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Labor, consumer, environmental groups call on Congress, White House to bolster worker protections

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March 21, 2011

Contact: Laura Catalano, (202) 641-5922,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Washington, DC – A coalition of labor, consumer and environmental groups is calling on Congress and the White House to take steps in the next 100 days to preserve, protect and bolster labor laws in the United States. The call to action covers several issues ranging from minimum wage and child labor laws, to OSHA and Mine Safety Act reform and collective bargaining rights.

The move comes in response to efforts by lawmakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and 37 other states to pass anti-labor legislation, including repealing minimum wage laws, banning prevailing wage standards, repealing child labor laws, passing “right-to-work-for-less” laws, and abolishing collective bargaining rights.

“Many of today’s corporate titans have shown the same callous disregard for America’s working families as the owners of the Triangle company,” said Eric Frumin, Safety and Health Director, Change to Win. “But like the Triangle workers, we will not be deterred from our fight for a fair economy that looks out for everyone. The struggle continues, in the memory of the Triangle workers of 1911, the Massey miners of 2010, and workers everywhere seeking justice on the job.”

The five-point call to action urges Congress and the Obama Administration to:

1. Update and reform workplace and mine safety and health laws.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are working with limited resources and severely restricted enforcement powers. Approximately 4,300 workers die every year in workplace incidents, roughly 12 workers a day , while tens of thousands die annually from occupational diseases. OSHA’s maximum fine for serious violations of safety rules is piddling—only $7,000 per violation. Only when an employer willfully violates OSHA safety standards -- creating conditions that lead to a worker fatality -- can be charged with a criminal violation, which is a misdemeanor—six months or less in jail for killing an employee.

The House of Representatives and Senate will consider legislation that would overhaul OSHA and MSHA. The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act would address these concerns and significantly strengthen the powers of the agencies responsible for worker safety, and provide real protection to workers who complain about hazardous conditions.

2. Preserve, protect and enhance minimum wage and child labor laws.

In Missouri and Maine, bills to literally repeal child labor laws and prevent state agencies from investigating child labor abuses have been introduced.http://www.senate.mo.gov/11info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=4124271;

The bill has caused a stir in Missouri and throughout the nation. The Governor of Maine is supporting that state’s bill. http://www.sunjournal.com/state/story/997624

In addition, anti- labor legislation has been introduced in 37 states, including bills to repeal minimum wage laws, ban prevailing wage standards, and pass right-to-work laws.

3. Pass federal legislation to protect child farm workers.

Currently farmworker children are denied the protections given to other working young people because agriculture workers are exempted from federal labor protections. Children as young as 12 can legally work in the fields and oftentimes children far younger can be found there as well. The CARE Act (The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) ) would change that paradigm. CARE would create a number of disincentives for children to work in the fields, and would help to ensure that young people are in school where they can get an education and end the cycle of poverty that keeps farmworkers in low wage work.

4. Preserve and protect existing worker protection programs, and support the Administration’s request to increase the Labor Department’s budget.

President Obama's 2012 budget requests an increase of 4.7% for the Department of Labor, which is intended to reverse "years of erosion in funding for labor law enforcement agencies."

By contrast to the President’s budget,  the Congressional Research Servicesays that the recent GOP budget cuts for FY 2011 will require the National Labor Relations Board to furlough all staff for roughly two entire months. [1] OSHA is facing similar cuts to its enforcement budget if those cuts are adopted.[2]

We oppose any budget cuts and applaud the president’s call for increased funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to allow it to "vigorously enforce workplace safety laws and oversight,” provide more resources for the Wage and Hour Division to ensure workers get the pay that is due them, and increase funding for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which is charged with pursuing a fair and diverse federal contract work force. Restoring such basic enforcement of labor standards is essential to protecting law-abiding employers from underbidding and competition by unscrupulous executives who  exploit workers without penalty.

5. Uphold the right of collective bargaining for public and private workers that include protections for worker health and safety.

In Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, public workers have had their rights to engage in collective bargaining with management taken away, which denies them a voice on everything from wages, working conditions, protective equipment, overtime, and maximum hours. The right to collective bargaining is a cornerstone of basic labor protections and is a right recognized through international human rights conventions, including Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“This year as we mark the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire, workers and workers’ rights and protections are under attack by corporate interests at the federal and state level,” said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director. “Just as after the Triangle fire, workers, unions and their allies are rising up and taking action to defend the right to organize and to have a union, and to demand the right to dignity, respect and safe jobs.”

"The Triangle fire reminds us that the welfare and protection of workers – their wages, benefits and their safety and health – must be high on our agenda,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League. “Roughly five thousand workers die on the job every year – that’s far too many. We can and we must do better. This week’s anniversary of the terrible Triangle fire reminds us that we need to redouble our efforts to preserve and protect worker safety and health."

The call to action came following a symposium today on Capitol Hill sponsored by the coalition to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire in New York City. The fire, which claimed the lives of 146 mostly young immigrant garment workers, changed the politics of our country and improved working conditions for all Americans. During the symposium a panel of safety and labor experts, historians, academics, and victims and the relatives of victims of recent workplace disasters reviewed the status of worker health, safety and rights in the 100 years since this historic fire. The Washington symposium was one of dozens of events held across the country to commemorate the fire.

Members of the coalition: AFL-CIO; Alliance for Justice; American Rights at Work; BlueGreen Alliance; Change to Win; Coalition of Labor Union Women; Consumer Action; CWA; International Labor Rights Forum; National Consumers League; Public Citizen; Roosevelt Institute Campus Network; SEIU; UFCW; UNITE HERE!

For more information, contact Laura Catalano,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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[1] http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/documents/112/pdf/CRSNLRBanalysis.pdf

[2] http://go.usa.gov/4Jl