July 18, 2018 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At Vice, Arielle Duhaime-Ross writes about a new Kentucky law that will likely make it even harder for miners with black lung disease to access workers’ compensation.

The law, which goes into effect this month, bars federally certified radiologists from accessing miners’ X-rays in state benefit claims. Instead, only pulmonologists will be allowed to examine the lung X-rays of miners seeking workers’ compensation. The law means the number of clinicians certified to examine X-rays for state benefit claims will be cut from 11 to just five. Duhaime-Ross writes:

Because more miners are seeing the disease progress to debilitating stages, there’s also been an increase in lung transplants in the workforce — a procedure that costs an average of $1.2 million. So, any law that affects how miners access workers’ compensation benefits is bound to be controversial.

“We were trained specifically to read chest X-rays from the beginning of our residency,” says Brandon Crum, a radiologist in Coal Run who’ll soon be barred from evaluating X-rays for state benefit claims. “I have no idea why you would want to limit the number of physicians that could be able to help individuals when you’re in one of the largest epidemics or the largest epidemic in the United States history for occupational lung disease.”

Crum has diagnosed hundreds of cases of black lung in Kentucky. And as a former coal miner himself, he says he’s uniquely qualified to talk to coal miners about the work that made them sick. Perhaps as a result, Crum was the first to alert the CDC to the cluster of severe cases of black lung in Eastern Kentucky in 2016.

“I was seeing a significant amount of disease, and in very young miners,” he said. “And that was my primary concern — the individuals in their 30s and 40s with complicated disease, which is the most severe form.”

Read the full story at Vice.

In other news:

New York Daily News: In an opinion column, Terri Gerstein, a fellow at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program and former labor bureau chief with the New York State Attorney General’s Office, calls for a federal OSHA standard protecting workers from hazardous heat conditions. Gerstein reports that just this month, more than 200 organizations and individuals, including former OSHA directors Eula Bingham and David Michaels, submitted a formal petition to OSHA asking the agency to initiate a rulemaking process for the first federal measure to protect outdoor and indoor workers from excessive heat dangers. Gerstein, who notes that nearly 800 U.S. workers died due to excessive heat between 1992-2016, writes: “There’s too often a sense that a gain for workers is necessarily a loss for their employers. But employers: What if someone dies of the heat, when you could have stopped it? You probably won’t sleep well at night, even with the air-conditioning blasting.”

The Guardian: Oliver Milman reports that Uralasbest, a Russian mining company and one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of asbestos, is now stamping its pallets with an image of Donald Trump’s face and the words “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States.” (Go to the article to see a picture of the stamped pallets.) The company’s new branding follows a decision at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to institute an outright ban on asbestos, a known carcinogen and fatal occupational hazard. Milman writes: “In a Facebook post, Uralasbest published pictures of its Trump-adorned chrysotile asbestos, writing: ‘Donald is on our side!’ The post thanks Trump for supporting Scott Pruitt, the recently departed head of the EPA, ‘who declared that his agency would no longer deal with matters related to side effects potentially caused by asbestos.’ It adds that Trump called asbestos ‘100% safe after application.’”

The Fiscal Times: Michael Rainey reports on a new study from researchers at Harvard Business School and Duke University showing that corporate tax cuts provide no income hike for workers making less than $200,000 a year, though they do boost incomes for workers making more than that. In fact, they found such corporate tax cuts just make income inequality even worse. Researchers found that the tax cuts create little incentive for investment or higher wages. Rainey writes: “The mechanism involved is relatively simple: cutting corporate taxes causes wealthy individuals to shift more towards capital income and away from wages and salaries in order to benefit from lower tax rates. Ordinary workers typically don’t have the option to shift income, and therefore have nothing to gain.”

Reuters: The news agency reports that thousands of European Amazon workers recently walked off the job to demand better working conditions. The action coincided with Prime Day, an Amazon event expected to generate billions in sales. Workers at Amazon fulfillment centers in Germany, Spain and Poland walked off the job, in part to demand labor contracts that guarantee healthy working conditions. In Vox’s coverage of the protests, Chavie Lieber notes that Amazon workers often report difficult working conditions, such as unbearable warehouse temperatures, timed bathroom breaks and dehydration. In response to the Prime Day walkouts, Sen. Bernie Sanders told Vox: “I stand with the Amazon workers fighting for decent working conditions and a living wage. I hope Jeff Bezos will explain why he thinks it’s acceptable that he makes hundreds of millions of dollars a day while Amazon employees are grossly underpaid and forced to rely on government programs to survive.”

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