worker center https://scienceblogs.com/ en In the fight for a rest break, Dallas construction workers find their voice: ‘This is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger’ (rerun) https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2016/12/30/in-the-fight-for-a-rest-break-dallas-construction-workers-find-their-voice-this-is-not-the-end-but-a-stepping-stone-to-something-bigger-rerun <span>In the fight for a rest break, Dallas construction workers find their voice: ‘This is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger’ (rerun)</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><em>The Pump Handle is on a holiday break. The following, which was originally published on May 23, is one of our favorite posts from 2016.</em></p> <p>by Kim Krisberg</p> <p>Last summer, 25-year-old Roendy Granillo died of heat stroke while he installed flooring in a house in Melissa, Texas, just north of Dallas. His tragic and entirely preventable death marked a turning point in advocacy efforts to pass a rest break ordinance for local construction workers.</p> <p>About five months after Granillo’s death, the Dallas City Council voted 10-5 to approve such an ordinance, which requires that construction workers be given a 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. On its face, it seems like an incredibly simple and logical request, especially considering the extreme heat of Texas summers. However, it took advocates and supporters nearly two years to secure this basic worker safety protection. Among those many supporters were Granillo’s parents, who joined the rest break campaign and called on local legislators to protect other construction workers from the circumstances that took their young son.</p> <p>“On the day of the vote, it really was amazing,” said Diana Ramirez, campaign organizer at the Dallas office of <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/">Workers Defense Project</a> (WDP), which led the rest break campaign. “Roendy’s parents were there, our members were there…the whole room started clapping. It was a long fight and people were tired, but it re-energized everyone to know that if we keep working hard, things will get better. Now, (workers in Dallas) feel like they have a voice.”</p> <p><strong>‘It was so basic, we thought surely they’d go along with it’</strong></p> <p>The roots of the Dallas rest break effort began with stories from workers, Ramirez said. Every Tuesday night, WDP hosts a gathering of its members and workers from the community, who come together to share stories, learn about their labor rights, and organize for better working conditions. It was during these meetings that the lack of rest breaks among construction workers became distressingly clear. For example, Ramirez said she and fellow WDP staff would often ask “extremely tired” construction workers how many breaks they had taken or if their employers had provided enough water breaks on a scorching hot day.</p> <p>“They would look at us like we were crazy and say ‘of course not,’” she told me. “Employers would say ‘you’re not here to rest, you’re here to work.’ Even on the hottest day of the year.”</p> <p>Based on such feedback from workers, the WDP Dallas office, which had opened in 2012 and was still fairly new at the time, decided to push for a rest break ordinance similar to one that passed in Austin in 2010. Ramirez said she and colleagues thought it would be a relatively easy sell — maybe it would take a few months at the most. Instead, workers and advocates spent the next two years in an uphill battle against industry for a simple, low-cost accommodation that could literally save a worker’s life.</p> <p>“We were extremely surprised,” Ramirez said. “We had members come and give testimony, we had members meet with council members…and it was just heartbreaking to see that their point wasn’t getting across. Industry saw this rest break (campaign) as a threat — as a group of workers speaking up and demanding something.”</p> <p>The data, however, show that construction workers in Texas have every right to be concerned. According to a 2013 <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/Build%20a%20Better%20Texas_FINAL.pdf">WDP report</a> conducted with the University of Texas-Austin and that surveyed nearly 1,200 construction workers in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio, 39 percent of workers said they do not receive rest breaks during the day besides a break for lunch. In addition, while federal OSHA law requires that employers provide drinking water for workers, 59 percent of workers surveyed said their employers did not do so. And 15 percent of construction workers said they had seen a co-worker faint due to heat exhaustion. Texas law doesn’t require employers to give construction workers rest breaks — in fact, it doesn’t even mandate meal breaks. Overall, Texas remains the most <a href="http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/2014_workplace/?_ga=1.196832874.75670649.1463769982">dangerous state</a> to be a construction worker.</p> <p>When it comes to heat, the latest heat illness <a href="https://www.dallascounty.org/department/hhs/documents/Heat-RelatedIllnessReportWeek369.12.15.pdf">surveillance report</a> from Dallas Health and Human Services shows that the majority of heat illness reports among people ages 18 to 50 are related to outdoor work. Between July 2015 and mid-September 2015, the health department documented 164 cases of heat exhaustion, 31 cases of heat stroke and two heat-related fatalities. (It’s very likely that many heat-related illnesses that happen on the job go unreported. For example, OSHA only receives reports on those heat-related illnesses that were severe enough to require hospitalization.) On July 19, 2015, the day Granillo died, the Dallas heat rose to 99 degrees.</p> <p>“It was so basic, we thought surely they’d go along with it,” said Bethany Boggess, research coordinator at WDP, of the Dallas City Council. “But there was really strong opposition.”</p> <p>WDP first proposed the Dallas rest break ordinance in June 2014, and the Dallas City Council held its first briefing on the ordinance a few months later in September. Both Boggess and Ramirez relayed to me a litany of opposing arguments that came up during the process, such as arguing that it doesn’t get <em>that hot</em> in Dallas, or that regulating rest breaks was OSHA’s responsibility, or that there weren’t enough heat-related deaths to warrant such action. In one instance, according to both Ramirez and Boggess, a council member wondered aloud why Latino construction workers would need a rest break at all after having traveled through the desert just to get to the United States.</p> <p>“Some of the comments were just racist,” Ramirez said. “We were a bit prepared to hear something like that in a one-on-one meeting, but it definitely surprised me to hear this said at a public hearing.”</p> <p>At one point, Boggess said, policy-makers offered up an alternative ordinance that focused entirely on educating construction workers about heat stress without actually mandating a rest break. But OSHA already educates workers about heat hazards, she said, and that clearly isn’t enough to properly protect workers. WDP rejected the alternative and continued pushing for an ordinance with some teeth.</p> <p>Then, on July 19, 2015, Roendy Granillo died on the job.</p> <p><strong>‘This is the worst that can happen’</strong></p> <p>On a blazing Texas day, Granillo was installing flooring in an unventilated house in Melissa, Texas, about 40 miles outside of Dallas. Ramirez, who has spoken with Granillo’s parents, told me that Granillo often worked 12- to 14-hour days. His mom would pack him a lunch; but on many occasions, he’d return at the end of the day without having had the chance to take a single bite. On the day he died, he told his employer he wasn’t feeling well and he needed to rest. His employer ignored his requests and told him to get back to work. At about 4 p.m., Granillo passed out.</p> <p>He was taken to a local hospital, where he died at age 25 of heat stroke. According to Ramirez, his body temperature reached 110 degrees — “I can only imagine how he must have felt when he asked for help,” she said. Ramirez said what struck her most was that Granillo’s stomach was empty when he died. He hadn’t even been given time to eat.</p> <p>“This is the worst that can happen,” Ramirez said. “But we hear stories all the time from workers about getting dizzy (from the heat) and feeling like they’re going to throw up.”</p> <p>Mario Alberto Ontiveros has been a member and volunteer with WDP for more than three years and a construction worker for 16 years. Through a translator, he told me how easy it is to get dehydrated while working on a construction site on a hot day. In fact, Ontiveros said he believes many fall-related injuries and deaths are associated with heat, too — in other words, roofers and bricklayers get dizzy from the extreme heat and dehydration, lose their balance and fall. He said he’s seen first-hand how dangerous conditions can become when workers don’t get enough rest while working in the unrelenting heat.