current and former workers from Dine Equity and many other similar chains in pursuing their rights legally.”

South African Elon Musk, who owns Tesla Motors, is a poster boy for hi-tech auto production. He employs workers to make electric cars in part at a former General Motors and Toyota factory in Fremont, Calif. Tesla made the NCOSH list of unsafe companies. Recordable injuries rose 31 percent over the industry average, while serious injuries rose 83 percent higher.

To read “The Dirty Dozen” in its entirety go to www.coshnetwork.org/.

 

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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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