Secretary Solis Helps Launch ‘Caring Across Generations'
"Caregivers and domestic workers make other work possible for all Americans," pronounced Secretary Solis at the National Domestic Worker Alliance's Inaugural Care Congress in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. More than 700 people representing worker centers, nonprofit groups, foundations, unions and caregivers participated in the conference for the primary purpose of launching "Caring Across Generations." This campaign is aimed at transforming long-term care in the United States, in part by improving the quality and dignity of caregiver jobs. Solis shared her own mother's experience as a domestic worker and her understanding of the isolating nature of a caregiver's job, alone in someone else's home.
Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday to discuss the department's public and private partnership initiatives designed to connect people with disabilities with employment opportunities. Her message: "Technology now allows us to participate in the workforce, and it can be the great equalizer."
In a conversation Tuesday with National Journal Magazine's Editorial Director Ronald Brownstein, Secretary Solis offered some solutions for dealing with the impact of individuals remaining in the workforce longer and unemployment among recent college graduates and veterans. The conversation was part of the National Journal Policy Summit on the Workforce Mosaic, which explored the changing demographics impacting work and workers.
More than 1,500 veterans and military spouses seeking work in Southern California had the opportunity to visit booths from 150 employers plus local service and government agencies at a hiring fair held Sunday at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. Assistant Secretary for the Veterans' Employment and Training Service Ray Jefferson delivered an inspiring speech and, together with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Rob Gordon, escorted the event's special guests, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who made a special visit to show their support to fellow members of the services and military families. In addition to providing remarks, The Duke and Duchess joined several veterans working with VETS as they spoke with potential employers about job opportunities. They later helped prepare care packages for children of military families as part of a service project with Blue Star Families, an event partner. Other partners included ServiceNation: Mission Serve, the U.S. and Los Angeles area chambers of commerce, the USO, Sony Pictures Studios and the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry. The daylong event was one of more than 100 "Hiring our Heroes" job fairs scheduled across the U.S. this year to help veterans and military spouses succeed in civilian employment. It was held in Sony's cavernous and historic Stage 15, which has been home to sets for films ranging from the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" to the more recent "Spiderman."
White House officials answered questions from the public during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Disability.gov on Thursday. Participants included Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy and associate director of the Office of Public Engagement; Jeffrey Crowley, senior adviser on disability policy and director of the Office of National AIDS Policy; and Rebecca Cokley, director of priority placement in the Office of Presidential Personnel. The Disability.gov portal, which is managed by the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy, is the federal government's central source for information on disability-related programs, services, laws and benefits.
Hosted by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes and chaired by Secretary Solis, the second 2011 meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness was held on Tuesday. The council reviewed the first full year of "Opening Doors," the federal government's strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Despite a stubborn economy, the current numbers of homeless individuals and families across the country has decreased from 2008 levels, in large part due to strategic investments from the Recovery Act, as well as unprecedented collaboration across all levels of government and the private and nonprofit sectors. Employment tops the priority list for the coming year. Solis closed the meeting by urging member agencies to connect their programs at the local level. The council's vice chair, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, along with former council chair, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, were among those in attendance.
A roundtable discussion on strategic enforcement of the Family and Medical Leave Act was hosted at DOL headquarters last week by Nancy Leppink, acting Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. Participants, including government officials and representatives of advocacy groups, labor unions and businesses, focused on the importance of ensuring employees know their rights under the FMLA. The group heard from a worker whose job at a grocery store chain was illegally terminated, and her health insurance canceled, while she was on covered leave. She thanked the WHD for helping her to get reinstated and reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical premiums, explaining that co-workers who had been terminated under similar circumstances did not realize they had an avenue for help.
Bringing Worker Protection Message to NY AAPI Communities
Nearly 150 people representing Chinese and Korean-speaking communities in New York City gathered at the historic Flushing Town Hall in Queens to attend the New York Asian American and Pacific Islander Worker Protection Summit co-sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Wage and Hour Division on July 9. Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and a member of the Interagency Working Group of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, served as keynote speaker. "None of us should have to worry about losing our lives or risking our health simply because we clocked into work," said Shiu.
