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Labor Report

Retail Injuries and Illnesses Spike in 2018 as Safety Enforcement Wanes

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of workplace injuries and illnesses reported across the nation was unchanged last year compared to 2017, following five consecutive annual reductions.

There were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2018. The incidence rate also remained unchanged from the prior year, as did the incidence rates for “days away from work” cases and for “days of job transfer and restriction only” cases.

Retail trade was the only private industry sector where the rate of total recordable cases increased in 2018, rising from 3.3 cases to 3.5 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers, the BLS stated. This was the first increase in the rate in retail since the annual research series began in 2003. Retail accounted for 14 percent of all injuries and illnesses in private industry.

The total number of retail cases increased 4% to 409,900. Those resulting from falls, slips, or trips increased by 11% to 34,190, while those resulting from contact with objects or equipment increased 10% to 38,940 cases.

There were 900,380 injuries or illnesses that caused a worker to miss at least one day of work. Among those, 333,830 cases resulted in a visit to a medical facility such as an emergency room or in-patient hospital.

According to, worker advocates blame the lack of improvement in the injury rate on declining enforcement at the Department of Labor. Earlier this year, OSHA reported that it conducted 32,023 workplace safety inspections in fiscal year 2018, down from 32,408 in fiscal 2017.

New Study: Almost Half of U.S. Workers Hold Low-Wage Jobs

Despite historically low unemployment and the accompanying tight labor market, a politically moderate Washington, D.C., think tank has determined that 44% of American workers ages 18 to 64 have low-wage jobs that pay median hourly wages of $10.22 and median annual wages of $17,950. This group accounts for 53 million Americans.

In a new report entitled “Meet the low-wage workforce,” the Brookings Institution found that the prevalence of low-wage workers transcends race, although the group is disproportionately female. In addition, the rate of low-wage workers varies greatly (from 30% to 62%) across more than 350 metropolitan areas studied. The researchers defined low-wage workers generally as those who make two-thirds or less of the median wage for full-time/full-year workers.

“Nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of ages 25 to 54, and much of this group (40%) is raising children,” Brookings stated in a news release. “While young people account for a disproportionately large share of low-wage workers (24%), the vast majority of low-wage workers are adults.”

“Additionally, the report finds that 30% of low-wage workers live in families earning below 150% of the (federal) poverty line. These 16 million low-wage workers get by on very low incomes – about $30,000 for a family of three and $36,000 for a family of four. Twenty-six percent of low-wage workers (14 million) are the only earners in their families, with median family earnings of $20,400, and another 25% (13 million) live in families in which all workers earn low wages.”

Martha Ross, the lead author of the report, stated, “The data shows the prevalence of low-wage work in the economy, and that it translates directly into economic hardship for a substantial portion of the workforce.”

Researchers found that many of the places with the lowest concentrations of low-wage workers are in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Midwest regions.

NLRB Planning Rule to Restrict Union Access to Workplaces

A member of the National Labor Relations Board gave attendees of the American Bar Association’s annual labor and employment law conference a preview of the board’s forthcoming rule that proposes to regulate when and how unions can enter an employer’s property to organize workers.

According to Bloomberg Law, William Emmanuel told ABA members on November 7 that the forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will “clearly define the right of an employer to prohibit certain activities on its private property by two different categories.” Those categories will be non-employee union organizers and regular employees.

Emmanuel purported that the rule will seek to establish clarity on the issue, which has been the topic of many court decisions and NLRB rulings resulting in “a complex set of rules that are difficult for unions and businesses to follow,” Bloomberg reported, citing Emmanuel.

During the same conference, Republican NLRB members John F. Ring (the chairman) and Marvin E. Kaplan joined Emmanuel and Democrat appointee Lauren McFerran for a panel discussion that “highlighted the sharp divisions” on the board between parties. One board seat, a position that would be occupied by a Democrat in keeping with tradition, remains vacant.

“McFerran said the Board’s recent decisions on employer property access seem arbitrary,” Bloomberg reported. “Her comments suggested she’ll likely dissent from the forthcoming proposal, if it is published before her term expires in December.”

“The Republicans on the board are ‘inventing new categories of behavior’ that have never been terms of art within labor law, like ‘promotional activity,’ in order to effectuate a ‘radical narrowing’ of the right to organize and form unions,” McFerran said, according to the news agency.

The board has not announced a date for the rulemaking proposal.

State Employees Sue to Recover Old Union Fees Citing Janus Case

Seven current or former Commonwealth employees have filed a new lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s largest state employee union seeking to recover fair share fees they paid prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedent-setting Janus decision in 2018.

The same rightwing nonprofit organizations that provided legal representation for Mark Janus filed suit on behalf of the seven Commonwealth employees on November 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, according to PennLive. The new case lists the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13 as lead defendant. The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of 10,000 state workers and recover $3 million in fees allegedly deducted from their paychecks in 2017 and 2018.

A statute of limitations prevents the plaintiffs from seeking repayment of earlier fees, according to an attorney with the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit organization with close ties to high-profile conservative donors David and Charles Koch.

Since the Janus case, the Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have filed lawsuits in many of the 22 non-Right-to-Work states affected by the decision. In Pennsylvania, they sued the Service Employees International Union Local 668 in August on behalf of a state income maintenance supervisor.

In response to the latest lawsuit, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale reportedly told WHYY that unions should not be penalized now for following the applicable law of the time.

“I would just tell (the lead plaintiff) if he doesn’t like what the union did, give back his healthcare, give back his holidays, give back his pay increases,” Bloomingdale said.

AFL-CIO Releases its Annual Thanksgiving Shopping List

The AFL-CIO has released its annual list of labor-friendly products that the national union recommends that consumers choose when preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. These goods are produced by union workers at companies that support good jobs in American communities. The jobs provide living wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and dignity and respect for workers.

The “Union Made” list is compiled by the Union Labor and Service Trades Department, which was founded in 1909 to promote American goods and services produced by union members, especially those products and services identified by a union label, shop card, store card, and service button.

All of the items on the following listings are produced by members of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers; the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers; the Machinists; UNITE HERE; the United Food and Commercial Workers; the United Steel Workers; the United Farm Workers; and the Teamsters.

Set the Table: Anchor Hocking; Bennington Potters; Clauss knives; Corning-Ware; Fiestaware; Homer Laughlin China; Libbey glassware; and Pyrex.

Fresh Whole Turkey: Butterball and Foster Farms.

Ham: Appleton Farms; Butterball; Cook’s; Farmland; Hormel; and Tyson.

Stuffing: Manischewitz and Stroehmann.

Vegetables: Andy Boy; Birds Eye; Eurofresh; Mann’s; Muranaka Farm; Sunripe.

Cranberries/Cranberry Sauce: Dole and Ocean Spray.

Potatoes: Betty Crocker; Dole; and Mann’s.

Bread: Aunt Millie’s; Pillsbury; and Stroehmann.

Pie: Banquet; Entenmann’s; Marie Callender’s; Pillsbury; and Sara Lee.

Pie Filling: Del Monte; Food Club; and Kroger.

For a comprehensive listing of union-made in America products and a recommendation form, visit the Union Label and Service Trades Department.