Occupational Health News Roundup

At the Toronto Star, reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh went undercover as a temp worker at Fiera Foods, an industrial bakery, to investigate why temp workers are more likely to get hurt on the job. Earlier this year, Canadian occupational health and safety officials brought charges against the company, whose clients include Dunkin’ Donuts, Costco and Walmart, for the death of 23-year-old Amina Diaby, who was strangled to death after her hijab got caught in a machine.

Mojtehedzadeh, along with Brendan Kennedy, write:

I get about five minutes of training in a factory packed with industrial equipment.

I am paid in cash with no deductions or pay stubs. I pick up my wages from a payday lender, a 35-minute bus ride from the factory.

Fiera has been slapped with 191 orders for health and safety violations over the past two decades, for everything from lack of proper guarding on machines to unsafely stored gas cylinders.

At least a dozen of the women I meet on my assembly line at Fiera, a multimillion-dollar company, are hired through temp agencies.

Temp agency workers are changing the face of labour in Ontario.

In workplaces around the province, the use of temp agencies limits companies’ liability for accidents on the job, reduces their responsibility for employees’ rights, and cuts costs.

When I walk into the factory, I see mostly people of colour. Many are new Canadians. Many told me they have taken this job for one reason: to survive.

The story describes the speed of the production line as “crushing” — Mojtehedzadeh reports:

Work that is too slow elicits shouting. Work that is too sloppy elicits more shouting. Our lead hand fires out a salvo of shrill commands to push the tempo.

The pinching continues for seven hours and 15 minutes. We receive one half-hour lunch break, as required by law. It is unpaid. We also receive a paid 15-minute break.

I feel overwhelming relief when it’s finally my turn for lunch. My shoulders are on fire. I shuffle to the break room and look eagerly at the THINK SAFETY clock. Only three hours have passed. A co-worker watches me collapse onto a bench.

“It gets harder,” she calls out.

Read the full story at the Toronto Star.

In other news:

Charleston Gazette-Mail: Ken Ward Jr. reports that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will oppose Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Trump has nominated former coal executive David Zatezalo, who served as chairman of Rhino Resources. While Zatezalo was an executive at Rhino, the mining company received more than one letter from MSHA regarding a “pattern of violations”; another Rhino mine was the target of an MSHA lawsuit for undermining inspections. Manchin said in his statement: “I have comforted too many families who have lost loved ones serving our nation in the mines. Strong leadership at the Mine Safety and Health Administration is non-negotiable.”

Arizona Daily Star: Emily Bregel reports that about 160 members of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters showed up at a meeting of the Industrial Commission of Arizona to confront officials about being too lenient with employers who violate health and safety standards. The also confronted the commission for not aggressively going after wage theft allegations and fraud within the construction industry. (An OSHA investigation found the commission arbitrarily reduced penalties for safety violations.) Bregel reported that during the meeting, union President Fabian Sandez said: “In our industry, dishonest businesses commit on a continuing basis acts of wage theft, fraud and willful safety violations, putting the physical safety and financial well-being of our state’s workers at risk. Yet this commission has chosen to side with lawbreakers by reducing fines, watering down violations, rather than taking the appropriate actions demanded by law.”

CNBC: Lauren Thomas reports that Target will be raising its minimum wage from $10 to $11 and is committed to raising it to $15 by 2020. The move comes amid a “quiet wage war” between Target and Walmart, which had previously announced a raise to $10 an hour by 2016. Target said the wage increase will start in October and will apply to the 100,000 temp workers it plans to hire for the holidays. In a commentary, Peter Sonn, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project, writes that Target’s decision “blows up the claims of corporate lobbyists who argue it’s simply not possible for industries like retail and restaurants to pay a $15 minimum wage.” He goes on to write: “Target’s plan to raise pay to $15 an hour over the next 30 months is smart business strategy, and what our nation’s workforce and economy need. There’s now a bullseye on the back of employers like Amazon, Walmart and McDonalds. They should follow Target’s lead.”

NBC Philadelphia: Alicia Victoria Lozano writes that the Philly-area International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98 is preparing to file suit against pharmaceutical companies that have contributed to the opioid epidemic. The union has lost eight members in 11 months to the drug. The union recently changed its opioid prescription policy to help prevent addiction, with members using the union’s health provider now limited to five days of opioids for injury or pain. The old policy allowed for unlimited opioid prescribing. Lozano quoted John Dougherty, business manager for the union, who said of fellow workers: “They don’t want to miss any work time, so they work through injuries, which compounds the pain and leads to the use and abuse of opioids. I’m sick of seeing our members working themselves into an early grave.”

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.