Occupational Health News Roundup

At The New York Times, Jodi Kantor and Jennifer Medina report on Trump’s pick to head up the U.S. Department of Labor, fast food CEO Andrew Puzder, an outspoken critic of labor laws that benefit hourly workers.

Puzder is expected to face tough questioning during his confirmation hearings, especially as his company’s restaurants have been accused of multiple labor law violations. The article explores Puzder’s entry into the fast food world, his work as a lawyer, and interviews current and former workers at one of the chains that Puzder runs, Carl’s Jr. Kantor and Medina write:

In interviews and lawsuits, workers have made a graver charge: that the restaurants often broke the law by cheating them on their wages. Some said they were expected to arrive early for their shifts to clean but were not allowed to clock in until later.

Others said they would often work through their breaks, even though those rest periods, required by California law, were unpaid. When Tracy Bradshaw, who worked in a Carl’s Jr. in Bakersfield for two years, would take her 30-minute lunch break, she was often called back into the kitchen to help with a sudden rush.

“I need you back here now, I know you are on your break,” she said her manager would say. If she refused, the manager was more likely to send her home early, she said, which often meant fewer hours the next week, leaving her short on money.

After several months, Ms. Bradshaw said, she complained. Soon after that, she brought in paperwork showing that her pregnancy would prevent her from doing certain tasks. A week later, she was let go, she said. A CKE representative said the company is opposed to all forms of discrimination, including pregnancy-related.

Read the full article at The New York Times.

In other news:

Lexington Herald Leader: John Cheves and Jack Brammer report that hundreds of workers in Kentucky flooded the state Capitol earlier this month to protest anti-union legislative measures. The measures would let workers stop paying union dues even if they benefit from union bargaining; repeal the prevailing wage for construction workers on local government projects; and require workers to opt in to having union dues taken out of their checks. Cheves and Brammer write: “Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, said some union members who came to the Capitol in recent days to protest legislation are social conservatives who voted for Republican politicians. Now they’re watching a newly Republican-led legislature pass measures that will cut their paychecks, Londrigan said. ‘Believe me, we’re well aware that many of our members went to the polls last November and voted the straight Republican ticket to elect Donald Trump, not thinking about who else they were putting into local and state office and how that was going to impact their families,’ Londrigan said in an interview.”

Washington Post: Patricia Sullivan reports that the County Council in Montgomery County, Maryland, has voted in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. However, observers are unsure if the wage boost will be signed into law. If successful, Montgomery County would be the first jurisdiction in Maryland to enact a $15 minimum wage law. Sullivan writes: “Proponents of the minimum-wage increase argue that businesses adjust to rising costs all the time and publicly object only when labor costs go up. ‘It’s hard to adjust to being poor, too,’ (Council member Marc) Elrich said. ‘When you don’t have money, there’s only one adjustment — you don’t spend, you don’t buy.’”

Texas Tribune: Alex Samuels reports on Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo calling on the Texas Legislature to increase funding for mental health services for police officers, though he acknowledged that it would probably take longer than the current legislative session to pass such reform. The Texas House had already outlined challenges facing the state’s mental health system before the 2017 session kicked off, with lawmakers warning that funds were limited. Samuels reports Acevedo as saying: “It is a very stressful profession. You see a lot of ugly things. You see a lot of tragedy and whether you realize it or not, it starts to pile on. We shouldn’t wait until an officer starts calling in sick because they’ve developed a substance abuse problem. ... I want to destigmatize mental health — especially for cops.”

Arizona Republic (via Cronkite News): Sabella Scalise reports that the number of H-2A visas given to agricultural workers in Arizona has more than doubled in the last five years, with federal officials certifying nearly 5,400 H-2A workers in the state in fiscal year 2016. The number of such visas jumped substantially on a nationwide basis as well. However, farmworker advocates say one of the big problems with the visa program, which is for seasonal and migrant workers, is that the “grower controls the visa,” which can lead to efforts that suppress wages and working conditions. Scalise writes: (Bruce) Goldstein (of Farmworker Justice) said he believes farmers will continue to apply and give out H-2A visas as long as the government keeps approving them. ‘They should not be the model for this country,’ he said of the visas. ‘This is a nation of immigrants, not a nation of guest workers.’”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years.

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