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Working In These Times

Friday, Nov 15, 2013, 4:47 pm

Ditching Child Labor Laws; Honeywell Looking to Escape Liability; Machinists Reject Boeing Contract

BY Mike Elk

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A young child farm worker hard at work in a cotton field. (Louise Boyle / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

Last year, the Obama administration ditched a proposal for new workplace safety rules that would have protected children from doing some of the most hazardous agricultural jobs. In an article for The Nation, Mariya Strauss reports on the child farmworkers who have died since that rule was abandoned:

In the end, I found thirty-nine cases of injury or death over the last year and a half involving 12- to 15-year-olds working in agriculture. About a third—eleven in all—worked on their parents’ property and would not have been protected under the proposed rules, which contained an exemption for kids working on a family farm. But at least twelve kids under 16 were injured and four died doing tasks that would have been prohibited under the rules  …  But the cases I gathered don’t reflect the other states that advocates say are likely to have the highest number of young farmworkers: Texas, Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina and Washington State.

The cases I did find included 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an Amish boy from Deer Grove, Illinois, who was killed in July 2012. According to the sheriff’s report, Kropf died after he leaned from his seat atop a tall, tractor-like vehicle called a High-Boy to pull the tassels off a stalk of corn, fell and was crushed under the vehicle’s wheel. According to local press reports, OSHA officials arrived at the scene but left because there were fewer than ten workers on the farm, which meant they lacked jurisdiction  ...  Another preventable death was that of 18-year-old Kyle Beck of Wauseon, Ohio, who was killed when he fell beneath a wagon full of grain that was being pulled by a 15-year-old driving a tractor, which would not have been allowed under the proposed rules.

Last week, Working In These Times reported on an employee fridge testing positive for uranium at Honeywell's uranium conversion facility in Metropolis, Ill. This week Bloomberg has an expose on how Honeywell is pushing a bill that would limit the company's liability for exposing workers to another toxic chemical—asbestos. From Bloomberg:

Honeywell International Inc. (HON), whose political action committee donates more money than any other corporate PAC, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spends more to lobby Congress than anyone else, saw long-sought legislation on asbestos claims advance in Congress today.

The legislation, H.R. 982, would impose new disclosure requirements on trusts set up to pay victims of asbestos-related illnesses. The House passed the bill 221-199.

Proponents say the new reports will cut down on fraud by allowing companies such as Honeywell to easily discover if a person suing them also collected damages from a trust for the same illness; opponents argue that the goal is to let companies delay payments to those dying of mesothelioma and other cancers.

Under threat of losing their job, 30,000 Boeing workers in Seattle voted down a concessionary contract. From Labor Notes:

Machinists at Boeing resoundingly voted down mid-contract concessions yesterday and then booed the union leaders who had pushed the proposal on a shocked membership.

Their contract doesn’t expire until 2016, but the company is threatening to move production of the huge new 777X aircraft out of Washington state to avoid the union.

Boeing even promised $10,000 apiece upon approval, but the workers didn’t take the bait, opposing the scheme by 67 percent.

What happens when taxi-cab drivers organize, and city officials say they won’t hear their complaints because they can’t understand their accent? Dave Jamieson at the Huffington Post has the story:

Later in the video, commissioner Paul Cohn says the commission is requiring written testimony because many D.C. cabbies have a poor grasp of English. A lot of the city's drivers are immigrants from Ethiopia and elsewhere.

"The reason we are asking for written testimony is because a lot of our cab drivers have difficulty with our language," Cohn says. "It's very difficult for us to understand some of the people who testify. It's easier for us to read along."

In a statement, the Teamsters called the stipulation an "illegal, discriminatory requirement."

A charter school in Detroit named after Cesar Chavez is in trouble with its union. From the Detroit News:

Dozens of unionized school employees, parents and students gathered in the cafeteria of Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School for a scheduled school board meeting that was to include discussion of the budget for the four-campus Cesar Chavez Academy.

Only two of the five school board members attended the meeting, preventing a quorum, and the meeting was canceled. The board meets next Dec. 12.

The union, Cesar Chavez Academy Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, claims the academy and Leona Group, a nationwide educational management company that provides administrative services for the school, violated the National Labor Relations Act by not bargaining over staffing decisions with the union.

The International Association of Machinists (IAM) is a sponsor of In These Times.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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