</p> <p>Fortunately, Ontiveros said he typically works for companies that do provide rest and meal breaks. But he said working with contractors has been another story. For example, about six years ago, he was working for a contractor painting a stadium near Dallas. He took a lunch break at noon, and then continued painting without a break until 5 p.m. in temperatures above 100 degrees. The next day, he couldn’t move his arm and was eventually diagnosed with tendonitis. The injury left him unable to work for weeks.</p> <p>“Every time there’s a new ordinance or law that would help workers…the industry doesn’t want it,” Ontiveros told me. “They’re only worried about the money, not about the worker. They would always say it would cost a lot of money, but what about the families who suffer when there’s accidents?”</p> <p>In the weeks following Granillo’s death, WDP held a candlelight vigil for the 25-year-old worker outside Dallas City Hall. Both Boggess and Ramirez said the preventable tragedy was a turning point for the rest break campaign. In addition to hearing directly from Granillo’s family, Dallas City Council members also heard via letter from a local emergency room doctor, John Corker, who wrote:</p> <blockquote><p>While many construction workers are able to take breaks and drink water throughout the day, others are employed by less scrupulous employers who have little regard for the health and safety of their employees. Roendy Granillo was one such employee, toiling for 14 hours per day without breaks of any kind in Dallas suburbs. The 25-year-old repeatedly asked his employer to be taken to the hospital because he felt ill but was repeatedly denied medical care. It was not until Mr. Granillo collapsed on the construction site this past July that he was finally given any medical care, but by then it was too late. His body temperature had risen to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to multiorgan system failure which occurs in severe cases of heat stroke. As a last noble act, Mr. Granillo wished to be an organ donor, but unfortunately only his skin and bones could be harvested for transplant because the rest of his organs had been destroyed by the prolonged exposure to heat.</p></blockquote> <p>On Dec. 9, 2015, the Dallas City Council voted 10-5 in favor of the rest break ordinance, becoming only the second Texas city, in addition to Austin, to adopt such protections for construction workers. (Boggess noted that the vote was pretty evenly split among those who received campaign funding from the construction and real estate industry and those who didn’t.) The ordinance, which covers only construction workers and went into effect in January, requires a minimum 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. The Dallas ordinance is expected to cover about 120,000 workers.</p> <p>According to the ordinance, every construction site must now post signs in English and Spanish that inform workers of their right to a rest break and tells workers how to report a violation. Unlike the Austin ordinance, Dallas construction sites won’t be subject to random inspections related to rest breaks; however, Dallas building code inspectors do have authority to enforce rest break signage during their regular inspections. Dallas construction workers can also call 311 to log rest break complaints and violations, though Boggess said the investigative process that will follow is still being worked out.</p> <p>Boggess said WDP is currently working on the best ways to enforce the ordinance as well as on ways to raise awareness of the new protection among Dallas construction workers.</p> <p>“After this victory, people realize we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to keep fighting for workers.”</p> <p>For Ontiveros and his wife Lourdes, who had testified for her husband before the City Council while he was at work, the winning vote was just the beginning. Now, they both said, successful implementation will be key.</p> <p>“For me, I had a lot of joy in knowing we had passed this ordinance to help so many construction workers,” Lourdes said. “It was very gratifying…but I also know that the implementation needs to work for this to be a real victory — that this is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger.”</p> <p>Her husband added: “On my way to City Hall to celebrate with everyone, I just kept thinking about Roendy and all those deaths and injuries that would have been prevented with this ordinance. …We always need more people that support and fight to better their own lives and their own conditions at work. We want a safe and healthy city in all aspects of the word.”</p> <p>To learn more about worker safety efforts in Dallas and Austin, visit the <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/">Workers Defense Project</a>.</p> <p><em>(A special thank you to Diana Ramirez for providing translation during interviews for this story.)</em></p> <p><em>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/lborkowski" lang="" about="/author/lborkowski" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">lborkowski</a></span> <span>Fri, 12/30/2016 - 02:18</span> Fri, 30 Dec 2016 07:18:17 +0000 lborkowski 62761 at https://scienceblogs.com In the fight for a rest break, Dallas construction workers find their voice: ‘This is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger’ https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2016/05/23/in-the-fight-for-a-rest-break-dallas-construction-workers-find-their-voice-this-is-not-the-end-but-a-stepping-stone-to-something-bigger <span>In the fight for a rest break, Dallas construction workers find their voice: ‘This is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger’</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Last summer, 25-year-old Roendy Granillo died of heat stroke while he installed flooring in a house in Melissa, Texas, just north of Dallas. His tragic and entirely preventable death marked a turning point in advocacy efforts to pass a rest break ordinance for local construction workers.</p> <p>About five months after Granillo’s death, the Dallas City Council voted 10-5 to approve such an ordinance, which requires that construction workers be given a 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. On its face, it seems like an incredibly simple and logical request, especially considering the extreme heat of Texas summers. However, it took advocates and supporters nearly two years to secure this basic worker safety protection. Among those many supporters were Granillo’s parents, who joined the rest break campaign and called on local legislators to protect other construction workers from the circumstances that took their young son.</p> <p>“On the day of the vote, it really was amazing,” said Diana Ramirez, campaign organizer at the Dallas office of <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/">Workers Defense Project</a> (WDP), which led the rest break campaign. “Roendy’s parents were there, our members were there…the whole room started clapping. It was a long fight and people were tired, but it re-energized everyone to know that if we keep working hard, things will get better. Now, (workers in Dallas) feel like they have a voice.”</p> <p><strong>‘It was so basic, we thought surely they’d go along with it’</strong></p> <p>The roots of the Dallas rest break effort began with stories from workers, Ramirez said. Every Tuesday night, WDP hosts a gathering of its members and workers from the community, who come together to share stories, learn about their labor rights, and organize for better working conditions. It was during these meetings that the lack of rest breaks among construction workers became distressingly clear. For example, Ramirez said she and fellow WDP staff would often ask “extremely tired” construction workers how many breaks they had taken or if their employers had provided enough water breaks on a scorching hot day.</p> <p>“They would look at us like we were crazy and say ‘of course not,’” she told me. “Employers would say ‘you’re not here to rest, you’re here to work.’ Even on the hottest day of the year.”</p> <p>Based on such feedback from workers, the WDP Dallas office, which had opened in 2012 and was still fairly new at the time, decided to push for a rest break ordinance similar to one that passed in Austin in 2010. Ramirez said she and colleagues thought it would be a relatively easy sell — maybe it would take a few months at the most. Instead, workers and advocates spent the next two years in an uphill battle against industry for a simple, low-cost accommodation that could literally save a worker’s life.</p> <p>“We were extremely surprised,” Ramirez said. “We had members come and give testimony, we had members meet with council members…and it was just heartbreaking to see that their point wasn’t getting across. Industry saw this rest break (campaign) as a threat — as a group of workers speaking up and demanding something.”</p> <p>The data, however, show that construction workers in Texas have every right to be concerned. According to a 2013 <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/Build%20a%20Better%20Texas_FINAL.pdf">WDP report</a> conducted with the University of Texas-Austin and that surveyed nearly 1,200 construction workers in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio, 39 percent of workers said they do not receive rest breaks during the day besides a break for lunch. In addition, while federal OSHA law requires that employers provide drinking water for workers, 59 percent of workers surveyed said their employers did not do so. And 15 percent of construction workers said they had seen a co-worker faint due to heat exhaustion. Texas law doesn’t require employers to give construction workers rest breaks — in fact, it doesn’t even mandate meal breaks. Overall, Texas remains the most <a href="http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/2014_workplace/?