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Entries in workers (2)

Wednesday
Apr252012

Workers’ Memorial Day: Remembering those who have died on the job in NC

By Tom O'Connor, Executive Director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

2011 was a bad year for North Carolina’s Hispanic workers, especially those working in construction and agriculture. Although they make up only about seven percent of the state’s population, Latinos accounted for 30 percent of deaths on the job in NC in 2011 according to a report to be released this week in conjunction with Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28. A majority of these deaths occurred in the construction and agriculture industries and most were due to highly preventable causes.

"North Carolina Workers: Dying for a Job," produced by the Raleigh-based National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and the recently formed Triangle area Jobs with Justice chapter, found that:

  • The State Department of Labor grossly understates the problem of worker deaths in NC. The NCDOL reported earlier this year that 53 people died on the job in NC in 2011. The report counted a total of 83 deaths.
  • Fines imposed by Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry’s OSHA are pathetically low, even in cases of worker deaths. The median fine paid by employers in cases of worker deaths in NC in which at least one OSHA violation was found was only $3,250. These fines are far too low to act as an effective deterrent to unsafe employer behavior.
  • State and local governments are using taxpayer dollars to support some employers who criminally neglect their workers’ safety and health, sometimes with tragic consequences.

The case of Triangle Grading and Paving is a prime example. Luis Castaneda Gomez, an employee of the company, told his wife that he feared for his life on his construction job. “Luis didn't want to work for the company….He would say they would force him to do stuff that was dangerous,” his wife told a reporter. But he couldn’t find any other jobs in the slow economy. Sadly, the 34 year old construction worker’s worst fears came to pass. He and a co-worker, Jesus Martinez Benitez, were sent down into a manhole on the site of a road construction project in Durham. The men had not been given oxygen detectors nor equipment that is required for work in confined spaces. Both men died from asphyxiation in the oxygen-deficient atmosphere of the manhole. The company had been awarded the contract because they were the lowest bidder, despite a long history of OSHA violations and a previous fatality. (Click here for more on this case.)

The groups will be releasing their report at a Workers’ Memorial Day commemoration event in front of the State Department of Labor office at 4 W. Edenton St. in downtown Raleigh on Friday April 27 at 12:00 noon.

Please come out and show your support for safe workplaces for all North Carolina workers!

Wednesday
May182011

Foodies and farmworkers

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser explains “Why being a foodie isn’t ‘elitist.’” 

In short, he says:

A food system based on poverty and exploitation will never be sustainable.

To see the “poverty and exploitation” on which our current system is based, we don’t have to look any farther than the farmworkers who make agriculture possible.  In North Carolina, half of farmworker families face food insecurity at some point during the year.  Annual incomes for farmworkers average less than $12,000.  Most farmworkers are exempt from minimum wage laws, and all are exempt from overtime provisions, despite long work days during peak harvest.

How much exploitation went into this salad?Schlosser argues that large agribusinesses “don’t want people to think about what they’re eating. The survival of the current food system depends upon widespread ignorance of how it really operates.”  One of the crucial cogs in this industrial machine is the backbreaking human labor required to hand-pick 85% of the fruits and vegetables we eat.  But if we are going to be honest with ourselves, if we are going to move towards a truly sustainable food system, it’s time to make changes in the way we treat field and poultry workers.

It’s time for farmworkers to reap a harvest of dignity instead of exploitation and abuse.  It’s time for poultry workers to have safe working environments.  No one should have to risk his or her health or future for a job. 

Schlosser’s article is a reminder that this topic is never popular.  It’s always easier to ignore the difficult questions than to raise them. 

Now you have been warned: you might be called an “elitist” if you ask who picked your food or if you include farmworkers in your table prayers.  But we can’t afford to ignore this reality any longer – our current food system remains unsustainable because it is based on poverty and the exploitation of the workers who reap our harvests.

You can make a difference - click here to get involved with the Harvest of Dignity campaign.