Jonathan Rosen: Building A Dynamic Union-Based Health and Safety Program

Source: Kaci McLaughlin and Craig Slatin, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol. 24 no. 1, 2014
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From the abstract:
Jonathan Rosen has spent more than 30 years building union-based health and safety programs. In the 1970s he was a union activist. In 1980 he became a union health and safety committee chair at a Milwaukee manufacturing firm. Following that, he had a nearly 20-year career with the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF). He trained as an industrial hygienist and developed a highly regarded public sector union-based health and safety program. PEF’s Health and Safety Department supported a network of union health and safety committees. Program accomplishments included innovative work on workplace violence prevention, indoor environmental quality, infectious diseases, and ergonomics. Mr. Rosen promoted collaboration among unions, helped support new activists, advocated tirelessly for injured workers, and formed an effective alliance with researchers. Rosen discusses essential strategies for mobilizing union members and gaining commitment to health and safety from unions, employers, and policy makers.

The Four Most Pernicious Myths in Asbestos Litigation: Part I: Safe Chrysotile and Idiopathic Mesothelioma

Source: Christopher Meisenkothen, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol. 24 no. 1, 2014
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From the abstract:
The now well documented phenomenon of “doubt science” has crept into litigation generally, but has had a particularly deleterious effect in asbestos litigation, giving rise to pernicious myths that are told and re-told every day in legal briefs and in court proceedings. Defendants routinely challenge the admissibility of testimony from plaintiffs’ expert witnesses when those experts testify about certain key concepts in asbestos medicine and asbestos science. Defendants boldly proclaim plaintiffs’ experts’ opinions to be “junk science” and seek to have them precluded regardless of how well documented, well researched, well supported and well accepted those opinions are. This has become all too routine in asbestos litigation, where defendants predictably seek to preclude testimony about medical and scientific issues that have been settled for decades and that are not legitimately disputed outside of litigation by the unbiased scientific community of national and international regulatory agencies and scientific organizations.

The Four Most Pernicious Myths in Asbestos Litigation: Part II: Safe Thresholds for Exposure and Tyndall Lighting as Junk Science
Source: Christopher Meisenkothen, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Vol. 24 no. 1, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Part I of this survey confronted the first two Most Pernicious Myths in Asbestos Litigation: the supposed harmlessness of chrysotile asbestos; and so-called idiopathic mesothelioma. Part II discusses the pernicious notions of safe exposure thresholds for asbestos and the unreliability of Tyndall lighting. Defendants’ attempts to preclude plaintiffs’ experts from testifying about these generally accepted scientific facts are a disservice to the legal system and to plaintiffs who have been harmed by asbestos. These defense tactics attempt to deny reality and to spin scientific facts in order to keep them from the jurors’ eyes and ears. This undermines the legal system and harms the integrity of the scientific enterprise. Defendants’ efforts to manufacture “controversy” over previously uncontroversial facts are bald attempts to infect the legal process with junk “doubt science.” The role of this type of “doubt science” is being steadily exposed as legitimate researchers resist the degradation of their disciplines and the scientific literature by unprincipled purveyors of this insidious brand of junk science.

An Unbalanced Recovery: Real Wage and Job Growth Trends

Source: National Employment Law Project, August 2014

From the summary:
… This report updates two NELP analyses on the decline in occupational wages since 2009 and the nature of private sector job creation in this recovery. We find that, averaged across all occupations, real median hourly wages declined by 3.4 percent from 2009 to 2013. Lower- and mid-wage occupations experienced greater declines in their real wages than did higher-wage occupations.

We further find that, despite the recent acceleration in job gains in higher-wage industries during the first half of 2014, job growth over the past year (and in the recovery overall) has been unbalanced, with especially pronounced gains at the bottom and slow growth in mid-wage industries. Specifically:
• Lower-wage industries constituted 41 percent of job growth from July 2013 to July 2014.
• Mid-wage industries constituted 26 percent of job growth from July 2013 to July 2014.
• Higher-wage industries constituted 33 percent of job growth from July 2013 to July 2014.

Today, there are approximately 1.2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries than there were prior to the recession, while there are 2.3 million more jobs in lower-wage industries. During the labor market downturn of January 2008 to February 2010, job losses occurred throughout the economy but were concentrated in mid- and higher-wage industries, according to NELP’s earlier analyses…

Is Working Alone Undermining Solidarity in Your Workplace?

Source: Charly Richardson, Labor Notes, #426, September 2014
(A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #382, January 2011)

Solidarity is at the core of union power and depends on personal connections among workers, created in the course of interaction in the workplace. But management is changing work in ways that isolate people and eliminate opportunities for interaction. People are increasingly “working alone,” and the potential for collective voice is suffering.

To build solidarity and a tendency toward collective action, we need shared experiences. The collective experience of oppression at work leads to collective reaction. And social interaction builds commitment among co-workers and helps us create and enforce norms of behavior. Even in non-union workplaces, rate-busters are “disciplined” through informal pressures to conform.

