Occupational Health News Roundup

Earlier this month, county officials in Hammond, Indiana declared a state of emergency due to extreme weather -- but, reports Salon's Josh Eidelson, Linc Logistics employees doing warehouse work for Walmart were told to stay on the job, despite working in temperatures that organizers say reached negative 15 degrees. After reportedly having multiple requests for early departure denied, workers stopped working and started looking up weather information on their phones. Their boss eventually sent them home, and shut the warehouse the next day, but a worker reportedly suffered frostbite after being ordered to work in sub-zero temperatures on the following day, Eidelson reports. Later, workers presented management with a petition for heaters -- they say only the break room and bathrooms are heated -- and a request that the company release its OSHA logs.

Walmart workers and the subcontracted workers in Walmart-supplying warehouses have mounted a series of strikes in recent years, and some have filed lawsuits. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reported last week on two legal victories for these workers and their advocates:

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder, of California's Central District, reaffirmed an earlier decision that a class-action lawsuit (Carrillo v. Schneider Logistics) filed on behalf of warehouse workers who loaded goods for Walmart outside Los Angeles, can go forward. The judge rejected the claim by Walmart and Schneider (a national logistics company that operates warehouses for Walmart), that she should dismiss the lawsuit because the warehouse workers were directly employed and paid by subcontractors (in this case, temporary staffing agencies), and not Walmart or Schneider.

And on Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel issued a formal complaint against Walmart for allegedly taking illegal retaliation against dozens of Walmart workers in 14 states. Those workers (many affiliated with the group OUR Walmart, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union) had engaged in protests and strikes over wages and working conditions. More than sixty Walmart supervisors and one company executive are named in the complaint, for allegedly threatening workers who participated in strikes at Walmart stores in May and June of 2013, in California, Kentucky, Texas, Washington and other states. The NLRB complaint says the workers were given written and verbal warnings and reprimands for striking. The complaint also says Walmart has miscategorized time spent on strike as an ‘unexcused absence’ from work.

Mitchell Hartman has written previously about Carillo v. Schneider Logistics, and Josh Eidelson has more on the NLRB complaint.

In other news:

New York Times: As nonprofit worker centers and other advocacy groups have successfully pressured employers to improve working conditions, business groups and lobbyists are mounting campaigns against the organizations.

Charlotte Observer:  A proposed change to federal poultry inspection rules would replace USDA poultry inspectors with poultry company employees and allow processing lines to speed up. But, as a 2008 Observer investigation found, many poultry workers are already suffering serious injuries at the line speed currently allowed. (Also see the Observer's editorial weighing in against the poultry rule.)

Omaha World-Herald: An explosion at the International Nutrition plant in Omaha killed two workers - Keith Everett, 53, and another worker whose name has not yet been released -- and injured 10 more.

San Francisco Chronicle: Saru Jayaraman, author of Behind the Kitchen Door and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, is one of the nation's top activists for restaurant workers.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: A new educational web resource, http://www.osha.gov/hospitals, offers a wide range of materials to help hospitals take steps that protect hospital workers and enhance patient safety. Many of the materials address safe patient handling programs and policies, to prevent musculoskeletal disorders among hospital workers.


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