Occupational Health News Roundup

They take care of our most precious resource and yet most of them have to rely on public assistance just to make ends meet.

Katie Johnston at the Boston Globe wrote about a new report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, which “found that difficulties child-care workers face in making ends meet create high levels of stress that can affect their performance. Recent research has found that adverse interactions with caregivers early on can alter a child’s genetic chemistry, impairing memory, the immune system and mental health.” On average, child care workers make just $10.33 an hour, which is an increase of less than 15 cents over the national average in 1997. The highest child care wage was in Massachusetts, where workers averaged $12.47 an hour. Johnston writes:

Kitt Cox, who has a bachelor’s degree, spent most of his professional life working in child care but had to hold second or third jobs in restaurants and warehouses to supplement his income at private day-care centers and preschools on the North Shore.

“We jokingly say, on tough days, we should be saying, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ ” said Cox, 59, of Gloucester. And yet, “Kids are so much more important than burgers.”

Child-care providers are expected to plan science, literacy, and math-related activities that have been shown to aid development, said Valora Washington, president of the CAYL Institute in Jamaica Plain, a professional development group for early-childhood educators.

“Our expectations are accelerating much faster than the compensation and the recognition of those accelerated expectations,” Washington said.

Johnston reports that in a survey of 600 child care workers who earn less than $12.50 an hour, more than half were worried about being able to adequately feed their families. And nearly half of child care worker families rely on public assistance. To read the full story, visit The Boston Globe.

In other news:

ABC News: A year since Johns Hopkins Hospital promised to investigate the misdiagnoses of black lung among coal mine workers, the internal review remains unfinished, writes reporter Matthew Mosk. The article notes that Johns Hopkins doctor Paul Wheeler “never concluded, even once, that a miner had severe black lung.” One of those miners misdiagnosed by Wheeler was Steve Day, who recently passed and whose autopsy showed he had an advanced case of black lung disease. Mosk writes: “The hospital declined to make anyone involved in the internal review available for an interview, and declined to say whether qualified academics were conducting the independent look back.”

Associated Press: Reporter Kristin Bender writes that upwards of 18,000 California nurses went on strike this month to protest a decline in patient care standards within Kaiser Permanente facilities as well as inadequate health and safety standards related to the care of Ebola patients. As of earlier this month, the nurses were in the middle of contract negotiations. About the strike, a union rep said: “This isn’t about money. This is about something far deeper.”

The Nation: Reporter Michelle Chen chronicles working conditions at Whole Foods, writing that workers “are taking their grievances to the regional corporate office in Emeryville, California. Their demand is simple: ‘a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees, and no retaliation for organizing their union.’” Unfortunately, it might be a tough road for Whole Foods workers, as CEO John Mackey once compared unions to herpes. Chen writes that among their grievances, Whole Foods workers often have to deal with inconsistent scheduling practices that leave them with barely any notice to make necessary accommodations, such as arranging child care.

The Hill: Reporter Tim Devaney writes that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is calling on the nation’s retailers to prepare to protect workers from being trampled during Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The article quotes David Michaels, the U.S. assistant secretary of labor, as saying: “During the hectic shopping season, retail workers should not be put at risk of injury or death. OSHA urges retailers to take the time to adopt a (crowd) management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.