Management’s Plan:
Eight interconnected trends are working to destroy our connections in the workplace:
• Downsizing through automation, speed-up, and spreading work around ….
• Restructuring/intensification/standardization ….
• Combining jobs ….
• Monitoring ….
• Computerization ….
• Changing schedules …..
• Contractors and temps ….
• Reduction of networking jobs ….

Title VII in Economic-Historical Perspective

Source: Gavin Wright, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 fully deserves its status as a watershed achievement in American political and social history, and Title VII merits full marks as a landmark in national economic history. Enforcement of Title VII generated major economic gains for African Americans, advances that for the most part have been sustained over time. In drawing lessons from this historical record, however, it must be recognized that the successes reflected a specific set of channels in a particular historical context. The primary driving forces were grass-roots mobilization for racial justice and pressure from all three branches of the federal government. Most of the gains were realized in the South, reflecting the low starting point in that region’s transition from decades of Jim Crow segregation as well as the organizational cohesion descended from the civil rights movement. It is far from clear that the same or similar approaches can be effective in confronting racial and class inequalities in the twenty-first century….

Where’s the Care?

Source: Eileen Boris, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In 1966, Ida Phillips, a white mother of seven children, applied for a position as an assembly line trainee at a Martin-Marietta missile plant in Orlando, Florida. At a wage of $2.25 an hour with benefits, the job was a real improvement over waitressing at Donut Dinette. But the personnel office rejected her application, claiming that the firm did not hire women with preschoolers. Her subsequent suit led to the first US Supreme Court decision on Title VII in 1971. Litigated at a time when the scope of civil rights at work was up for grabs, when feminists envisioned a robust equality for women of all classes, Phillips v. Martin-Marietta illuminates the significance of anti-discrimination law in opening up hiring — and its profound limits for restructuring the workplace to revalue labors of care that disadvantage women over men and women of color over other women. It points to the obstacles that the fixed categories of the law — singular identities such as sex and race — impose when plaintiffs, despite their intersectional and complex, indeed fluid, selves – must compare themselves to other similarly situated individuals to claim differential treatment and thus establish harm. It reminds us that not all labor counts as work under the law.

Fifty years after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we have learned that formal equality is not enough. Title VII may have helped professionals crack glass ceilings and other women leave pink-collar work for better paying blue-collar jobs, but it does little to tear down maternal walls. Today feminist lawyers seek to deploy it as one tool against what Joan Williams in 2000 dubbed “family responsibility discrimination,” which severely impacts low-waged workers in jobs with little flexibility. However, paid care workers, disproportionately African American and immigrant women of color, turn elsewhere in their quest for recognition, dignity, better working conditions, and higher wages. Union organizing and bills of rights are the preferred tools of nannies, cleaners, and elder-, child-, and home-care workers of all sorts. These workers are leading the way toward a new social justice movement that values “caring across the generations,” fights for living wages, and recognizes the interdependence of us all….

Title VII, the Rise of Workplace Fairness, and the Decline of Economic Justice, 1964–2013

Source: Touré F. Reed, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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…While the rise of diversity reflects the conservative turn in American politics since the 1980s, diversity’s disregard for economic inequality can be traced in part to the limitations of Title VII. To be sure, Title VII has succeeded in opening opportunities to minorities and women while making the workplace “fairer” for everyone. Nevertheless, its narrow focus on employment bias helped establish a framework that divorced discrimination from the structural roots of poverty and unemployment. Indeed, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ commitment to commercial Keynesianism precluded comprehensive antipoverty initiatives of the sort proposed by Secretary of Labor Wirtz or even Senator Humphrey’s S1937. Though much has changed since 1964, the employment opportunities available to minorities and women remain bound to the trajectory of the broader economy. The high rates of black unemployment and poverty today, for example, are a reflection on the health of the sectors of the economy that have employed a disproportionately large share of African Americans – the public sector, manufacturing and construction, transportation, and retail and service. Title VII is, of course, still relevant to the life chances of underrepresented groups. Nevertheless, if the endgame is simply to secure a seat at an ever-shrinking table, more and more minorities and women will remain standing in the unemployment line….

“The Largest Civil Rights Organization Today”:Title VII and the Transformation of the Public Sector

Source: Thomas J. Sugrue, Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 11 no 3, Fall 2014
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In a 1966 interview, Gloster Current, a longtime official at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told historian August Meier that he considered the “federal government the largest civil rights organization today.” Current captured the most important economic impact of the long black freedom struggle: government had become the single most important agent of African American economic advance in the last third of the twentieth century. “Public employment,” write historians Michael Katz and Mark Stern in their systematic survey of twentieth-century census data, “became African Americans’ distinctive occupational niche.” In 2000, a remarkable 43 percent of black women and 19 percent of black men worked in government and state-related jobs. Those jobs served as a buffer against deindustrialization and an alternative to rapidly proliferating, poorly paid service-sector and retail jobs. “In 2000,” Katz and Stern show, “the median income for blacks who worked full time in the public sector exceeded the income of black private sector employees by 15 percent for men and 19 percent for women.” They conclude: “Public and state-related employment have thus proved the most powerful vehicles for African American economic mobility and the most effective anti-poverty legacy of the Great Society.” That government employment would be the major vehicle for black advancement was by no means inevitable, even when Current made his optimistic statement in early 1966…..