Health and Safety
By: Neal Tepel
After a year debate and stalling, a deeply divided Congress has passed landmark health care legislation known as H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Every American will now be provided with health care coverage including the 32 million uninsured Americans. This ground-breaking legislation will finally tackle the many abuses by the insurance industry. With the country is a deep recession, HR 3590 also addresses a growing budget shortfall. According to the Congressional Budget Office this legislation would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over 10 years. The $938 billion cost would be offset by penalties, new taxes and fees.
This bill addresses the disparity in heath services between poor Americans and the rich, between those receiving the finest health services on the planet and those uninsured. The new law will allow for the expansion of the community health centers in local neighborhoods. This will have a substantial savings to hospitals since many in underprivileged neighborhoods use emergency rooms for their primary care. The increase of screening and prevention programs created by funding under this legislation will save thousand from sickness or death.
QUESTION: I PREVIOUSLY HURT MY BACK AT WORK. JUST RECENTLY I HURT IT AGAIN. DO I NEED TO FILE A NEW WORKER’S COMP CLAIM?
ANSWER: ALWAYS FILE A NEW CLAIM!!
Under the New York State Workers' Compensation Law, an injured worker has two years to file a claim from the date of accident. Even if a worker injured the same body part, it is essential that a new case be filled.
On April 14, 2000, Joe Worker hurt his back on the job. The injury caused him to lose two months of work because of a back sprain. He then went back to work and stayed on the job without difficulties until July 22, 2003. On that day, he had a new accident that also caused a back injury. An MRI showed that he now had a herniated disc that required surgery. But Joe did not want to have the surgery because he could not get time off from work.
Unfortunately, he did not know he should file a new claim. Because he had hurt his back in 2000, he figured that this recent injury was related to the old case. On October 5, 2005, Joe’s back was killing him and he finally agreed he needed surgery. However, when Joe contacted the New York City Law Department he was advised that because they had no record of an accident from 2003 his surgery was being denied. When Joe contacted the carrier on the earlier case, he was told that surgery had been denied because it was not related to the 2000 date of accident. Joe then contacted his private carrier who denied liability because this recent injury was the result of a work-related accident. Joe was stuck.
(November 12, New York City) -- Brazilian chemical workers addressing a New York audience of students, academics, and union members said that the Shell Oil Company, one of the world's largest, had willfully ignored life-threatening exposures to its workers who handled hazardous chemicals in South America.
Antonio de Marco Rasteiro, a former worker for SHELL/BASF in Brazil and the Coordinator of the Association of Workers Exposed to Chemical Substances there, was accompanied by Brazilian union attorney Vinicius Cascone, and Gloria Nozella de Lima, Director of Health for the Unified Chemical Workers Union for the region of Campinas.
With Cascone as translator, de Marco Rasteiro told his audience at the Center for Worker Education about the consequences of Shell's decision, in 1977, to continue to use chemicals at its Brazilian pesticide plant that had been banned in the U.S. in 1975. They included organochlorines Aldrin, Bidrin, Dieldrin, and Endrin. These chemicals, among others, he said, adversely affected the health of 844 workers at the plant, resulting in the deaths of 50 and numerous cases of life-threatening illnesses. De Marco Rasteiro himself has been diagnosed with hypertension, hearing loss, and prostate and lung cancers.
In a video that accompanied the lecture, another former SHELL worker, Mauro Bandeira, told how a man he worked with at the facility was told he was doing “great,” by a doctor. He died ten days later of stomach cancer. When asked at the lecture who this doctor was, de Marco Rasteiro told the audience, ”He was hired by Shell.”
Attorney Cascone said that organizing efforts are underway to bring together associations that represent victims of environmental crimes. David Kotelchuck, a NYCOSH board member who attended the lecture, said workers in the United States faced similar challenges in the 1950’s and 60’s, before the creation of OSHA. “[The Brazilian workers] are now trying to get to the level that workers here have achieved,” he said.
The former employees are currently fighting to make Shell take responsibility for the damage to their health. The process of obtaining treatment through the public health option in Brazil is, according to all three speakers, so slow that lives can be lost during the wait. It also does not cover all of their medical expenses, forcing them to pay out of their own pockets for expensive medicines.