_ga=1.196832874.75670649.1463769982">dangerous state</a> to be a construction worker.</p> <p>When it comes to heat, the latest heat illness <a href="https://www.dallascounty.org/department/hhs/documents/Heat-RelatedIllnessReportWeek369.12.15.pdf">surveillance report</a> from Dallas Health and Human Services shows that the majority of heat illness reports among people ages 18 to 50 are related to outdoor work. Between July 2015 and mid-September 2015, the health department documented 164 cases of heat exhaustion, 31 cases of heat stroke and two heat-related fatalities. (It’s very likely that many heat-related illnesses that happen on the job go unreported. For example, OSHA only receives reports on those heat-related illnesses that were severe enough to require hospitalization.) On July 19, 2015, the day Granillo died, the Dallas heat rose to 99 degrees.</p> <p>“It was so basic, we thought surely they’d go along with it,” said Bethany Boggess, research coordinator at WDP, of the Dallas City Council. “But there was really strong opposition.”</p> <p>WDP first proposed the Dallas rest break ordinance in June 2014, and the Dallas City Council held its first briefing on the ordinance a few months later in September. Both Boggess and Ramirez relayed to me a litany of opposing arguments that came up during the process, such as arguing that it doesn’t get <em>that hot</em> in Dallas, or that regulating rest breaks was OSHA’s responsibility, or that there weren’t enough heat-related deaths to warrant such action. In one instance, according to both Ramirez and Boggess, a council member wondered aloud why Latino construction workers would need a rest break at all after having traveled through the desert just to get to the United States.</p> <p>“Some of the comments were just racist,” Ramirez said. “We were a bit prepared to hear something like that in a one-on-one meeting, but it definitely surprised me to hear this said at a public hearing.”</p> <p>At one point, Boggess said, policy-makers offered up an alternative ordinance that focused entirely on educating construction workers about heat stress without actually mandating a rest break. But OSHA already educates workers about heat hazards, she said, and that clearly isn’t enough to properly protect workers. WDP rejected the alternative and continued pushing for an ordinance with some teeth.</p> <p>Then, on July 19, 2015, Roendy Granillo died on the job.</p> <p><strong>‘This is the worst that can happen’</strong></p> <p>On a blazing Texas day, Granillo was installing flooring in an unventilated house in Melissa, Texas, about 40 miles outside of Dallas. Ramirez, who has spoken with Granillo’s parents, told me that Granillo often worked 12- to 14-hour days. His mom would pack him a lunch; but on many occasions, he’d return at the end of the day without having had the chance to take a single bite. On the day he died, he told his employer he wasn’t feeling well and he needed to rest. His employer ignored his requests and told him to get back to work. At about 4 p.m., Granillo passed out.</p> <p>He was taken to a local hospital, where he died at age 25 of heat stroke. According to Ramirez, his body temperature reached 110 degrees — “I can only imagine how he must have felt when he asked for help,” she said. Ramirez said what struck her most was that Granillo’s stomach was empty when he died. He hadn’t even been given time to eat.</p> <p>“This is the worst that can happen,” Ramirez said. “But we hear stories all the time from workers about getting dizzy (from the heat) and feeling like they’re going to throw up.”</p> <p>Mario Alberto Ontiveros has been a member and volunteer with WDP for more than three years and a construction worker for 16 years. Through a translator, he told me how easy it is to get dehydrated while working on a construction site on a hot day. In fact, Ontiveros said he believes many fall-related injuries and deaths are associated with heat, too — in other words, roofers and bricklayers get dizzy from the extreme heat and dehydration, lose their balance and fall. He said he’s seen first-hand how dangerous conditions can become when workers don’t get enough rest while working in the unrelenting heat.</p> <p>Fortunately, Ontiveros said he typically works for companies that do provide rest and meal breaks. But he said working with contractors has been another story. For example, about six years ago, he was working for a contractor painting a stadium near Dallas. He took a lunch break at noon, and then continued painting without a break until 5 p.m. in temperatures above 100 degrees. The next day, he couldn’t move his arm and was eventually diagnosed with tendonitis. The injury left him unable to work for weeks.</p> <p>“Every time there’s a new ordinance or law that would help workers…the industry doesn’t want it,” Ontiveros told me. “They’re only worried about the money, not about the worker. They would always say it would cost a lot of money, but what about the families who suffer when there’s accidents?”</p> <p>In the weeks following Granillo’s death, WDP held a candlelight vigil for the 25-year-old worker outside Dallas City Hall. Both Boggess and Ramirez said the preventable tragedy was a turning point for the rest break campaign. In addition to hearing directly from Granillo’s family, Dallas City Council members also heard via letter from a local emergency room doctor, John Corker, who wrote:</p> <blockquote><p>While many construction workers are able to take breaks and drink water throughout the day, others are employed by less scrupulous employers who have little regard for the health and safety of their employees. Roendy Granillo was one such employee, toiling for 14 hours per day without breaks of any kind in Dallas suburbs. The 25-year-old repeatedly asked his employer to be taken to the hospital because he felt ill but was repeatedly denied medical care. It was not until Mr. Granillo collapsed on the construction site this past July that he was finally given any medical care, but by then it was too late. His body temperature had risen to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to multiorgan system failure which occurs in severe cases of heat stroke. As a last noble act, Mr. Granillo wished to be an organ donor, but unfortunately only his skin and bones could be harvested for transplant because the rest of his organs had been destroyed by the prolonged exposure to heat.</p></blockquote> <p>On Dec. 9, 2015, the Dallas City Council voted 10-5 in favor of the rest break ordinance, becoming only the second Texas city, in addition to Austin, to adopt such protections for construction workers. (Boggess noted that the vote was pretty evenly split among those who received campaign funding from the construction and real estate industry and those who didn’t.) The ordinance, which covers only construction workers and went into effect in January, requires a minimum 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. The Dallas ordinance is expected to cover about 120,000 workers.</p> <p>According to the ordinance, every construction site must now post signs in English and Spanish that inform workers of their right to a rest break and tells workers how to report a violation. Unlike the Austin ordinance, Dallas construction sites won’t be subject to random inspections related to rest breaks; however, Dallas building code inspectors do have authority to enforce rest break signage during their regular inspections. Dallas construction workers can also call 311 to log rest break complaints and violations, though Boggess said the investigative process that will follow is still being worked out.</p> <p>Boggess said WDP is currently working on the best ways to enforce the ordinance as well as on ways to raise awareness of the new protection among Dallas construction workers.</p> <p>“After this victory, people realize we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to keep fighting for workers.”</p> <p>For Ontiveros and his wife Lourdes, who had testified for her husband before the City Council while he was at work, the winning vote was just the beginning. Now, they both said, successful implementation will be key.</p> <p>“For me, I had a lot of joy in knowing we had passed this ordinance to help so many construction workers,” Lourdes said. “It was very gratifying…but I also know that the implementation needs to work for this to be a real victory — that this is not the end, but a stepping stone to something bigger.”</p> <p>Her husband added: “On my way to City Hall to celebrate with everyone, I just kept thinking about Roendy and all those deaths and injuries that would have been prevented with this ordinance. …We always need more people that support and fight to better their own lives and their own conditions at work. We want a safe and healthy city in all aspects of the word.”</p> <p>To learn more about worker safety efforts in Dallas and Austin, visit the <a href="http://www.workersdefense.org/">Workers Defense Project</a>.</p> <p><em>(A special thank you to Diana Ramirez for providing translation during interviews for this story.)