December 6, 2016 Kim Krisberg 1Comment

At Stat, Eric Boodman reports on whether a Trump administration might deprive miners of compensation for disabilities related to black lung disease.

In particular, Boodman examines a little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that shifted the burden of proof from miners and onto mining companies. In other words, if miners had spent at least 15 years underground and can prove a respiratory disability, it’s assumed to be an occupational illness. However, if the ACA is repealed in full — as candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail — that provision would go away as well, making it much more difficult for workers to access compensation.

Boodman writes of miners’ experiences before the ACA:

“You couldn’t ever win back then,” said Sue Toler, a coal miner’s widow in Huntsville, Tenn., of claims for black lung benefits. “It didn’t matter what kind of evidence you had.”

Of the 27 years her husband Arvis worked for Eastern Associated Coal in Kopperston, W.Va., 16 of them were spent underground. When he had to stop working because of breathing trouble, a doctor ordered chest X-rays and saw the telltale dark scars on his lungs. His doctor’s diagnosis, his widow said, was coal workers’ pneumoconiosis — or black lung.

That was in 1993. Five years later, after two appeals and innumerable examinations with doctors chosen by the coal company, Toler was denied benefits, in part because he’d smoked cigarettes before his diagnosis.

At the time, to qualify for benefits, miners had to prove not only that they were disabled because of breathing problems, and that they had coal workers’ black lung, but that their disability was caused by their years in the mine.

It was “almost impossible,” said Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America. “The vast majority of people were denied benefits. People would take these cases through the black lung court system and they would be denied because the companies could sow the shadow of a seed of a doubt.”

Read the full story at Stat.

In other news:

Ithaca Journal: Anthony Borelli reports that Luke Park, owner of the Park Family Farm in Cortland County, New York, has been indicted for the death of 14-year-old Alex Smith, who died after being pinned under a hydraulic lift and bale of hay. Park is facing 15 counts, including violating child labor laws and the willful failure to pay unemployment insurance contributions. Borelli writes that Park is also accused of hiring other minors to work the farm and requiring them to work about 60 hours per week. He reports: “Park admitted to state police he found the boy’s body pinned beneath the equipment, with the engine of the Skidloader still running, according to prosecutors. An autopsy concluded the boy’s chest and abdomen were crushed, officials say, and his death was the result of mechanical asphyxiation.”

Huffington Post: Dave Jamieson reports that the president-elect is considering fast food CEO Andrew Puzder for labor secretary — a possibility that Jamieson described as “alarming” for Puzder’s views on minimum wage and overtime pay. On minimum wage, Puzder, chief executive at the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., said a wage hike would force fast food companies to consider replacing human workers with robots. Jamieson writes: “As the nation’s top labor official, the labor secretary is in charge of the agency’s wage-and-hour division, which investigates allegations of wage theft. Puzder would have some experience in this arena. Like all fast-food chains, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants have been investigated frequently in the past for allegedly shorting employees on pay.”

Reuters: Robert Iafolla reports that incoming chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., told the news service that organized labor has “sort of lost its reasons for being.” Among her top targets are the new federal overtime rules that would have benefited more than 4 million workers and a repeal of the “joint employment” standard that holds staffing agencies accountable for workers’ rights violations. Iafolla writes: “AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser pushed back against Foxx’s comments, saying that a thriving labor movement and strong union presence has never been more important in light of the economic tumult in the United States.”

Associated Press (via NBC News): The news service reports that Ikea’s U.S. division will be extending leave for employees who are new parents, offering its 13,000 U.S. workers up to four months of paid parental leave. The new policy will take effect on Jan. 1. Previously, Ikea offered women five days of paid leave as well as six to eight weeks of paid disability leave. AP reports: “The plan gives Ikea employees of more than a year up to three months of paid leave, at full base wage for the first six weeks and 50 percent after that. Employees of at least three years can take up to four months, with eight weeks at full pay and eight weeks at half. Apart from parental leave, Ikea is offering an unpaid sabbatical for all employees, including part-time workers, based on tenure, for up to a year.”

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

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