Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 20, 2006

A Different Oil Crisis In the Middle East
Israeli air raids on the Jiyeh power station south of Beirut in the first week of the war not only knocked out much of Lebanon’s electrical grid; it also unleashed the biggest fuel oil spill ever seen in the Mediterranean. The gushing pollution from the power plant was augmented by run off from hits on the fuel depot at Beirut Airport. According to the UN, the spill has created a toxic spray containing class 1 carcinogens that will affect the long-term health of as many as three million people who live on Lebanon’s coast.

For weeks virtually nothing was done to contain the spills because of ongoing Israeli bombings. In the meantime, the oil slick has been spreading north, contaminating beaches and fishing areas as far away as Cyprus. Even now precious few resources are available for tackling this enormous threat to marine and bird life, not to mention the tourist industry that had been critical to Lebanon’s rebuilding from an earlier 15-year civil war. The delay in clean up means the sludge has already started to degrade making adequate removal even more difficult.

Those American made bombs dropped by Israeli planes were truly weapons of mass destruction.

Little Safety In These Numbers
OSHA released its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2005 the other day and its new director, Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., was crowing. “Today's report is positive news for our nation and all workers,” said Foulke. “The overall decrease in workplace fatalities is the third lowest annual total recorded since BLS began collecting this data. More importantly, this shows that more men and women were able to return home safely from their jobs.”

But Jordan Barab, in his Confined Space blog, as usual set things straight. For example,

●Workplace deaths rose in Wisconsin, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, Maryland, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri.

● 917 Hispanic or Latino workers were killed in 2005, up from 902 deaths in 2004. Immigrant Latino workers bore the brunt of this increased toll, the AFL-CIO noted, with deaths increasing to 625 from 596 in 2004.

●Job fatalities among Black workers increased for the third year in a row, to 577 recorded deaths compared to 546 deaths in 2004.

●Deaths for workers under 20 years of age were up 18 percent to 166 deaths, while 24 workers under the age of 16 lost their lives in the workplace, up 85 percent over 2004.

This report did not deal with the estimated 50-60,000 annual deaths from work related illnesses.

Nor did it cover the mining industry, under MSHA’s jurisdiction. Commenting on a NIOSH report issued last week the Louisville Courier-Journal said, “Despite almost four decades of efforts to reduce coal dust, a greater proportion of miners in Eastern Kentucky and western Virginia suffer from severe cases of black lung than elsewhere in the nation, a federal study shows. And they are getting it at an earlier age.”

Meanwhile, OSHA continues their investigation of Thomas Industrial Coatings Inc. of Pevely, Mo. This bridge painting outfit has had three fatalities, as well as some near misses, this year.

In February, Jimmy Belfield fell from the Jefferson Barracks Bridge over the Mississippi River in St Louis. The company had no required rescue boat in the water and Belfield’s body was not recovered for two months. OSHA has proposed a 64,000 dollar fine but is open to negotiation.

Two Thomas employees, Dan Denzer and Andy J. Wilson, have fallen to their death from the Lexington Avenue overpass, over the Chestnut Trafficway in Kansas City, in separate incidents. One fell through a hole in the work platform; in the other the entire platform gave way. OSHA has said they will take the full six months allowed for investigating this bloodshed.

No, nothing to crow about in these deadly figures.

And the Labor Beat Goes On
I received this message from the folks at Labor Beat in Chicago,

Brief Report on:

National Immigrants Rights Strategy Convention August 11-13, Chicago
In Chicago, August 11-13, 2006, over 400 activists and organizers of the recent Immigrant Workers' Rights marches (held in March, April, May, and July of 2006) met in Chicago to debate strategy and tactics for the way to move forward in their quest to insure equality, amnesty, and citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers contributing to the American economy. The convention was called by the March 10 Coalition (, and endorsed & attended by dozens of organizations in solidarity with the nationwide struggle. This is a 9 minute brief report on the Convention.

This segment is part of an upcoming episode of Labor Beat, a public access television program produced in Chicago. For more information, go to, or contact us at or 312-226-3330.

We also have this link posted on our newly updated Immigrant Worker Rights page. (Full Disclosure: this writer makes a ten-second cameo appearance in this clip.)

Chalking Up the Crime Scene
SEIU’s Americans for Health Care project is organizing street actions this Tuesday, August 22, with the shtick of chalking up “crime scenes” to dramatize employers denying health care benefits. Thanks to Lindsey Walker for passing along the information about Kansas City plans,

This Tuesday, August 22nd, SEIU Local 1 will be participating in the national 'Chalk It Up!' day of action. In cities all over the country, activists will be chalking up crime scenes with body outlines and other signs of a criminal investigation. The crime -- a lack of affordable health care for workers in the US.

SEIU will be converging on Ilus Davis Park, at 10th and Oak on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 4PM, from where we will march to one of many nearby scenes of the crime -- a building serviced by a large non-union janitorial company based in KCMO which has decided they don’t need to offer their employees any access to health care despite their already low wages and questionable labor practices.

We are asking that anyone from the community who supports our fight for affordable health care for all working people come out to help us in our action. We will provide chalk and other basic items, although any guests with a flair for the artistic are wholeheartedly invited to bring any other implements they find appropriate to the general theme.

Its time we mark out the scene of this heinous crime -- right here in our own downtown! Come join us as we Chalk It Up this Tuesday at 4PM!

For more information about our local campaign, call Justin McBride at 816-529-8680.

For more information about the national campaign:

Practicing Union Busting Without a License
Reflecting the penny-pinching culture of his employer, Smithfield’s corporate counsel stopped paying his bar membership fees five years ago because under Virginia law he didn’t have to. But Richard J.M. Poulson apparently overlooked a change in that law adopted in 2005. He has now lost his license to practice and must retake a bar exam in order to represent his client in their many tussles with labor and environmental laws.

You can learn more about the struggle of Smithfield workers by clicking here.

The DeMoro Code
That’s the title of an interesting article in More magazine about California Nurses Association executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro. You can read it here.

As usual, much of the material for this column came from stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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