Occupational Health News Roundup

At the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson reports that labor unions are stepping up to help protect increasingly vulnerable immigrant workers from deportation. In fact, Jamieson writes that in many instances, labor unions have become “de facto immigrants rights groups,” educating workers on their rights and teaching immigrants how to best handle encounters with immigration officials.

Jamieson’s story begins:

Yahaira Burgos was fearing the worst when her husband, Juan Vivares, reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in lower Manhattan in March. Vivares, who fled Colombia and entered the U.S. illegally in 2011, had recently been given a deportation order. Rather than hide, he showed up at the ICE office with Burgos and his lawyer to continue to press his case for asylum.

Vivares, 29, was detained for deportation. That’s when Burgos’ union sprang into action.

Prepared for Vivares’ detention, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ gathered for a rally outside the ICE office that afternoon, demanding his release. Union leadership appealed to New York’s congressional delegation, enlisting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) to reach out to ICE leadership. The union president even disseminated the name and phone number for the ICE officer handling Vivares’ deportation and urged allies to call him directly.

“I was very lucky to have a union,” said Burgos, a 39-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who works as a doorwoman on the Upper East Side. “They moved very fast. They moved every politician and every union member. … If it were not for the union he would be deported.”

Vivares is now at home with Burgos and their 19-month-old son, having been granted a stay of deportation as the court considers his motion to reopen his asylum case. Although he’s far from being in the clear, his lawyer, Rebecca Press, says the union’s quick response was critical to keeping Vivares in the U.S. for now. “I do believe that their being able to reach the upper echelons of Congress gave us a window of time,” she said.

Vivares’ case provides a vivid example of the gritty work unions are doing to protect immigrant members and their families vulnerable to deportation in the Trump era.

Read the full story at the Huffington Post.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette-Mail: Ken Ward Jr. reports that Trump intends to chose David Zatezalo, the former chief executive of the coal company Rhino Resources, to head up the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Zatezalo was a top executive at Rhino when MSHA cited the company for a number of health and safety violations, including two “pattern of violations” letters. In 2011, MSHA took the “unusual” action of seeking a court injunction against Rhino after the agency discovered that miners were being tipped off about the timing of MSHA inspections. In a related article in the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson wrote: “If he’s confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Zatezalo would be just the latest business-friendly official installed in Trump’s deregulation-happy administration. And like many of the appointees before him, Zatezalo has a resume that appears better suited to an industry trade group than a watchdog government agency.”

Sacramento Bee: Marjie Lundstrom reports that a year after 26-year-old Abraham Nicholas Garza was crushed to death at a Sacramento Goodwill outlet store, the nonprofit is facing new lawsuits and heightened scrutiny regarding its worker safety practices. In particular, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health opened three more investigations into safety issues at three Goodwill locations in the region. Among the lawsuits is one brought by Dave Goudie, a commercial truck driver who witnessed Garza’s death and had repeatedly warned Goodwill managers about the store’s hazardous work conditions. Goudie is suing Goodwill, his former employer, for defamation and retaliation. In the wake of Garza’s death, Goodwill was issued six violations and more than $106,000 in fines — the highest OSHA penalty ever issued against a Goodwill operation nationwide.

Vox: Alexia Fernandez Campbell reports that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, unauthorized workers will likely be “desperately needed” to rebuild Houston and the surrounding areas, even as Texas lawmakers are cracking down on undocumented residents and making it harder for them to live and work in the state. Campbell noted that after Hurricane Katrina, undocumented workers did the “dirtiest jobs” during the rebuilding effort, making an average of $10 an hour; overall, undocumented immigrants made up about 25 percent of construction workers after Katrina. However, the post-Katrina situation was also ripe for worker exploitation. Campbell writes: “Federal contractors found themselves in a situation where they could pay workers little money to do dangerous work with little federal oversight. The Department of Labor also temporarily lifted worksite safety enforcement actions against employers in hurricane-affected areas. As a result, undocumented workers were far less likely to get the wages they were promised.”

Los Angeles Times: Matt Hansen writes that years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “the list of the fallen continues to grow as police officers, firefighters, first responders and recovery workers succumb to illnesses linked to their work in the aftermath of the attacks.” Yesterday, he reported, a memorial on Long Island, New York, was dedicated to those who died on Sept. 11 as well as to those who’ve died from response-related illnesses. As of June, the World Trade Center Health Program had more than 67,000 responders and 12,000 attack survivors enrolled; since the program began in 2011, more than 1,300 enrollees have died, though not all deaths were related to the attack. Hansen writes: “John Feal, who heads the FealGood Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for first responders, worries that there are still too many responders and survivors who aren’t aware of the federal programs. ‘The reality is that more and more people are getting sick and dying,’ he said. He is particularly concerned about the coming emergence of asbestos cases, which he noted can take up to 20 years to appear.”

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.