</em></p> <p><em>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/kkrisberg" lang="" about="/author/kkrisberg" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">kkrisberg</a></span> <span>Mon, 05/23/2016 - 12:12</span> Mon, 23 May 2016 16:12:12 +0000 kkrisberg 62620 at https://scienceblogs.com Chicago organizers take on domestic worker health and safety: ‘We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect’ https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2015/12/24/chicago-organizers-take-on-domestic-worker-health-and-safety-we-start-with-the-idea-that-everyone-deserves-dignity-and-respect-2 <span>Chicago organizers take on domestic worker health and safety: ‘We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect’</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><em>During the holiday season, Kim, Liz and I are taking a short break from blogging. We are posting some of our favorite posts from the past year. Here’s one of them which was originally posted on May 26, 2015:</em></p> <p>by Kim Krisberg</p> <p>After 18 years as a professional house cleaner in the suburbs of Chicago, Magdalena Zylinska says she feels very lucky. Unlike many of her fellow domestic workers, she hasn’t sustained any serious injuries.</p> <p>Zylinska, 43, cleans residences in the metropolitan Chicago area five days a week. An independent contractor, she cleans two to three houses each day. Fortunately, she doesn’t do the job alone — she always works with at least one other person, so they can help each other with much of the lifting and other types of repetitive physical labor that can often lead to preventable injuries and even long-term disabilities. But Zylinska is well aware of the hazards and abuses that frequently accompany the duties of domestic workers — the house cleaners, nannies and caregivers who work in unregulated workplaces with no employer oversight, accountability or standards. A workforce largely made up of immigrants and women from minority communities, domestic workers often face a level of workplace isolation that lends itself all too easily to exploitation and persistent, preventable dangers.</p> <p>So when Zylinska heard an advertisement on Polish-language radio about a free training course specifically designed for domestic workers on occupational health and safety as well as green cleaning, she jumped at the chance. In late 2013, she took the training course and received a certificate of completion that she hopes to use in marketing her services. During the weekend-long training course, Zylinska and her fellow domestic workers also learned about their rights under wage and labor laws and how to negotiate a contract with a client.</p> <p>The course Zylinska took was developed and organized by <a href="http://arisechicago.org/">Arise Chicago</a>, a local worker center that partners with faith communities to fight for worker justice and is one of many efforts across the country bringing much-needed health and safety training to domestic workers.</p> <p>“We don’t really know what our rights are,” Zylinska told me. “We come from a different country, we don’t know what’s expected of us — a lot of (employers) will use that against us. …I wish more people could take this course.”</p> <p>About four years ago, Arise Chicago began reaching out to domestic workers, but found that the isolating nature of the industry made it difficult to bring workers together, said Ania Jakubek, domestic worker organizer at Arise. Fortunately, Jakubek and her colleagues began making some real inroads after recruiting workers to participate in the first national survey of domestic workers, which was conducted by the <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/">National Domestic Workers Alliance</a> (NDWA) and findings from which were released in 2012. The experience solidified the need to organize Chicago’s domestic workers, Jakubek said, and so advocates began talking with workers about their personal and professional needs. Formal training and education quickly rose to the top.</p> <p>“They wanted education related to their work,” Jakubek told me. “They said they didn’t feel like professionals and felt like they were undervalued.”</p> <p>In turn, Jakubek partnered with researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum that includes education on labor and wage rights. (Jakubek noted that Arise first tried organizing a know-your-rights training for domestic workers, but it wasn’t a great success. When the focus switched to health and safety, however, worker interest rose markedly.) The final training curriculum focuses on three main topic areas — chemical hazards and green cleaning, ergonomics and how to deal with work-related stress — and includes education in domestic worker rights and how to negotiate a contract. The curriculum, which draws inspiration from a <a href="http://coeh.berkeley.edu/bridges/Summer2012/HomecareGuide.html">guidebook</a> developed at Berkeley’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, addresses many of the specific risks and conditions uncovered in the NDWA survey and report, <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/sites/default/files/HomeEconomicsEnglish.pdf">“Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”</a></p> <p>That report, which summarizes survey responses from more then 2,000 nannies, caregivers and house cleaners in 14 metropolitan areas and was conducted in nine languages, found that 38 percent of workers had suffered from occupational wrist, shoulder, elbow or hip pain in the previous year; 29 percent of house cleaners had suffered from skin irritation and 20 percent had experienced respiratory problems; and 29 percent of caregivers had suffered a back injury in the previous 12 months. The survey also found that 23 percent of survey respondents were paid below the state minimum wage, 35 percent worked long hours without proper breaks, and 25 percent of live-in domestic workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep in the week prior to being surveyed. The great majority of domestic workers said they didn’t speak up about troublesome workplace conditions for fear of losing their jobs.</p> <p>Veronica Avila, workforce development director at NDWA, said because most domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and don’t receive proper health and safety training, worker centers such as Arise play a hugely important role. She said the alliance is currently working on creating an inclusive curriculum that can be easily adopted by worker groups nationwide, with the ultimate goal that comprehensive training will lead to increased negotiating power among domestic workers as well as higher wages.</p> <p>“The home is a workplace that has real implications for the health and safety of workers,” said Avila, who noted that health and safety protections are a central piece of the alliance’s push for stronger legislative protections, such as the <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/ca-bill-of-rights">California Bill of Rights</a> that went into effect last year. “It’s really about having an impact on the day-to-day life of workers.”</p> <p><strong>Health, safety and justice: ‘Domestic workers have to build power’</strong></p> <p>The Arise training, which is taught in Polish and conducted over the course of a weekend, begins with lessons in ergonomics, such as safe lifting, bending and carrying techniques, as well as tips on how to look for and assess hazards in the workplace. Education then moves on to chemical hazards and green cleaning, as many domestic workers work with harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals on a daily basis.</p> <p>During this part of class, workers get some hands-on experience making their own cleaning products with more natural and less abrasive ingredients, such as vinegar, incense oil and plain soap. (Much of the green cleaning lessons draw from <a href="http://web61798.aiso.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/final-english-vida-verde-turi-booklet.pdf">Vida Verde</a>, which supports Brazilian house cleaners in making green cleaning a reality.) Marsha Love, an occupational health educator at the University of Illinois-Chicago who worked with Jakubek to develop the training, said the green cleaning demonstrations are among the students’ favorite lessons. In fact, one exercise has students developing an advertisement for the green cleaning products they create in class.</p> <p>After ergonomics and green cleaning, discussions turn to stress — what causes stress on the job, how stress manifests, how to deal with stress collectively and as individuals, and how to address the organizational and systemic roots of domestic worker stress. This is where education on one’s labor rights and how to effectively negotiate with employers is especially important, as it’s often the lack of formal parameters and expectations in the domestic worker-employer relationship that are the source of worker stress.</p> <p>“The personal stress relief part is so important,” Love told me. “The problem for many domestic workers, especially live-ins, is that time is not their own. So to find time for stress relief is a big issue.”