Things to Think About

Yesterday I spoke to Catherine Quinn in the Syracuse office of the US Department of Labor about how our work in Tompkins County could be helped by the USDOL. She told me about a new program instituted by Secretary Hilda Solis called We Can Help. The program identifies low wage earners as its target audience and offers assistance with all the issues that can plague workers like wage theft, minimum wage questions and last paychecks among more. 

Coincidentally, the New York Times had an editorial about Secretary Solis, the We Can Help program and about how she has added many new investigators to the ranks of the DOL. This is welcome news indeed after many years of attacks by previous presidential administrations on the power of the DOL.

Read the Times editorial here.


From our friends at 16 deaths per day, we have a communication about the tragic West Virginia mine accident earlier this week. ’16 deaths per week’ refers to the number of workers killed on the job in the US. The punishment for employers who intentionally ignore unsafe conditions that can lead to death is almost nonexistent.

Twenty-five West Virginia coal miners dead in the worst mining disaster America has seen in two decades. Four more missing, their chances of survival dimming by the hour.

This senseless tragedy wasn’t an act of God. It wasn’t a mere occupational hazard. In fact, the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, was also responsible for a 2006 fire that trapped 12 miners and killed two of them, because the company had removed ventilation controls the year before and had not replaced them.

Indeed, Massey Energy has been assessed repeatedly and routinely for worker safety violations. Massey, which brought in $24 million in income in the fourth quarter of 2009, simply saw the petty fines it incurred for violations as a cost of doing business, not as a reason to act to protect its workers from injury and death. And Massey is hardly alone.

The rules that protect workers from negligent employers in this country are so weak that thousands of employers make the rational decision to just ignore them and pay the token penalties if they’re forced to. This week in West Virgina, we’ve seen the consequences of this arrangement.

You can read more about 16 Deaths per Day and the work they are doing to make the workplace safer here.