Occupational Health News Roundup

At Reveal, reporter Will Evans investigates discrimination within temporary staffing agencies, finding a pattern of racial, sexist and otherwise discriminatory hiring practices. He begins his story with Alabama-based Automation Personnel Services Inc., writing:

When its clients wanted to hire temp workers based on race, sex or age, Automation was happy to oblige, according to dozens of former employees.

Often, the practice was blatant. A manager at a Georgia manufacturing plant asked Christie Ragland not to send him “any black thugs,” she said. Ragland, a former Automation office manager until early 2015, said her boss told her to give the client what he wanted. And in Memphis, Tennessee, Josie Hernandez said her branch manager would comment, “Don’t hire that damn nigger,” and ordered her to send only Latinos to a flower delivery company.

Other times, Automation staff members used veiled language. At the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, branch, a request for white men was known as an order for “country boys,” according to three former employees.

Whether it was a preference for Latino workers or for whites only, the people on the losing end usually were black, according to former employees at branches in six states.

Evans interviews government officials who say hiring discrimination within the temp industry is significant and growing, with black job-seekers experiencing the brunt of such illegal practices. Unfortunately, many such job-seekers can’t file an employment discrimination complaint because they don’t know why they weren’t hired in the first place. Evans reports:

With all of this going on behind closed doors, temp workers are left to draw their own conclusions. And from the outside, Automation’s selection process seemed biased to Generia Mitchell.

She got a temp job at a big automotive plant in Chattanooga, she said. But when she sent a bunch of people she knew to apply at Automation, too, she noticed something strange. The black applicants didn’t get placed, she said. A white woman she referred, she said, got a job right away.

“I was just shocked,” said Mitchell, who said she is biracial. “I didn’t complain because I didn’t want it to affect me.”

To read the full investigation, visit Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

In other news:

Houston Chronicle: St. John Barned-Smith reports that over the weekend, an explosion at a PeroxyChem plant killed one worker and injured three. Local fire officials said the cause of the explosion was an over-pressurized tank. The federal Chemical Safety Board is expected to look into the incident. Barned-Smith writes: “The accident marks the latest death in Houston's chemical industry. In July, a 46-year-old contractor died at Dow Chemical Co.'s Oyster Creek facility while checking welds inside a new pipe. Four workers suffered burns in an explosion in October at a SunEdison chemical plant in Pasadena. And in November 2014, four workers were killed when 23,000 pounds of a toxic substance leaked at a DuPont facility in LaPorte.”

Newsweek: Anthony Cuthbertson reports that tech giants Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are being implicated in the “worst forms of child labor,” according to a new report from Amnesty International. The Amnesty report investigates abuses in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo — cobalt is a central mineral used in the manufacturing of smartphones and other electronics. The investigation found that children as young as 7 were working in the mines and being exposed to toxic dusts. Cuthbertson writes: “Other companies (in addition Apple), including Sony and Samsung, also said they have a zero-tolerance policy towards child labor. However, Mark Dummett, a human rights researcher at Amnesty International, claimed they have the resources to carry out basic background checks.”

The New York Times: In an op-ed, authors José Padilla and David Bacon call for action to better protect female farmworkers, a significant number of whom report sexual harassment on the job. For instance, they cited a 2012 report from Human Rights Watch that surveyed 52 female farmworkers. Nearly all of those surveyed had experienced sexual violence or knew someone who had. Padilla and Bacon write that current immigration policy may present the biggest challenge to protecting such workers: “Federal regulations forbid legal aid organizations like California Rural Legal Assistance from directly representing undocumented people, and the illegal nature of their work situations makes it difficult for them to come forward. Finding a path toward documentation and legal employment for these women would also empower them to report those who rape and harass them.”

CBS News: Kate Gibson reports that OSHA has cited Amazon for failing to report at least 26 work-related injuries and illnesses in a New Jersey warehouse. The company is now facing $7,000 in fines, though Gibson reports that Amazon plans to contest the OSHA citations. She writes: “Amazon has had a litany of labor issues and complaints related to conditions at its warehouses. One temporary worker was crushed to death in late 2013 after getting stuck between a conveyor system while sorting packages in Avenel, New Jersey. Another fatality came in mid 2014 at an Amazon fulfillment center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

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