</p> <p>Jakubek said the training encourages workers to put together a stress relief “goodie bag” that they can carry with them. The goodie bag could include a piece of chocolate, a soothing aromatic pouch or a picture of one’s children. But, she said it’s education on how to put together a contract and how to negotiate with clients that really gets at the roots of domestic worker stress and empowers workers to celebrate and value their work. In addition, bringing together workers who typically labor in isolated environments is a form of therapy in itself, Jakubek said. At the end of each training weekend, workers who’ve completed the entire course receive a certificate and are offered a chance to join Arise and the growing domestic worker movement.</p> <p>“The knowledge they’re getting is so important,” Jakubek told me. “They’re undervalued and they’re not protected by most laws. We need to change that — that’s one of our goals, to get them involved in policy change.”</p> <p>As of late spring, more than 60 domestic workers had participated in the Arise training and received a certificate of completion, said Jakubek, who’s now working with her partners to develop a health and safety train-the-trainer curriculum. The completion certificate states that the worker has participated in health, safety and green cleaning training and is designed to help domestic workers market their services and secure fair employment.</p> <p>“Once workers are in the room, they feel free to speak about their needs and share their experiences and we can use that as a basis for thinking about problems and taking action on them,” Love said. “It’s a very dynamic experience — the facilitator is them, not me.”</p> <p>Arise isn’t the only Chicago worker center reaching out to domestic workers with education and training. Last year at <a href="http://www.latinounion.org/">Latino Union of Chicago</a>, organizers trained more than 100 domestic workers in the span of four months — it was the union’s first such health and safety training for domestic workers. Building off a longtime partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago’s<a href="http://www.uic.edu/sph/erc/index.html">Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Education and Research Center</a> and the Latino Union, the center brought on an intern — industrial hygiene student Sheila M. Serrano-Serrano from the University of Puerto Rico — to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum. During focus groups with domestic workers, Serrano-Serrano found that even among workers who did not report a work-related injury, 75 percent still experienced pain after completing a work task.</p> <p>Like the Arise curriculum, the Latino Union curriculum, which is delivered in English and Spanish, covers ergonomics, chemical hazards, hands-on green cleaning training, stress relief, labor rights and employer negotiations. Participants are offered contract templates and receive a certificate upon completion.</p> <p>But unlike more traditional health and safety training, the Latino Union curriculum kicks off with a discussion on the history of women workers and their many accomplishments, said Joe Zanoni, director of continuing education and outreach at the university center. This year, Zanoni said organizers are now offering domestic workers CPR training as well — a skill that domestic workers had specifically requested.</p> <p>“We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect,” Zanoni told me. “We offer some ideas, (the workers) offer some ideas and hopefully we can start a conversation in which workers can support each other. We want health and safety to be a natural part of their lives.”</p> <p>Myrla Baldonado, domestic worker organizer at Latino Union, said she’s heard from many domestic workers who said the training empowered them with the skills and confidence to initiate conversations with employers and clients — “it lifts up their spirits to see that they can change their situations,” she said. The Latino Union is home to the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, which is devoted to advancing an <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/illinois-bill-of-rights">Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights</a>.</p> <p>“Domestic workers have to build power,” Baldonado told me. “Right now, there are no rules — it’s a completely unregulated workplace.”</p> <p>Zylinska, who’s experienced more than one wage theft attempt at the hands of dishonest employers and now works to organize domestic workers as a member of Arise Chicago, said she highly recommends the health and safety training to fellow workers. She also hopes the training course will facilitate the gathering of typically isolated workers into a larger movement for domestic worker rights.</p> <p>“Maybe we can find the solution together,” Zylinska told me. “Together, we have the power to change the situation.”</p> <p>To learn more about domestic worker health and safety, visit <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/">NDWA</a>, the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chicagocoalitionofhouseholdworkers">Chicago Coalition of Household Workers</a> and <a href="http://arisechicago.org/worker-center/domestic-workers/">Arise Chicago</a>.</p> <p><em>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/lborkowski" lang="" about="/author/lborkowski" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">lborkowski</a></span> <span>Thu, 12/24/2015 - 05:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/education" hreflang="en">Education</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 24 Dec 2015 10:02:43 +0000 lborkowski 62523 at https://scienceblogs.com 7-Eleven workers organize against workplace violence: ‘Convenience store workers deserve to be safe’ https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2015/11/20/7-eleven-workers-in-buffalo-organize-against-workplace-violence-convenience-store-workers-deserve-to-be-safe <span>7-Eleven workers organize against workplace violence: ‘Convenience store workers deserve to be safe’</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In February 2015, a group of 7-Eleven night shift workers in Buffalo, New York, filed a complaint with OSHA. Sick of enduring regular bouts of verbal harassment, racial slurs and even death threats from customers — threats they often experienced while working alone with no security guard — they hoped OSHA could help bring about safer working conditions. Unfortunately, the agency decided not to investigate.</p> <p>With no help from OSHA, the workers sought out guidance at the <a href="http://www.wnycosh.org/#!wny-workercenter/cfvg">Western New York Worker Center</a>, a project of the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH). There they learned that OSHA has no specific standard regarding workplace violence, however the agency could still technically act under its general duty clause, which requires employers to ensure the workplace "is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees." With the center’s help, the 7-Eleven workers, who were all employed at the same Elmwood Avenue store, created a Change.org <a href="https://www.change.org/p/paul-wydro-7-eleven-field-consultant-hire-a-security-guard-for-the-evening-and-overnight-shifts">petition</a> calling on management to take two precise steps: hire a security guard for the evening and overnight shifts, and have a minimum of two workers scheduled on all shifts.</p> <p>Not even a week after the petition went live, at a 7-Eleven store across town, a young woman working the night shift alone was robbed, dragged into a storage room, beaten and raped.</p> <p>“It set off a firestorm among the other employees,” said Liz Smith-Rossiter, worker center project director at WNYCOSH. “It was the worst-case scenario of what happens when you don’t deal with dangerous conditions.”</p> <p><strong>Workers organize for ‘Safety Over Slurpees’</strong></p> <p>Lee Swaydis, 23, had been working at 7-Eleven for more than two years before getting involved in the safety campaign. He worked the overnight shift, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., helping customers, working the cash register, and keeping the store stocked and clean. Swaydis told me that rarely would a night go by when he didn’t experience some type of threatening harassment — “it’s extremely scary,” he said, adding that the amount of sexual harassment female employees experience is just “unbelievable.” He’s been at work during two armed robberies.</p> <p>However, 7-Eleven doesn’t provide security guards during the night shifts, nor does it offer workers any comprehensive training on how to deal with threatening or harassing customers beyond having employees watch a video, Swaydis said.</p> <p>“You feel helpless,” he told me. “You don’t know what the customer is going to do…it’s a lot of emotional labor.”</p> <p>One of the last straws was when Swaydis’ co-worker, Misteke Fomby, posted a letter at the store telling management to find a substitute for her upcoming shift. In the letter, she wrote about a particular customer who had been repeatedly threatening her with violence and racial slurs. She had brought it to the attention of local police and store management, but nothing changed. She wrote: “I have had enough! Why is my life not being taken seriously?” Swaydis, Fomby and others working at the Elmwood Avenue 7-Eleven location began talking and decided to take action, which eventually led them to the Western New York Worker Center.