August 1, 2018 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At the Boston Globe, Jenna Russell writes about the mental health tolls of working as a firefighter, reporting that suicide rates among the first responders are often higher than that of the general population, with 92 firefighters dying to suicide in 2017. That number is 50 percent higher than the number of firefighters who died while doing their jobs that year. In the story, Russell profiles Rick Stack, a Massachusetts firefighter diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder — she writes:

At the fire station, with the work family who called him “Stackie,” he says there was little discussion of the trauma they all absorbed routinely. As Stack understood the rules of their proud, traditional culture, any talk of sadness, nerves, or doubt — any talk of mental health at all — was a sign of weakness. To outsiders, it might look like old-school machismo. But those who did the job understood the reason: Trust was essential to their teamwork. No one wanted to be seen as the weak link.

“It’s very tough to talk about it, when guys are trusting you with their lives,” Stack said.

A former fire chief in North Attleborough, Peter Lamb, said he remembers Stack as a studious and intense firefighter, committed to self-improvement and driven by a deep empathy.

“He was someone who would ask, ‘Did we do it right?’ ” recalled Lamb, now the fire chief in Johnston, R.I. “You could tell he genuinely cared. . . . And if you truly care, and things don’t go right, it can be a challenge to carry that burden.”

When the first signs of trouble surfaced in Rick Stack, he says, he did not recognize them or understand what caused them. He had taken up long-distance running — an attempt to outrun his intrusive memories, he says now — and sometimes, as he ran, he would find himself crying. Other times, he retreated from his family to the basement at his home, where he wept without knowing why, his dog, a Lab mix named Smoky, beside him.

Sometimes he drank too much — an unhealthy attempt, he says, to dull the hypervigilance that kept his nerves on edge.

Read the full story at the Boston Globe.

In other news:

The Guardian: Michael Sainato reports that a Guardian investigation has found numerous cases of Amazon warehouse workers suffering from workplace injuries and then “being treated in ways that leave them homeless, unable to work or bereft of income.” For example, earlier this year, Bryan Hill, a 43-year-old Amazon worker in Florida filed a lawsuit against Amazon accusing managers of firing him after he hurt his back at work and that they failed to file a workers’ compensation claim. According to the lawsuit, Hill was fired before human resources officials could authorize a doctor’s appointment. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health lists Amazon among its “dirty dozen” list of most dangerous places to work. Sainato writes: “In many cases, Amazon workers are left to deal with the temp agency that hired them, shifting the burden of responsibility to a third party and making it more difficult for workers to receive proper treatment and compensation.”

WBUR News (Vermont Public Radio): John Dillon reports that Vermont dairy workers say living conditions and wages have improved since they reached an agreement last year with Ben & Jerry’s known as Milk With Dignity. The agreement came with a number of benefits for workers, including annual paid sick days, five paid vacation days and commitments to meet safe and healthy housing standards. Dillon interviewed Enrique Balcazar, a former dairy worker who helped fight for Milk With Dignity, which took two years of negotiations, who said: “There are farmworkers in the state who, in collaboration with their farmers and with support from the Milk With Dignity Standards Council, are now receiving a day off every week when they previously didn’t have one, who are receiving wages to bring their wages up to the Vermont minimum wage.”

Los Angeles Times: Hugo Martin reports that unions representing nearly 10,000 workers at the Disneyland Resort have voted in favor of a contract that raises wages by as much as 20 percent right away and an additional 13 percent at the start of 2019. That means the minimum hourly wage will go from $11 to $13.25 immediately and to $15 in January. The agreement comes months before Anaheim voters decide on a ballot question that would require the Disneyland Resort and others that have taken subsidies from the city to pay workers a minimum of $15 starting next year. Disney officials have organized against the ballot question. Martin writes: “Union bargaining committee member Artemis Bell said that ‘its important for Disney, as the largest employer in Orange County, to recognize the struggles workers go through as the cost of living continues to rise in the area.’ Bell, a Disneyland night shift custodian, said, ‘With this contract, we are one step closer to a better situation for thousands of employees who put so much energy and heart into their jobs.’”

Vox: Alexia Fernández Campbell and Alvin Chang report on the growing use of mandatory arbitration agreements in which millions of American workers sign away their rights to go to court against their employers, agreeing they won’t sue for a litany of possible workplace abuses. About half of nonunionized workers at U.S. companies are constricted by such agreements, which is more than double the share in the early 2000s. Members of Congress have proposed a number of policies to restrict mandatory arbitration, including exempting sexual harassment. The article includes an interactive tool readers can use to find out if their employers require arbitration. Campbell and Chang write: “The practice is particularly harmful to women and black employees, as they are more likely to be subjected to arbitration agreements because they make up a large share of workers in the industries that require arbitration the most: education and health care.”

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