Occupational Health News Roundup

As world leaders are gathered in Paris to discuss international efforts to combat climate change, Michelle Chen writes that workers in the Global South will “need to build livelihoods that can mitigate ecological crisis — and leap ahead of the dominant fossil-fuel based economies, which historically have both controlled and stifled their development.” Reporting for The Nation, Chen starts her article with a report from the New Delhi-based Just Jobs Network, which notes that climate-driven migration has the potential to drive down wages and working conditions in urban areas. Chen writes:

But migration, for better or worse, serves as a sociological barometer for the climate crisis. A basic coping mechanism in response to declining crop yields, for instance, might be more Indian farmers streaming into cities to pursue low-wage, dangerous construction jobs. Some may migrate to the Middle East as low-wage guestworkers, where they are even more vulnerable to abuse. Wherever they go, JJN reports, “migrant workers enjoy little to no legal protections when they migrate, making them particularly susceptible to exploitation.”

But the main patterns of climate-induced migration will be temporary and intraregional — such as a temporary displacement from drought. Or, as extreme weather patterns become the “new normal,” people resort to circular migration — cyclical movement that helps people cope with harsh conditions at home, such as Mexican farmers going north for seasonal harvesting jobs.

Chen also writes about successful models that integrate the ideas of environmental protection and quality work. For example, in Indonesia, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security works to prevent overfishing while investing in sustainable fisheries. Chen writes:

Beyond the allure of solar startups and farmer’s markets, our concept of an ecologically balanced livelihood should also reach drowning farmlands and sweltering sweatshops at the periphery of the global economy. These workers were cheated out of the promise of development under carbon-fueled capitalism. They ought to be at the helm of a just transition to a decarbonized world.

To read the full article, visit The Nation.

In other news:

The Texas Tribune: Jim Malewitz reports that the Dallas City Council has approved a measure that requires construction companies give workers a 10-minute break for every four hours of work. The move means Dallas and Austin will be the only two cities in the very hot Lone Star State to require such worker health protections. The Austin-based Workers Defense Project pushed hard for the new requirement after the death of 25-year-old Roendy Granillo, who suffered heat stroke while installing hardwood flooring in a community northeast of Dallas. Noting that industry opposed the new rest break measure, Malewitz writes: “Federal law doesn’t require rest breaks, but some states do. California, Nevada and Kentucky are among those mandating paid 10-minute breaks every four hours in many industries. Employers in Texas, however, do not even have to give their workers meal breaks under the law.”

Chicago Tribune: Nontenured teachers at the University of Chicago have voted 96 to 22 in favor of joining SEIU Local 73, reports Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz. The election is the first in the city connected to SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign, which has helped form 30 unions of nontenured faculty in the last three years across the country. Elejalde-Ruiz writes: “The movement comes amid a shift in academia toward the use of more nontenured and part-time instructors, which union supporters say has hurt employment conditions and the academic environment.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota OSHA has fined the state’s largest psychiatric hospital $63,000 and cited the facility with nine serious violations of rules meant to protect employees from workplace violence, reports Chris Serres, who also noted that the violations come as the hospital “struggles to control a rash of violent attacks on staff by patients.” The state OSHA agency launched its investigation after a “16-year-old patient grabbed a security counselor by the hair, bashed her head against a wall and kicked her in the head repeatedly,” Serres reports.

LA Weekly: Dennis Romero reports that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has opened an investigation into an adult video production company, James Deen Productions. The investigation follows a complaint filed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been critical of the industry’s reluctance to enforce stricter condom standards, as well as a number of physical assault allegations made against Deen. Romero writes: “The accusations have highlighted porn’s obsession with the on-screen (and ostensibly fantasy-based) abuse of women. Many of his accusers said that Deen choked, slapped and forced himself on them between breaks in shooting.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.