</p> <p>“The workers were telling us that having one person on shift in the middle of the night was creating a sitting-duck atmosphere,” said Smith-Rossiter at the worker center. “They were saying that the conditions in the store were such that someone could get killed and yet, no one was responding.”</p> <p>The 7-Eleven workers decided to launch the Change.org petition. Shortly after, the 7-Eleven worker across town was beaten and raped. The horrible event prompted the small group of workers to again seek out help from OSHA — “we had to do something now,” Swaydis said. With help from the worker center, the employees again formally complained to OSHA. While the local OSHA office determined that 7-Eleven management was doing all it could to protect the workers, the regional OSHA office disagreed.</p> <p>In July of this year, OSHA’s Buffalo Area Office sent a Hazard Alert letter to 7-Eleven management, stating it wouldn’t issue a citation, but urging them to take voluntary steps to better protect worker safety, such as developing a written workplace violence prevention program and implementing a variety of security measures. The OSHA letter even included a date by which 7-Eleven was expected to issue a letter on its safety improvements — a move that Smith-Rossiter described as a “somewhat rare.”</p> <p>In addition to reaching out to OSHA, the worker center led an informal survey of 7-Eleven employees in Buffalo in May and July. Visiting store locations between midnight and 3 a.m., Smith-Rossiter and the organizers asked employees about their experiences on the night shift. All of them said they faced harassment on a regular basis. In one store, the organizers had walked in right after a customer had threatened to “shoot up the place,” Smith Rossiter told me. (According to the <a href="http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/osar0016.htm">Bureau of Labor Statistics</a>, the majority of workplace homicides related to shootings happen in the retail sector.)</p> <p>However, a lone worker on the night shift with no security wasn’t always the way in Buffalo, Smith-Rossiter told me. A local company called Wilson Farms, which did provide security guards at its stores, was the original owner of what is now a chain of 7-Eleven locations. When 7-Eleven acquired Wilson Farms, that security disappeared.</p> <p>“This locally owned company with a fraction of the 7-Eleven budget had guards and this multinational corporation comes in and cuts back on security,” Smith-Rossiter said.</p> <p>Feeling the pressure, 7-Eleven’s regional manager for Buffalo agreed to meet with the workers in July. The company even flew someone in from the corporate office for the meeting as well. (Note: The 7-Eleven stores in Buffalo aren’t franchised; the corporate office runs them.) The meeting didn’t go well. In fact, both Smith-Rossiter and Swaydis told me that the 7-Eleven representatives barely spoke a word during the meeting — “they kept saying no comment,” Smith-Rossiter said. They made no commitment to improve safety conditions at the Elmwood Avenue store and refused to take a copy of the Change.org petition, which at that point had more than 3,000 signatures.</p> <p>“After that, we just ramped it up,” said Smith-Rossiter.</p> <p>In August, the workers and their supporters took the Safety Over Slurpees campaign to the streets. During a community art festival, which had a staging area in the Elmwood Avenue 7-Eleven store parking lot, dozens of workers and their supporters <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/buffalo/news/2015/08/30/7-11-workers-protest-fot-safety-improvements.html">marched</a> through the streets with signs and bullhorns, raising awareness among festival-goers and calling on management to take action. (The campaign’s name goes back to Swaydis, who had been fired after speaking up about the store’s dangerous safety conditions. Management claimed they fired him because he gave away a slurpee for free, even though the employee handbook allows workers to give out free slurpees to dissatisfied customers. Swaydis promptly filed a retaliation complaint over the firing and was reinstated in his job. The unfortunate incident led to the Safety Over Slurpees campaign name.)</p> <p>After months of organizing, the 7-Eleven workers scored a victory on one of their demands. Management agreed that at the Elmwood Avenue location, two or more staff would be scheduled on every overnight shift. It’s a step in the right direction, Smith-Rossiter said, but it’s still not enough. To keep the movement going, Smith-Rossiter said the worker center is hoping to offer 7-Eleven workers additional training in conflict diffusion and dealing with workplace violence issues as well as provide continuing support in the fight for safer workplace conditions.</p> <p>Smith-Rossiter told me that this is the worker center’s first partnership with late-night retail workers and its first campaign driven primarily by workplace violence concerns.</p> <p>“There’s a narrative out there that workplace violence is a police issue, instead of it being the responsibility of an employer to keep people safe,” she said. “But the public is on our side because people fundamentally believe that workers shouldn’t be attacked or assaulted while on the job.”</p> <p>For Swaydis, he was fired again just the other week. He’s already filed a retaliatory complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and he hopes to stay involved in the safety campaign.</p> <p>“We’re just trying to survive, we’re trying to pay our rent, we’re trying to help our families and support ourselves,” he said. “Convenience store workers deserve to be safe. We’re every bit as human as you.”</p> <p>To learn more, visit the <a href="http://www.wnycosh.org/#!7Eleven-Workers-Demand-and-Win-Safer-Conditions/cgzr/55e71b180cf23d0feff96b18">Western New York Worker Center</a> or read the<a href="https://www.change.org/p/paul-wydro-7-eleven-field-consultant-hire-a-security-guard-for-the-evening-and-overnight-shifts"> Safety Over Slurpees petition</a>. OSHA also offers <a href="https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&amp;p_id=17115">guidance</a> on violence prevention in late-night retail.</p> <p><em>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/kkrisberg" lang="" about="/author/kkrisberg" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">kkrisberg</a></span> <span>Fri, 11/20/2015 - 07:12</span> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 12:12:46 +0000 kkrisberg 62495 at https://scienceblogs.com Chicago organizers take on domestic worker health and safety: ‘We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect’ https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2015/05/26/chicago-organizers-take-on-domestic-worker-health-and-safety-we-start-with-the-idea-that-everyone-deserves-dignity-and-respect <span>Chicago organizers take on domestic worker health and safety: ‘We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect’</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>After 18 years as a professional house cleaner in the suburbs of Chicago, Magdalena Zylinska says she feels very lucky. Unlike many of her fellow domestic workers, she hasn’t sustained any serious injuries.</p> <p>Zylinska, 43, cleans residences in the metropolitan Chicago area five days a week. An independent contractor, she cleans two to three houses each day. Fortunately, she doesn’t do the job alone — she always works with at least one other person, so they can help each other with much of the lifting and other types of repetitive physical labor that can often lead to preventable injuries and even long-term disabilities. But Zylinska is well aware of the hazards and abuses that frequently accompany the duties of domestic workers — the house cleaners, nannies and caregivers who work in unregulated workplaces with no employer oversight, accountability or standards. A workforce largely made up of immigrants and women from minority communities, domestic workers often face a level of workplace isolation that lends itself all too easily to exploitation and persistent, preventable dangers.</p> <p>So when Zylinska heard an advertisement on Polish-language radio about a free training course specifically designed for domestic workers on occupational health and safety as well as green cleaning, she jumped at the chance. In late 2013, she took the training course and received a certificate of completion that she hopes to use in marketing her services. During the weekend-long training course, Zylinska and her fellow domestic workers also learned about their rights under wage and labor laws and how to negotiate a contract with a client.</p> <p>The course Zylinska took was developed and organized by <a href="http://arisechicago.org/">Arise Chicago</a>, a local worker center that partners with faith communities to fight for worker justice and is one of many efforts across the country bringing much-needed health and safety training to domestic workers.</p> <p>“We don’t really know what our rights are,” Zylinska told me. “We come from a different country, we don’t know what’s expected of us — a lot of (employers) will use that against us. …I wish more people could take this course.”