ODEP's Martinez at Work to Improve Employment for the Blind
During a visit to Orlando, Fla., last week, Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, delivered the keynote address at the National Federation of the Blind's annual convention – with approximately 4,000 attendees, the largest conference in the country for people who are blind. She highlighted ODEP's upcoming Integrated Employment Toolkit of resources to ensure that people with significant disabilities have access to integrated, community-based employment opportunities with benefits and wages at or above minimum wage. She also spoke of her agency's commitment to implementing an initiative focused on creating quality work environments within the employment service provider community. Additionally, Martinez focused on ODEP's continued efforts to guide the department's participation in Project SEARCH, which provides work experience in federal agencies to high school youth with disabilities.
Virginia Ministry Uses Networks to Get People Back to Work
In its ongoing efforts to support the work of job clubs and employment ministries, the department's Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships paid a visit Tuesday to the Career Network Ministry at McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia. One of the most successful job clubs in the country, CNM boasts a roster of 1,300 participants, as well as a corps of 100 volunteers, many of whom have found their jobs through the ministry. At weekly meetings, job seekers engage in resume critique and interview training, consultations with employer representatives, and prayer groups that offer faith and moral support. Members also share "victory lap" speeches about landing a job. "This ministry is a testament to the power of community and volunteers to come together and help out their neighbors, and achieve real results in getting people back to work," said CFBNP Deputy Director Ben Seigel.
Monday morning at Gallier Hall — New Orleans' historic old City Hall — Secretary Solis joined New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, business leader Henry Coaxum and other Louisiana leaders to announce President Obama's "Strong Cities, Strong Communities" initiative to strengthen local communities. Federal agencies will provide experienced staff to work directly with local governments, the private sector and other institutions to leverage federal dollars and support civic revitalization work being done at the local level. New Orleans is one of six "SC2" pilot cities, along with Chester, Pa.; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Fresno, Calif.; and Memphis, Tenn.
These cities were selected on the basis of economic need, strong local leadership and collaboration, potential for economic growth, geographic diversity and the ability to test the initiative across a range of environments. After the announcement, Solis had a special lunch date. Dined (and toured) Café Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that provides job training and tailored services to at-risk youth.
Solis Heats Up South Florida on Dangers of Working in the Sun
On a hot July day, Secretary Solis traveled to South Florida to take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's message of "water-rest-shade" to workers. After a tour and meeting with workers at a Florida Power & Light generation plant in Dania Beach, she spoke to local media about the importance of OSHA's summertime public education campaign. "We're obviously concerned about utility workers, berry pickers, landscapers and brick layers. But our message is just as important for baggage handlers and car salesmen, as well as those working on road crews in heavy safety gear," she explained. "Statistically, we know that Latino workers are at the greatest risk of heat illness. They are more likely to work in outdoor industries such as agriculture and construction and of ending up hospitalized or worse from heat stroke." Solis then headed to lunch at DOL's Fort Lauderdale offices to thank OSHA, Wage and Hour Division, and Employee Benefits Security Administration employees for their efforts protecting workers.
$70,000 in Prizes Available for Innovative Use of Department Data
The U.S. Labor Department wants your help showcasing innovative uses of our data and is putting up $70,000 in prizes to make it happen. The Occupational Employment Statistics App challenge calls on developers to use data to help people plan their education, find the skills they need, make informed decisions about potential career changes, know what to expect when they move to a new town, or negotiate better pay and benefits with employers. The second contest, the informAction App Challenge, pertains to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Wage and Hour Division. The department is looking for innovative ways to deliver these data that will increase public awareness of the laws enforced by DOL to ensure fair and safe workplaces. Consumers and workers should be able to view inspection and compliance information from the hotels, motels, restaurants and retail stores they patronize, and use it to take educated action. These data are already available. DOL is challenging developers to package it so individuals can make sound decisions about where they stay, shop and eat. "We know these data are valuable, but we also know that we haven't thought of every way to put them in the hands of the American people – at home, at the office or on the go," said Deputy Secretary Seth Harris. Applications that best satisfy the criteria for each challenge will be eligible to receive up to $35,000.
