August 31, 2018 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At the Center for Public Integrity, Patrick Malone reports on Trump administration efforts to rein in the country’s nuclear weapons safety watchdog, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. In partnership with for-profit contractors at industrial sites where nuclear bombs are created and stored, the administration has enacted new rules that get rid of the board’s authority to oversee worker protections and that severely limit the board’s ability to inspect nuclear weapons-related sites. Malone writes:

The moves against the board also come at the end of a three-year hiatus in the U.S. production of plutonium cores for nuclear warheads, forced in part by the five-member board’s worries about workplace conditions that might cause a cataclysmic safety accident at one of the key U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, located in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The production and maintenance of such weapons is financed by the Department of Energy, and its deputy secretary, Dan Brouillette, a former Ford Motor Company executive and Republican congressional staff member, has testified that the new directive “does not hinder” the board’s work.

But one of the board’s Democratic members, Joyce Connery, has said “this seems to be the perfect storm for accidents to happen, and this is a time where we should be doubling down on our efforts on nuclear safety.”

Even the board’s acting Republican chair, former Navy officer Bruce Hamilton, who proposed Aug. 13 to trim the board’s overall staff by 32 percent, to 79 from 117, has said the DOE’s directive goes too far. It is, he said at a special board hearing about it on August 28, “a subtle attempt to say that the board doesn’t get to decide” when its intervention in a potential nuclear weapons safety problem is necessary.

Members of the board’s technical staff have already complained that under the new DOE directive, they have been blocked from gaining access to safety data at key nuclear facilities that they could regularly review in the past, according to testimony at the hearing by Chris Roscetti, the board’s technical director.

To read the full story, visit the Center for Public Integrity.

In other news:

Omaha World-Herald: Alia Conley reports that the owners of Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services LLC have been indicted on 22 charges in connection with a 2015 railcar explosion that killed two workers and injured another. Officials say that vice president and co-owner Adam Braithwaite created fake documents saying the company was following worker safety rules. The 22 charges include violations of worker safety standards, illegal treatment and transportation of hazardous waste, and falsification of records and perjury. Six months after the deadly explosion, OSHA cited the cleaning company for 33 safety violations and fined it nearly $1 million, which marked Nebraska’s biggest OSHA fine ever. Conley quotes acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Wood: “Protecting the health and safety of American workers at hazardous job sites is of paramount importance. The defendants in this case failed to live up to that responsibility, even falsifying documents to evade worker safety requirements. Tragically, employees at the defendants’ facility lost their lives while working in these unsafe conditions.” Read more on the 2015 explosion here.

Vox: Alexia Fernández Campbell reports that a federal judge has rebuked Trump’s efforts to make it easier to fire federal employees. In particular, the judge invalidated key provisions in three executive orders that Trump signed in May to make it easier to fire federal workers and limit union activities. The judge ruled that the provisions violated the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS) of 1978, which gives federal workers the right to unionize and negotiate job conditions. Union leaders noted that the protections are critical to shielding federal workers from political attacks. The ruling, from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, states: “There is no rational explanation for Defendants’ suggestion that Congress would have intended for the President to have the power to act in this fashion at all in regard to the matters that the FSLMRS specifically characterizes as negotiable. Quite frankly, it is hard to even imagine a rational statutory exception that is intentionally designed to swallow the rule.”

The Hill: Emily Birnbaum reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling on Amazon workers to share their working experiences with him via a form on his website. The form asks questions such as whether workers have used public assistance to help make ends meet and whether they struggle with working conditions inside Amazon warehouses. (The article notes that recent studies find a disproportionate number of Amazon workers use food assistance to get by.) Sanders, who has publicly called out Amazon for low wages and hazardous conditions, is reportedly planning to introduce legislation that would require big corporations to cover the costs of federal assistance programs. At Business Insider, Dennis Green reports that Sanders said he will call on OSHA to investigate working conditions inside Amazon’s warehouses — Sanders said: “It’s not only low wages that are of concern with regard to Amazon. There are deeply disturbing stories about working conditions at fulfillment centers run by Amazon and its contractors.”

NPR: Gustavo Arellano writes about a decades-old government program in which thousands of teenage boys were recruited to replace migrant workers on U.S. farms. In 1965, then-Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz announced a program to recruit 20,000 high-schoolers to replace thousands of migrant laborers who worked under an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that allowed Mexican men to work on U.S. farms — that agreement ended in 1964, following years of civil rights organizing by activists such as Cesar Chavez. The new program was known as A-TEAM, or Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower. Problems arose right away, Arellano reports, as the teenagers got a real-life taste of how difficult such work is and began quitting in droves. He quotes history professor Lori Flores, who said: “These [high school students] had the words and whiteness to say what they were feeling and could act out in a way that Mexican-Americans who had been living this way for decades simply didn’t have the power or space for the American public to listen to them. The students dropped out because the conditions were so atrocious, and the growers weren’t able to mask that up.”

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