</p> <p>About four years ago, Arise Chicago began reaching out to domestic workers, but found that the isolating nature of the industry made it difficult to bring workers together, said Ania Jakubek, domestic worker organizer at Arise. Fortunately, Jakubek and her colleagues began making some real inroads after recruiting workers to participate in the first national survey of domestic workers, which was conducted by the <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/">National Domestic Workers Alliance</a> (NDWA) and findings from which were released in 2012. The experience solidified the need to organize Chicago’s domestic workers, Jakubek said, and so advocates began talking with workers about their personal and professional needs. Formal training and education quickly rose to the top.</p> <p>“They wanted education related to their work,” Jakubek told me. “They said they didn’t feel like professionals and felt like they were undervalued.”</p> <p>In turn, Jakubek partnered with researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum that includes education on labor and wage rights. (Jakubek noted that Arise first tried organizing a know-your-rights training for domestic workers, but it wasn’t a great success. When the focus switched to health and safety, however, worker interest rose markedly.) The final training curriculum focuses on three main topic areas — chemical hazards and green cleaning, ergonomics and how to deal with work-related stress — and includes education in domestic worker rights and how to negotiate a contract. The curriculum, which draws inspiration from a <a href="http://coeh.berkeley.edu/bridges/Summer2012/HomecareGuide.html">guidebook</a> developed at Berkeley’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, addresses many of the specific risks and conditions uncovered in the NDWA survey and report, <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/sites/default/files/HomeEconomicsEnglish.pdf">“Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”</a></p> <p>That report, which summarizes survey responses from more then 2,000 nannies, caregivers and house cleaners in 14 metropolitan areas and was conducted in nine languages, found that 38 percent of workers had suffered from occupational wrist, shoulder, elbow or hip pain in the previous year; 29 percent of house cleaners had suffered from skin irritation and 20 percent had experienced respiratory problems; and 29 percent of caregivers had suffered a back injury in the previous 12 months. The survey also found that 23 percent of survey respondents were paid below the state minimum wage, 35 percent worked long hours without proper breaks, and 25 percent of live-in domestic workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep in the week prior to being surveyed. The great majority of domestic workers said they didn’t speak up about troublesome workplace conditions for fear of losing their jobs.</p> <p>Veronica Avila, workforce development director at NDWA, said because most domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and don’t receive proper health and safety training, worker centers such as Arise play a hugely important role. She said the alliance is currently working on creating an inclusive curriculum that can be easily adopted by worker groups nationwide, with the ultimate goal that comprehensive training will lead to increased negotiating power among domestic workers as well as higher wages.</p> <p>“The home is a workplace that has real implications for the health and safety of workers,” said Avila, who noted that health and safety protections are a central piece of the alliance’s push for stronger legislative protections, such as the <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/ca-bill-of-rights">California Bill of Rights</a> that went into effect last year. “It’s really about having an impact on the day-to-day life of workers.”</p> <p><strong>Health, safety and justice: ‘Domestic workers have to build power’</strong></p> <p>The Arise training, which is taught in Polish and conducted over the course of a weekend, begins with lessons in ergonomics, such as safe lifting, bending and carrying techniques, as well as tips on how to look for and assess hazards in the workplace. Education then moves on to chemical hazards and green cleaning, as many domestic workers work with harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals on a daily basis.</p> <p>During this part of class, workers get some hands-on experience making their own cleaning products with more natural and less abrasive ingredients, such as vinegar, incense oil and plain soap. (Much of the green cleaning lessons draw from <a href="http://web61798.aiso.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/final-english-vida-verde-turi-booklet.pdf">Vida Verde</a>, which supports Brazilian house cleaners in making green cleaning a reality.) Marsha Love, an occupational health educator at the University of Illinois-Chicago who worked with Jakubek to develop the training, said the green cleaning demonstrations are among the students’ favorite lessons. In fact, one exercise has students developing an advertisement for the green cleaning products they create in class.</p> <p>After ergonomics and green cleaning, discussions turn to stress — what causes stress on the job, how stress manifests, how to deal with stress collectively and as individuals, and how to address the organizational and systemic roots of domestic worker stress. This is where education on one’s labor rights and how to effectively negotiate with employers is especially important, as it’s often the lack of formal parameters and expectations in the domestic worker-employer relationship that are the source of worker stress.</p> <p>“The personal stress relief part is so important,” Love told me. “The problem for many domestic workers, especially live-ins, is that time is not their own. So to find time for stress relief is a big issue.”</p> <p>Jakubek said the training encourages workers to put together a stress relief “goodie bag” that they can carry with them. The goodie bag could include a piece of chocolate, a soothing aromatic pouch or a picture of one’s children. But, she said it’s education on how to put together a contract and how to negotiate with clients that really gets at the roots of domestic worker stress and empowers workers to celebrate and value their work. In addition, bringing together workers who typically labor in isolated environments is a form of therapy in itself, Jakubek said. At the end of each training weekend, workers who’ve completed the entire course receive a certificate and are offered a chance to join Arise and the growing domestic worker movement.</p> <p>“The knowledge they’re getting is so important,” Jakubek told me. “They’re undervalued and they’re not protected by most laws. We need to change that — that’s one of our goals, to get them involved in policy change.”</p> <p>As of late spring, more than 60 domestic workers had participated in the Arise training and received a certificate of completion, said Jakubek, who’s now working with her partners to develop a health and safety train-the-trainer curriculum. The completion certificate states that the worker has participated in health, safety and green cleaning training and is designed to help domestic workers market their services and secure fair employment.</p> <p>“Once workers are in the room, they feel free to speak about their needs and share their experiences and we can use that as a basis for thinking about problems and taking action on them,” Love said. “It’s a very dynamic experience — the facilitator is them, not me.”</p> <p>Arise isn’t the only Chicago worker center reaching out to domestic workers with education and training. Last year at <a href="http://www.latinounion.org/">Latino Union of Chicago</a>, organizers trained more than 100 domestic workers in the span of four months — it was the union’s first such health and safety training for domestic workers. Building off a longtime partnership between the University of Illinois-Chicago’s <a href="http://www.uic.edu/sph/erc/index.html">Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Education and Research Center</a> and the Latino Union, the center brought on an intern — industrial hygiene student Sheila M. Serrano-Serrano from the University of Puerto Rico — to develop a domestic worker health and safety curriculum. During focus groups with domestic workers, Serrano-Serrano found that even among workers who did not report a work-related injury, 75 percent still experienced pain after completing a work task.</p> <p>Like the Arise curriculum, the Latino Union curriculum, which is delivered in English and Spanish, covers ergonomics, chemical hazards, hands-on green cleaning training, stress relief, labor rights and employer negotiations. Participants are offered contract templates and receive a certificate upon completion.</p> <p>But unlike more traditional health and safety training, the Latino Union curriculum kicks off with a discussion on the history of women workers and their many accomplishments, said Joe Zanoni, director of continuing education and outreach at the university center. This year, Zanoni said organizers are now offering domestic workers CPR training as well — a skill that domestic workers had specifically requested.</p> <p>“We start with the idea that everyone deserves dignity and respect,” Zanoni told me. “We offer some ideas, (the workers) offer some ideas and hopefully we can start a conversation in which workers can support each other. We want health and safety to be a natural part of their lives."