Occupational Health News Roundup

In the Washington Post, Sari Horwitz and Lena H. Sun report that President Obama will likely nominate Thomas E. Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor, following the departure of Secretary Hilda Solis. Perez is currently assistant US attorney general for civil rights.

The article mentions work by Perez on issues important to workers' health and safety. In 2005, Perez served as president of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council, and one of the laws he pushed for was a domestic workers' "bill of rights." In 2007, Governor Martin O'Malley appointed him the state's secretary of labor, and in that position Perez pushed to protect workers from being misclassified as independent contractors, which illegally deprives employees of unemployment and workers' compensation insurance coverage.

In other news:

Las Vegas Sun: A new report from the National Employment Law Project finds that many employers hire undocumented workers and then use the workers' immigration status to deny them rights that the law affords to all workers. "Many of the cases cited in the report involve workers who either were part of unionization efforts or who filed for unpaid wages or workers compensation before their employers fired them or alerted immigration authorities to their status."

The Journal Gazette (Ft. Wayne, Indiana): A Journal Gazette investigation into the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the agency has fewer inspectors than it used to and is inspecting fewer workplaces and issuing fewer violations. (Indiana is one of 26 states that runs its own OSHA program, rather than falling under federal OSHA's jurisdiction.) A recent federal audit of Indiana's program "found staffing to be a major, ongoing problem for the agency."

In These Times: More than a dozen state legislatures have slashed funding for the agencies that enforce minimum-wage laws, which leaves victims of wage theft -- many of whom earn low wages to begin with -- with little recourse to recover money employers owe them.

Washington Post's Wonkblog: With mining giant Patriot Coal having declared bankruptcy and the United Mineworkers' pension plan facing severe funding shortfalls, thousands of retired coal miners may lose the pensions and health benefits they rely on. Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced legislation that would provide for affected retirees after meeting with West Virginia families poised to lose their benefits.

New York Times: According to Unicef, 28 million Indian children ages 6-14 are working instead of attending school, even though India now requires school attendance for children through age 14. In the northeastern state of Meghalaya, many of these children labor in unsafe coal mines.

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