November 14, 2017 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

Houston Chronicle: Jordon Blum reports that the U.S. Department of Interior may be withdrawing recommendations to extend whistleblower protections to offshore oil workers made in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. As a result, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is considering canceling some of its 2016 proposals altogether — those proposals include requiring more participation from oil rig workers who could order a work stoppage for safety reasons and then be protected from retaliation. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) was created in response to failings identified in the Deepwater Horizon investigation; however, CSB Chair Vanessa Sutherland said her agency can’t force BSEE to adopt the whistleblower protections. Instead, she said CSB might ask Congress to help resolve the issue. Blum quoted CSB member Rick Engler, who opposes withdrawing the recommendations: “Safety cannot be achieved without the meaningful engagement of workers. There is evidence of retaliation against whistleblowers in the Gulf of Mexico, but no effective measures for workers to seek out.”

Politico: In the wake of continuing workplace sexual harassment revelations, Ian Kullgren asks “where were the unions?” Noting that both Hollywood and the media are heavily unionized sectors, Kullgren interviewed union officials, advocates and legal experts, who pointed to a variety of reasons, including the “gig” nature of work in Hollywood, fear of retaliation, and the “labor movement’s own male-dominated culture, itself no stranger to sexual harassment.” For example, in the case of Harvey Weinstein, many of the harassment allegations fall outside the scope of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), as the union’s protections apply to actors after they’ve been hired, not before when employers might try to extract sexual favors in exchange for a job. Kullgren writes: “”Perhaps this time unions will change. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka opened the group’s national convention last month by reading a line about sexual harassment from the group’s code of conduct and gave out information for two union officials in charge of looking into such claims. And SAG-AFTRA will host a Nov. 14 panel discussion on sexual harassment in Los Angeles with women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred.”

Washington Post: Danielle Paquette reports that America’s fastest-growing jobs also offer some of the countries lowest pay and weakest benefits. According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers expect 1.2 million more jobs for home health and personal care aides in the coming years, which is more than the projected job creation in eight other of the most rapidly growing fields combined. Today, the median annual wage for a home health aide is just more than $22,000; for a personal care aide it’s about $21,000. The majority of such jobs are held by women and many are women of color. Paquette writes: “Workers in these roles share one central mission: They care for people who struggle to care for themselves. But many live in poverty, and most have little to no paid days off.”

Associated Press (via STAT): Michael Virtanen reports on frustration among coal miners after the Trump administration canceled a federal study on the health effects of mountaintop surface mining, which can release coal dust into the air and result in various debris and waste ending up in groundwater. The goal of the shuttered study — which would have focused on communities in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee — was to glean an expert consensus on the short- and long-term health effects of the mining technique. Previous research has found higher death rates in Appalachian counties with mountaintop mining even after adjusting for factors such as poverty and smoking. Virtanen begins the story: “Chuck Nelson spent his life in this corner of Appalachia, working for years in the coal mines — a good job in the economically depressed area. But he says the industry that helped him earn a living cost him his health, and his wife’s, too.”

The Nation: Michelle Chen reports that women working in the U.S. with temporary labor visas are denied many of the protections of labor law, leaving them especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Chen writes about a new report from Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, which surveyed women from a range of industries. It found that nearly half of women surveyed said they were being paid below minimum wage and a majority received no overtime pay. In addition, the visa program often “promotes institutionalized gender bias,” with women often funneled toward lower-paying jobs and excluding them for physically demanding ones. Many women surveyed said they fear retaliation if they report abuse on the job. Chen writes: “The current debate over women’s equality in the workplace has revolved around ensuring equal labor standards and job opportunities, but overlooks the economic injustices facing the migrant women trapped in a shadow economy that federal labor standards can’t touch.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years. Follow me on Twitter — @kkrisberg.

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