</p> <p>Myrla Baldonado, domestic worker organizer at Latino Union, said she’s heard from many domestic workers who said the training empowered them with the skills and confidence to initiate conversations with employers and clients — “it lifts up their spirits to see that they can change their situations,” she said. The Latino Union is home to the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, which is devoted to advancing an <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/illinois-bill-of-rights">Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights</a>.</p> <p>“Domestic workers have to build power,” Baldonado told me. “Right now, there are no rules — it’s a completely unregulated workplace.”</p> <p>Zylinska, who’s experienced more than one wage theft attempt at the hands of dishonest employers and now works to organize domestic workers as a member of Arise Chicago, said she highly recommends the health and safety training to fellow workers. She also hopes the training course will facilitate the gathering of typically isolated workers into a larger movement for domestic worker rights.</p> <p>“Maybe we can find the solution together,” Zylinska told me. “Together, we have the power to change the situation.”</p> <p>To learn more about domestic worker health and safety, visit <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/">NDWA</a>, the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chicagocoalitionofhouseholdworkers">Chicago Coalition of Household Workers</a> and <a href="http://arisechicago.org/worker-center/domestic-workers/">Arise Chicago</a>.</p> <p><em>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/kkrisberg" lang="" about="/author/kkrisberg" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">kkrisberg</a></span> <span>Tue, 05/26/2015 - 12:16</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/education" hreflang="en">Education</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 26 May 2015 16:16:06 +0000 kkrisberg 62366 at https://scienceblogs.com ‘Statistics can’t tell stories’: Houston domestic workers release personal anthology https://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2014/05/16/statistics-cant-tell-stories-houston-domestic-workers-release-personal-anthology <span>‘Statistics can’t tell stories’: Houston domestic workers release personal anthology</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Two years ago, domestic workers in Houston, Texas, took part in the first national <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/homeeconomics/">survey</a> documenting the conditions they face on the job. The experience — a process of shedding light on the often isolating and invisible world of domestic work — was so moving that Houston workers decided they didn’t want to stop there. Instead, they decided it was time to put their personal stories to paper.</p> <p>The result is “We Women, One Woman!: A view of the lived experience of domestic workers,” which was officially released last month. The anthology features the stories of 15 nannies, house cleaners and caregivers — all are members of <a href="http://www.houstonworkers.org/la-colmena-domestic-workers">La Colmena</a> (The Beehive), a domestic worker group that’s part of Houston’s <a href="http://www.houstonworkers.org/">Fe y Justicia Worker Center</a> and that works to organize domestic workers and educate them on their rights. The anthology’s release follows two years of domestic workers meeting regularly to share their stories, participate in writing workshops and ultimately, use their own words to illustrate the experience of working in the largely unregulated, oversight-free workplaces that are people’s homes.</p> <p>“We always talk about how there’s no statistic that can accurately capture what it’s really like,” Laura Perez-Boston, executive director of Fe y Justicia, told me. “Statistics can’t tell stories.”</p> <p>The anthology’s stories, published in both English and Spanish, cover a range of topics, often exposing issues such as wage theft as well as unsafe and unfair working conditions. The women also write about their personal lives — single motherhood, poverty, immigration, leaving their native countries and families behind — and why they felt it was so important to speak out about their workplace experience. For example, Consuelo Martinez, an elder care provider, wrote in the anthology: “I’d like to express what we have to go through because for many people being a domestic worker is a job that doesn’t mean anything. …I want everyone who hears me to remember this warrior woman who helped her children get ahead in life with an honorable job and a lot of pride.” Other La Colmena members, such as Lucy Quintanar, were less personal in their narratives, instead using the opportunity to call for better working conditions and collective power.</p> <p>“We need to get a union to get our rights, to make people conscious of the situation and the circumstances of this employment,” Quintanar told me. “I hope everybody reads it…I would like to let (other domestic workers) know that there’s a place called La Colmena where they can get help to learn their rights. Don't be afraid to speak out.”</p> <div style="width: 310px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/thepumphandle/files/2014/05/libros-7.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-9883" alt="One of the many handcrafted covers of the new domestic worker anthology. Photo courtesy La Colmena" src="http://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/files/2014/05/libros-7-300x225.jpg" width="300" height="225" /></a> One of the many handcrafted covers of the new domestic worker anthology. Photo courtesy La Colmena </div> <p> </p> <p>Quintanar originally sought out Fe y Justicia after an employer refused to pay her wages she had earned — more commonly known as wage theft. (The National Domestic Workers Alliance <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/homeeconomics/">survey</a> that originally inspired the anthology found that 23 percent of domestic workers are already paid below state minimum wage.) At the time, Quintanar was working as a live-in domestic worker, taking care of children, cleaning the house and doing typical household chores. One day, her employer asked her to clean the swimming pool, which Quintanar refused to do as it wasn’t among the job duties to which she’d agreed. The employer fired her on the spot and never paid Quintanar the $450 she was owed. It was the second time an employer refused to pay her hundreds of dollars in wages that she had earned, Quintanar said.</p> <p>Quintanar told me that the women of La Colmena have become like family for her.</p> <p>“When you’re working, you don’t have the opportunity to have friends,” she said. “La Colmena is very important to me…I like belonging to a group. Now I can organize with other women to improve our labor conditions.”</p> <p>It’s easy to see how much effort and emotion was poured into the anthology, as the women who wrote its stories also handcrafted the covers of each book. One La Colmena member fashioned tiny fabric aprons that tie around the book, while another woman used Guatemalan weaving fabric to create original covers. One worker used a picture that her daughter drew of a woman with long, dark braids hugging the Earth. All of the book covers are wrapped in a scrapbooking material printed with the shape of a honeycomb.</p> <p>Mitzi Ordoñez, domestic worker organizer at Fe y Justicia, said she and the members of La Colmena hope the anthology will reach both employers as well as other domestic workers. Ordoñez said plans are in the works for a second anthology, which would focus on success stories and how domestic workers are empowering each other to fight for better conditions.</p> <p>“We want to make employers aware of the true value of this work,” she told me. “Nannies and caregivers — these are jobs that make other jobs possible. For domestic workers, we want to let them know that there’s a place where they can come and they’re not alone.”</p> <p>The anthology experience has put the power of storytelling front and center, Perez-Boston said. Narrative can be a strong tool for organizing and building a common identity, she noted, especially for domestic workers, who often work alone in isolated environments.</p> <p>“Storytelling can help us move toward social transformation,” she told me.</p> <p>The anthology’s initial publishing run of 500 copies is nearly sold out; however, more copies are expected to come out soon. To inquire about purchasing a copy, email Ordoñez at <a href="mailto:mordonez@houstonworkers.org">mordonez@houstonworkers.org</a>. Click <a href="http://www.houstonworkers.org/la-colmena-domestic-workers">here</a> to learn more about La Colmena and the Fe y Justicia Worker Center, and click <a href="http://www.domesticworkers.org/homeeconomics/">here</a> and <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2012/12/07/first-of-its-kind-survey-compiles-the-experience-of-domestic-workers-highlights-the-grim-nature-of-an-unregulated-industry/">here</a> to learn more about the domestic worker survey that originally inspired the Houston anthology.</p> <p><i>Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.</i><i></i></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/kkrisberg" lang="" about="/author/kkrisberg" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">kkrisberg</a></span> <span>Fri, 05/16/2014 - 11:01</span> Fri, 16 May 2014 15:01:50 +0000 kkrisberg 62096 at https://scienceblogs.com