Despite the debilitating state of his health, de Marco Rasteiro says he will not stop fighting. “We want our health,” he said. “Justice must be done.”
NEW YORK, NY (LABORPRESS) -- The point man for environmental “remediation” at the Administration for Childrens Services (ACS) has been relieved of his job duties, in the middle of ongoing projects involving asbestos, lead, and mold hazards to children in dozens of ACS day care centers. Jonathan Silverstein, an Associate Project Manager, received notice on September 14 that, because of a directive from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) he could no longer continue serving provisionally in his title and must instead be “bumped” down to the only city title in which he has permanent tenure status, Eligibility Specialist. The bump will reduce Silverstein’s salary from $72,000 to $35,000, reassign him to an intake center for social services, and take him off the environmental beat. But ACS has no one to replace him. No one in their environmental section has the certifications needed to do the job. Silverstein is certified as a lead-based paint inspector, risk assessor, and asbestos inspector.
Silverstein’s job is one of the most sensitive in ACS. When any child is found to have been lead poisoned, it’s his duty to investigate the day care facility and initiate repairs to “remediate” the hazard. ACS oversees approximately 600 daycare centers serving thousands of children. Silverstein oversees the clean-up of asbestos, lead, and mold in daycare centers when hazardous levels are found, pursuant to Local Law 1 of 2004. He certifies that centers, once “remediation” is performed, are ready to be re-occupied. He’s also involved in construction projects as City daycare center, including one where he is overseeing asbestos removal on a $300,000 roof replacement. His boss, Anil Bhanote, has no one to continue to do this work. Silverstein raised the issue of his being relieved of sensitive duties with ACS Deputy Commissioner Hayden Blades, who told him that ACS “may have to go out and hire a consultant.”
Local 375, DC 37, AFSCME, the union representing Silverstein, has raised the issue with Jean Brewer, an official at the City’s Office of Labor Relations, but there has been no action on the City’s part to date. Michelle Keller, Local 375 Vice President, asked Brewer what the City would do to protect the children in the day care centers where asbestos, lead, and mold hazards exist. Brewer promised an answer within 24 hours. A week later, Local 375 is still waiting. Keller called the City’s lack of response “disrespectful and irresponsible.” Local 375 President Claude Fort left a message for Brewer and is now considering legal action to protect the public ans secure union jobs.
DCAS is charged with reducing the number of provisional employees in City service – people who have not been hired off of a civil service list as the result of an exam – but Silverstein’s demotion raises issues of whether compliance with civil service rules is trumping issues of health and safety, Fort said. “We are champions of civil service law,” he said, “but this case raises questions of obligation to public health which must be addressed. Mr. Silverstein has taken and passed the Associate Project Manager exam – the City should keep him in title and allow him to continue serving until the exam is graded and a new list promulgated.”
AFL-CIO Convention Endorses Single Payer Healthcare
By Neal Tepel
The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation representing 11.5 million workers in 57 international and national unions, has endorsed a single payer health care system as the best way to guarantee healthcare to everyone. The unanimous vote in favor of Convention Resolution 34, The Social Insurance Model for Health Care Reform, came immediately after President Obama had addressed the Convention on September 15, 2009.
The resolution states: “The experience of Medicare shows the most cost effective and equitable way to provide quality healthcare is through a single-payer system.” It continues: “We reiterate our longstanding call for congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan.”
Resolution 34 singles out HR 676 as one of a number of single-payer bills introduced in Congress and states: “The single-payer approach is one the AFL-CIO supports and that merits dedicated congressional support and enactment.” The Resolution concludes by stating: “Whatever the outcome of the current debate over health care reform in the 111th Congress, the task of establishing health care as a human right, not a privilege, will still lay before us.”
Rich Trumka, in his speech to the delegates immediately after being elected President of the AFL-CIO the following day reiterated his support for single payer healthcare telling the delegates: “Now, I know that a lot of us would prefer a single payer plan. I sure would.”
