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Workers Safety and Health

Jeez, he was just here a minute ago.

George Carlin was a radical with a microphone. Here's what political satirist Barry Crimmins - who's been doing standup for many years - wrote on Carlin's passing, "He was as fine a practitioner of standup comedy as ever walked on a stage. Period."

"Mr. Carlin didn't just question authority, he pissed in its face. A master of critical thinking and a genius at making that thinking available to his vast audience, Carlin was a world-class subversive. Kind, generous and down to earth, George Carlin moved to LA without ever 'going Hollywood'. Above all, he was one hellaciously funny motherfucker."

A google or youtube search will find you plenty of Carlin verbal essays. From one of our favorites:

"The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else," ranted the comedian whose routines were studied in graduate schools.

"But I'll tell you what they don't want, they don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers -- people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club."

Michigan Unemployment at 8.5%

The news of high unemployment is bad enough, but how much worse is the reality?

For years unemployment experts have insisted that the undercounting in the statistics means that doubling the published number will get you closer to the reality. So is the actual unemployment rate here in Michigan closer to 17% than to the published number?

Utah Phillips: "You know, every city, every town I go to, for the past forty years, big or little, I have found cooperative child day care, an organic food store, alternative medicine services, all of the interventions, none of which existed when I was in high school. Anywhere. Now they are everywhere I go. Taken together, that is a massive amount of energy. A tremendous amount of energy! That is why I am so optimistic. There are too many people doing too many good things for me to afford the luxury of being pessimistic. I'm like Desmond Tutu says, I am a prisoner of optimism. I cannot betray that kind of optimism."

Farewell Fellow Worker Bruce "U Utah" Phillips

Wobbly troubador Utah Phillips passed away on May 23 at the age of 73. Listen to a Utah story here.

Tributes include these from Barry Crimmins, Utah's union, and singer David Rovics. There's an interview about his collaboration with Ani DiFranco here.

The human cost of poultry processing

After an 18 month investigation the Charlotte Observer (NC) is running an extraordinary series on injuries in the chicken processing industry.

The paper says "Slack oversight and slack rules have made it easy for a dangerous industry to exploit illegal workers, underreport injuries and manipulate a regulatory system that essentially lets companies police themselves."

Wrong to Work for Less

Michigan AFL-CIO resource site on the Chamber of Commerce attempt to turn Michigan into an anti-union state.

Chemical exposure injures children & workers, costs billions

Worker and childhood exposure to chemicals costs California $2.6 billion a year, a Universiy of California report says.

The report contends that federal and state laws do not adequately protect or inform the public about chemical dangers. It also found that current laws and policies do not promote "public and private investment in green chemistry research, development, education, and technical assistance."

Check out the full report.

Building solidarity between unionists & environmentalists

Dave Foster gave up his job as a Steelworker District Director to run the Blue-Green Alliance, a joint project of the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. SEMCOSH interviewed Foster.

Injury numbers decline because injuries were not counted

Between 1992 and 2003 workplace injury and illness statistics declined by 35.8%. The Labor Department has interpreted these numbers as showing the US workplace is getting safer. A study in the July issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine disputes that conclusion.

The study notes that two major changes were made to OSHA's recordkeeping rule in the 92-03 period. In 1995 the agency began collecting injury and illness logs by mail and email. Previously the agency was permitted to collect information during onsite reviews. A second change in 2002 made fewer illness and injuries recordable.

Before the rule changes there was an annual 0.5% (one half of one percent) improvement. The first change resulted in an "improvement" of 3.1% and the second boosted the rate of change to 8.3%. By deducting the baseline improvement rate of 0.5% the study found that 83% of the claimed improvements in safety were not an improvement in safety. Instead 2,000,000 injuries and illnesses were simply not counted.

If the boss doesn't record the injury… does that mean you're not really hurt?

Scientists confirm common sense

Scientists from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have found that extra breaks reduce discomfort and eyestrain for data entry workers without hurting productivity.

The scientists followed 51 data entry workers for eight weeks. Half got the standard two a day 15 minute breaks. The others had four extra 5 minute breaks a day. The second group were more rested, reported less strain, and got more work done in twenty minutes less time.

But then you knew that, didn't you?

Tennessee court rules fault not always with worker

Billy McIntosh's hand was crushed while working in 2004. His employer, Interstate Mechanical Contractors, sought to use state law to automatically deny workers compensation because THC was found in McIntosh's blood; but the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a positive test for marijuana does not automatically disqualify a workers comp claimant.

Under Tennessee's drug free workplace law employers can compel drug screening for injured workers. A worker testing positive for drug or alcohol use is presumed to be at fault for the injury unless he or she can show intoxication wasn't the cause of the injury. Interstate ordered a drug screen at the hospital while McIntosh was being treated for the hand injury. The test came back positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. McIntosh admitted to having smoked marijuana twice in the week before the injury.

The Tennessee court chose to hear the case because it had "never decided a case involving the statutory presumption imposed by the Drug-Free Workplace Act." The court decided that the presumption of fault is not absolute and that McIntosh defeated it.

Billy McIntosh, 51 when the injury occurred, had over thirty years experience in his trade and was used by Interstate to train new workers on the company's equipment. McIntosh was training Nick Walker, a new worker, to operate a roller machine, the second most dangerous piece of equipment at the company. McIntosh reached over the roller machine to set a piece of sheet metal when Walker turned on the rollers which immediately grabbed McIntosh's hand and pulled it into the rollers. Walker was too stunned by McIntosh's screams to turn off the machine. McIntosh disengaged the machine and reversed the rollers releasing his hand and sparing his arm from being crushed.

A medical toxicologist testified by deposition that to a reasonable degree of certainty the THC in McIntosh's system would have impaired his reaction time. Testimony, however, showed a hand on the rollers would immediately be pulled in. The court wrote "McIntosh's quick reaction saved his arm." The decision is here.

Manmade chemicals in the womb

Fetuses are being exposed to toxic chemicals while in the womb, says a recent study of new born babies. An analysis of nearly 300 umbilical cord blood samples found chemicals used in food packaging, carpets, and insecticides.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoate showed up in 99% of the samples. The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Ban coal fired power plants to slow global warming

"There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the (carbon dioxide emissions) is available," said James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Take back the workers' law

The Labor Relations Act - if it is enforced as written and intended instead of the way judges have interpreted it - is pro-worker. Law professor Ellen Dannin argues for "taking back the workers' law" in this video lecture.

Honda wage slavery

Want to work for free in the gold-plated sweatshop? Apply for a job with Honda of America. Some Honda workers are working through breaks and lunch to lower their production goals for Fridays. Then when they meet Friday production they can leave early - without pay!

Knowing a good thing when they see it - workers working for free - Honda's Department of Mind Control will soon be raising those quotas to get more work for free. Speed-ups kill - even self imposed ones - but will GM & Ford demand the same thing in upcoming contracts?

World-wide breaking news on worker safety

66% of workplace injuries and illnesses NOT counted

"We estimate that the number of work-related injuries and illnesses in Michigan is three times greater than the official estimate derived from the BLS annual survey," Dr. Kenneth Rosenman of Michigan State University reports. "Whereas BLS statistics suggest that work-related injuries affect 1 in 15 Michigan workers per year, the new results suggest that the true rate is closer to 1 in 5."

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