Occupational Health News Roundup

At an appearance at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida last month, President Obama spoke about how the problems of stagnant wages and inadequate paid leave affect women workers:

Today, more women are their family’s main breadwinner than ever before.  But on average, women are still earning just 77 cents on every dollar that a man does.  Women with college degrees may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less over the course of her career than a man at the same educational level.  And that’s wrong.  This isn’t 1958, it’s 2014.  That’s why the first bill I signed into law was called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and it made sure that it was easier for women to sue if they weren’t being paid the same as men.

And in the coming weeks, Congress will have a chance to go even further by voting yes or no on what’s called the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Right now, a majority of the senators support that bill but so far Republicans have blocked it.  We’ve got to get them to change their minds and join us in this century, because a woman deserves equal pay for equal work. It’s pretty straightforward.

And Congress should not stop there.  A woman deserves workplace policies that protect her right to have a baby without losing her job.  It’s pretty clear that if men were having babies, we’d have different policies.  I mean, we know that, that’s for certain.  A woman deserves to take a day off to care for a sick child or a parent without running into hardship.

So Congress needs to act so that Americans join every other advanced nation on Earth by offering paid leave to folks who work hard every day.  It’s time to do away with some of these workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.  We’ve got to make sure that every woman has the opportunities that she deserves — because when women succeed, America succeeds.  I truly believe that.

On the ride over here we were talking about some of the best practices of companies that are highly successful.  It turns out that if you give families — you give your workers some flexibility so that if they’ve got a sick child or a sick parent they can have a little time off, those employees are more productive, the companies do better, you have less turnover.  So it’s good business practice.  It’s the right thing to do.

At a time when women hold the majority of low-wage jobs, Congress is going to get a chance to vote yes or no on whether millions of women who work hard all day deserve a raise.  There’s a bill before Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  That would lift wages for nearly 28 million Americans across the country.  And, again, it would be good for business.  Because what happens is more customers have more money to spend.  It will grow the economy for everybody.  It’s time for Congress to join the rest of the country.  It’s time for — we’re calling it the $10.10 campaign.  Give America a raise.  And that, in particular, will help the disproportionate number of women who are in lower wage jobs.

If some of these remarks sound familiar, it’s likely because President Obama made similar comments in his 2014 State of the Union address.

The White House also released a report last month highlighting the ways raising the minimum wage would help women. It notes that the federal tipped minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour (and has been for the past two decades), and that women account for 72% of all workers in predominantly tipped occupations.

In other news:

ProPublica: A bill introduced in California’s Assembly would make companies that use temporary labor suppliers liable if a subcontractor (e.g., the temp agency supplying workers to the company’s warehouse) fails to pay wages or unemployment taxes or carry appropriate workers’ compensation insurance.  (Check out ProPublica’s excellent “Temp Land” series for an in-depth look at abuses and hazards facing many temporary workers.)

The Register-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia): West Virginia’s national and state representatives are urgining federal officials to eliminate new caps on grant funding for the clinics that serve coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA has proposed a total of $2.3 million in fines against real-estate developer and management company Olivet Management LLC, citing the company for exposing employees and contractors to asbestos and lead hazards during renovation and cleanup operations.

New York Times: Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, 48, was shot and killed in eastern Afghanistan when an Afghan policeman opened fire. Special correspondent Kathy Gannon was also shot and was reportedly in stable condition after surgery.

Reuters: Recovery work at the site of Washington state’s devastating mudslide can expose workers to sewage, propane, household solverts, and other hazards. Precautions include keeping workers out of the most dangerous areas and allowing for thorough decontamination.

PBS NewsHour: Some of the recruiters who bring nurses from the Philippines to the US steal their clients’ wages, confiscate their passports, and threaten them with harm if they report abuses to authorities.

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