More than 575 labor organizations, including 136 Central Labor Councils, 22 international and national unions, and 39 state AFL-CIO’s have endorsed HR 676, single payer legislation which has 87 sponsors in the House of Representatives.
Lost amid the caricature of a policy debate is the reality that the current U.S. healthcare system is crazy.
The richest country in the world spends far more than other wealthy nations on healthcare (at least 50 percent more than every country except Luxemburg) but sports middling health indicators. It permits 45 million people to live without health insurance, denying them access to preventative and routine care, and resulting in the death of 18,000 people a year. It tolerates private health insurance companies making life-and-death rationing decisions for millions of people with only minimal accountability. It lets private health insurers refuse to take sick people as customers and engage in endless manipulations to discard its customers if they do become sick. It features a system in which medical bills and illness contribute to almost two out of three personal bankruptcies — even though three quarters of these bankrupt people had insurance when they became sick.
There is a cure all for these ills. It is a Medicare-for-All, single-payer system, in which everyone is guaranteed access to healthcare as a matter of right, and the government pays medical bills (thus operating as the “single payer”).
Instead of advocating for this approach — which President Obama supported as a state senator, and which he still says would be superior if the system was being designed from scratch — the Obama administration has sought to reach an accommodation with the insurance industry, hospitals and Big Pharma.
In a series of backroom negotiations, the administration has indeed obtained agreements from these industries to support its plan — or, more precisely, to support the idea of reform. The insurers, hospitals and drug companies have made those agreements not because they were imposed, but because they understand that the outlines of the administration’s proposal will leave them more profitable.
Business Week ran a cover story titled, “The Health Insurers Have Already Won.” Concludes Business Week: “The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable.”
The New York Times reports on a Tennessee Hospital Association study that finds hospital income will increase under the Obama approach more by more than $16 billion beyond the cost savings that hospitals promised the administration. The Times points out, as well, that most of those savings were likely to occur in any case. And the deal with Big Pharma commits the administration to sacrifice key cost cutting moves — such as negotiations over the price Medicare pays for drugs. In exchange, Big Pharma promised savings of $80 billion over 10 years — a trivial amount that itself will prove illusory and is massively offset by the increased sales Pharma will register under the administration’s proposal.
It is possible to expand coverage without a Medicare-for-All system, and the administration’s proposals seem likely to achieve that objective (albeit in part through the distasteful step of mandating that people buy coverage).
But the problem of poor quality coverage can never be addressed adequately with private insurance, because the insurance companies’ incentives are to deny care. And there is no prospect at all of addressing spiraling healthcare costs while private insurers remain in control. They waste too much money on marketing, elaborate bureaucracies with a mission in part of denying care, profit taking and outrageous executive compensation. Their bureaucracies also impose enormous external costs on care providers, and on patients who must struggle to obtain care at the moment they are most vulnerable.
These problems do not plague Medicare, which extends coverage to everyone over 65, with free choice of doctor and minimal administrative burden.
-- From the Multinational Monitor
Fifteen workers in the United States die every day due to job injuries, according to “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” a report issued by the AFL-CIO in April. The report criticizes the Bush administration for allowing meaningful worker-safety measures to stagnate, resulting in extreme under-enforcement of workplace safety standards.
In 2007, the most recent year for which job fatality data is available, 5,657 workers died as a result of injuries sustained on the job, according to the report. This total was a slight decline from 2006. Employers reported more than four million work-related injuries and illnesses, but “Death on the Job” documents vast employer underreporting of workplace injuries, and estimates that a more accurate number would be 8 million to 12 million injuries and illnesses a year. The direct and indirect economic costs of disabling injuries and illnesses run between $145 billion and $290 billion a year.
“Eight years of inaction and neglect by the Bush administration on major hazards and increased emphasis on employer assistance and voluntary compliance has left workers’ safety and health in serious danger,” the report states.
The largest number of fatal work injuries occurred in construction, with 1,204 deaths. Transportation and warehousing had the next most fatal injuries, followed by forestry, fishing and hunting.
