Occupational Health News Roundup

Fast-food workers in several Midwestern cities and New York held one-day strikes last week to protest poverty wages. Jeff Schuhrke reports for In These Times, with a focus on the Chicago protests:

Hundreds of fast-food and retail workers in Chicago are on strike today and tomorrow, joining thousands of other workers walking off the job this week in at least seven cities across the country, including New York, Detroit and St. Louis. For most of these cities, this is the second time in recent months that low-wage employees—primarily in the fast-food industry—have staged single-day walkouts calling for higher pay and more respect on the job. The campaigns are part of a coordinated burst of low-wage worker organizing financially supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

… Since the recent recession ended, 58 percent of newly created jobs in the U.S. have been in low-wage occupations, with the retail and food service industries seeing the highest job growth. Despite myths that “only” teenagers and college students hold such jobs, nationally 40 percent of minimum-wage workers are between the ages of 25 and 54, while in Chicago about 57.4 percent of low-wage earners are over the age of 30.

While raising wages from the current Illinois minimum of $8.25 an hour to $15 will likely be a long struggle, the new wave of organizing and collective action is already bearing fruit, as low-wage workers discover power they never realized they had, breaking with an anti-union mindset and culture that for decades has told them to tolerate stagnating wages and worsening economic conditions because they have no chance of changing things.

In another In These Times piece, Kari Lyderson writes that some Chicago workers report receiving wage increases after an April 24 strike organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.

In other news:

Dallas Morning News: Months after the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, President Obama has issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to work together on a unified approach for identifying and responding to chemical-facility risks. Senator Barbara Boxer called the announcement “a game changer,” but others were skeptical about the President’s ability to overcome political gridlock. (Also see National COSH’s statement, which commends the President for the action but notes that new regulations will likely be necessary.)

US News: A study just published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene reports that using the hair-straightening treatment Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Hair Solution can expose salon workers and their clients to levels of formaldehyde that exceed short-term occupational exposure limits.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA and the National Insitute for Occupational Safety and Health have issued a hazard alert on 1-bromopropane, which is used in degreasing operations, furniture manufacturing, and dry cleaning. Exposure to the chemical is associated with nervous-system damage.

Associated Press: At NFL training camps, coaches and staff limit players’ activities and time outdoors to reduce the risk of heat illness. The league’s attention to heat hazards has increased since Korey Stringer died at a Minnesota Vikings training camp 12 years ago.

In These Times: A recent investigation by the Clean Clothes Campaign and other advocacy groups found several jeans manufacturers in Guangdong, China to be using unsafe sandblasting techinques to create “distressed” jeans.