Occupational Health News Roundup

At The New York Times, Elizabeth Olson writes about the challenges that older workers face in proving workplace bias. She begins the story with Donetta Raymond, a longtime manufacturing worker laid off, along with hundreds of others, by Spirit AeroSystems Holdings. Now, some of those workers are bringing a lawsuit after discovering that nearly half of the laid-off workers were 40 or older, the age when federal age discrimination protections kick in. Olson writes:

Such lawsuits are popping up as the nation’s work force ages and as many longtime workers claim that they are being deliberately targeted for such reductions. As manufacturing has contracted, more experienced workers feel they have limited options for re-employment if they are discarded at older ages.

“Once layoffs were done by reverse seniority. It was last in, first out, so the more senior workers kept their jobs,” said Robert J. Gordon, an economics professor at Northwestern University, who studies the country’s growth and work force productivity.

“Now we’re seeing a transition from the age of favoritism to that of age discrimination,” Mr. Gordon said, “because newer workers are allowed to stay on while more costly, older workers are let go.”

Olson noted that lawmakers in Congress have introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, though past efforts to enhance older worker protections have found little traction in Congress and opposition from big business.

While long-term workers are better off than they were a half-century ago when employers flatly blocked applicants over 55 years old and ran help-wanted ads that said “only workers under 35 need apply,” older employees still can encounter different kinds of age bias.

Age-related harassment complaints, especially remarks that belittle or demean longtime workers’ skills or contributions, are up noticeably. They rose to 4,185 last year, an increase of almost 14 percent since 2011, according to E.E.O.C. data.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

In other news:

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Dylan Lovan (Associated Press) reports that this year’s coal miner fatalities have surged ahead of last year’s with new miners particularly vulnerable to fatal incidents. Ten coal miners have died on the job this year, compared to eight last year. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration says it’s responding with new training, but the United Mine Workers of America says the agency’s effort isn’t enough. Right now, inspectors who conduct the trainings are prohibited from punishing the mine is any safety violations are detected. Lovan writes: “A former MSHA official said the agency would be ‘tying the hands’ of inspectors if they don’t allow them to write citations on the training visits. ‘The record low fatal injury rate among coal miners in recent years is because of strong enforcement of the law,’ said Celeste Monforton, who served on a governor-appointed panel that investigated West Virginia’s 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners. There were 12 coal mining deaths in 2015 and 16 in 2014.”

EHS Today: Stefanie Valentic reports that farm workers are protesting in Suma, Washington, after a fellow farmworker, Honesto Silva Ibarra, a temporary worker on a H-2A visa working for Sarbanand Farms, died after becoming sick on the job. Workers are alleging mistreatment and unsafe conditions in the death — one said supervisors repeatedly ignored Ibarra’s complaints about feeling sick. At a hospital, Ibarra was treated for dehydration and suffered cardiac arrest. The farm denied they knew about Ibarra’s illness. Valentic writes: “Since then, more than 70 workers for the blueberry grower were fired for insubordination after refusing to return to work and also currently are displaced from their living quarters. The employees protested, saying Ibarra did complain, and they were exposed to long work hours and unsafe conditions.”

The Guardian: Sam Levin reports that more than 60 current and former Google employees are considering a class-action suit against the technology company for sexism and pay disparities against women. If filed, the suit would build on a case brought by the U.S. Department of Labor, which is claiming Google systematically underpays women. Google denies the claim, though a judge recently forced the company to hand over salary records. Levin writes: “One former senior manager who recently left Google told the Guardian she repeatedly learned of men at the same level as her earning tens of thousands of dollars more than her, and in one case, she said she had a male employee join her team with a higher salary despite the fact that she was his superior.”

Detroit News: Keith Laing reports on what’s next for the United Auto Workers after the recent defeat at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where workers voted nearly 2 to 1 against forming a union. The vote marked the third time in nearly three decades that Nissan workers in the U.S. South had decided not to join the labor union. Shortly before the Canton vote, the union had filed seven claims that Nissan broke labor law; the National Labor Relations Board will consider the charges alongside a series of other allegations. Laing writes the labor board could order another election if it sides with the auto workers union. He writes: “Nissan has dismissed the UAW’s accusations of labor law violations as sour grapes that were part of a ‘desperate, last-minute attempt to undermine the integrity of the secret ballot voting process’ from the union.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years. Follow me on Twitter — @kkrisberg.