“Unfortunately, as demonstrated by recent job safety disasters, such as the Sago mine explosion, the Imperial Sugar Refinery dust explosion and construction crane collapses in New York and Miami, which claimed dozens and dozens of lives, too many workers remain at risk and face death, injury or disease as a result of their jobs,” the report states. [See “The System Implodes: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008,” Multinational Monitor, Nov/Dec 2008.]
The manufacturing sector accounted for the largest percentage of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses, with 18.8 percent of the 4 million reported injuries and illnesses. The health care and social assistance industries accounted for 16.6 percent of injuries and illnesses, followed by the retail industry at 15 percent.
The under-reporting of injuries and illnesses is a significant problem, according to the report. Referring to employer-reported injuries and illnesses, William Kojola, industrial hygienist at the AFL-CIO, says, “Those numbers are pretty much fictitious.” One study cited in the report found that government counts of occupational injury and illness underestimate incidence by as much as 69 percent. “This is an issue of research, but it’s also an issue of what policies and programs employers are putting in place that work as a disincentive for workers to report illnesses,” Kojola says.
Those policies and programs include employers implementing programs that discipline or fire workers if they report injuries, or incentive programs where workers are given cash awards or vacations for having a low injury and illness rate, according to Kojola. “These are really insidious programs that drive these illnesses and injuries underground,” he says.
However, the report commends recent initiatives by the House Education and Labor Committee, which held an oversight hearing on the issue, and the Senate Labor Appropriations Subcommittee, which provided funding for several initiatives to address underreporting problems, including $1 million for an enhanced OSHA recordkeeping enforcement program.
The report remains highly critical of OSHA’s job safety enforcement and coverage, due in part to a lack of sufficient resources. “A combination of too few OSHA inspectors and low penalties makes the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for too many employers,” the report states. “More than 8.8 million workers still are without OSHA coverage. OSHA’s resources remain inadequate to meet the challenge of ensuring safe working conditions for American’s workers.”
There is currently one OSHA inspector for every 66,258 workers, according to the report. At these staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 137 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once, the report finds, a significant decrease in protection from 1992 — the year the AFL-CIO began its annual reports — when federal OSHA could inspect all workplaces under its jurisdiction once every 84 years.
A March report by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General found that OSHA’s inadequacies may have contributed to workplace fatalities. At 45 of the worksites where OSHA oversight and follow up on safety violations was deficient — and where proper enforcement actions may have diminished workplace hazards — 58 workers were subsequently killed in the course of their employment.
The AFL-CIO report also finds OSHA penalties for safety violations and worker fatalities shockingly low. In fiscal year 2008, “serious” workplace safety violations — meaning the violation posed a substantial probability of death or serious injury — carried an average penalty of only $921.
“That’s a trivial amount,” Kojola says. “It doesn’t act as much of an incentive for an employer to comply with the standards. And when it comes to fatalities, the situation is far worse.” The average total penalty for fatality cases was just $11,311. In Utah, the average penalty was a mere $1,106.
“Where is the incentive? It’s petty cash penalties for situations where a worker is killed from a willful violation,” Kojola says.
In addition, criminal prosecutions resulting from worker fatalities are exceedingly rare, according to the report. In most cases they are labeled misdemeanors, and in 2008, only two cases were prosecuted.
“The criminal penalty provisions of the [Occupational Safety and Health Act] are woefully inadequate,” the report states. “Criminal enforcement is limited to those cases where a willful violation results in a worker’s death or where false statements in required reporting are made. The maximum penalty is six months in jail.”
But Kojola is optimistic workplace safety enforcement will improve under the Obama administration. The administration has already taken significant and beneficial steps, he says, including expediting the development of a standard on diacetyl, a chemical in the flavoring for buttered popcorn which can cause a serious and fatal lung disease when inhaled by factory workers.
The Obama administration also issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on the hazards of combustible dust — a measure the Bush administration refused to take even after 14 workers were killed by a combustible dust explosion at a sugar refinery in Georgia.
“Already, within the first couple months, [the Obama administration] has taken more decisive steps than the Bush administration did in eight years,” Kojola says. The Obama proposed budget released in May allocated OSHA a $51 million increase over last year.
— Jennifer Wedekind