An inaugural White House summit held Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C., drew 160 leaders from across the country to collaborate on advancing President Obama's policy agenda for the Latino community. Among the administration officials on hand were several from DOL, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab, acting Wage and Hour Division Administrator Nancy Leppink, Employment and Training Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary Roberta Gassman and Women's Bureau Director Sara Manzano-Díaz. They spoke about the department's leadership in advancing workforce development, training and safety. The event focused on the issues that matter most to Hispanics, and all Americans, including creating jobs and strengthening the economy, expanding access to affordable and quality health care, reforming the nation's education system, protecting civil rights and fixing the broken immigration system in a way that meets 21st century economic and security needs.
ILAB Announces $32.5 Million Available for Child Labor-Related Grants
The department's Bureau of International Labor Affairs issued three competitive solicitations for cooperative agreements that seek qualified organizations to implement projects combating child labor. A $15 million grant is available for a Global Action Program to support efforts against international exploitative child labor. This initiative will advance ILAB's efforts to reduce the prevalence of child labor and improve the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, including child domestic workers. A second $15 million grant will fund a project supporting efforts against exploitative child labor in areas of sugarcane production in the Philippines. A $2.5 million grant will go toward evaluating and monitoring projects funded by ILAB.
Worker Safety and Health Have No Geographic Boundaries
Comparing similar occupational safety and health challenges between the U.S. and European workplaces, Occupational Safety and Health Administration Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels spoke this week at the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in Brussels, Belgium. "We benefit from each other's perspectives as we move forward to improve conditions for our workers, our economies and our societies," he said. In 1995, the New Transatlantic Agenda was signed to deepen cooperation on a wide variety of issues between the U.S. and the European Union for the purpose of assisting policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. "In a globally competitive marketplace, we can't afford to have wasteful, inefficient industries, and nothing is more wasteful than workers who are sickened, injured and killed from preventable hazards," Michaels added.
ETA Hosts Chicago Town Hall on Workforce Investments
More than 180 people attended the Chicago Metro Town Hall Forum on Workforce Investments hosted by the Employment and Training Administration and coordinated by Secretary Representative Ken Bennett last Friday. Highlights included information on the workforce development system, including local One-Stop Career Center contacts, and a panel discussion with representatives from workforce development officials at all levels of government. "What brings federal, state, county and local workforce development specialists together is the commitment to building stronger communities," said Byron Zuidema, ETA regional administrator. "The partnerships we create and information we share are truly important to our common goals." The forum also featured presentations on best practices from two current federal grantees and a networking session led by Zuidema.
More than 75 employers and representatives of advocacy groups and community-based organizations participated in a Labor Department informational and outreach forum to learn about wages, health benefits, job safety, affirmative action and veterans' re-employment rights. The free event took place at El Paso Community College in Texas. Several DOL agencies – the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Wage and Hour Division, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Veterans' Employment and Training Service – offered workshops. "The forum represents the department's commitment to providing compliance assistance for the laws we enforce," said Melissa Speer, regional director of OFCCP, which organized the event.
OSHA, NY Consulate General of Brazil Establish Alliance
Diana Cortez, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regional diverse workforce and limited English proficiency coordinator, and OSHA Regional Administrator Robert Kulick recently met with Ambassador Osmar Chohfi, consul general of Brazil in New York, to sign an alliance that will provide Brazilian workers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with pertinent information about workplace safety and health. OSHA and the consulate will implement programs to educate workers and employers about recognizing and eliminating workplace hazards.
Applicability Dates of 401(k) Service Provider Fee Disclosure Extended
The Employee Benefits Security Administration has issued a final regulation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to extend and align the applicability dates for its retirement plan fee disclosure rules. The department published an interim final regulation under ERISA Section 408(b)(2) on July 16, 2010, requiring covered service providers of retirement plans to disclose comprehensive information about their fees and potential conflicts of interest to ERISA-covered plan fiduciaries. This regulation was to become effective with respect to plan contracts or arrangements for services in existence on or after July 16, 2011. The final rule moves the effective date to April 1, 2012, and aligns plan participant fee disclosure with the new date.
Implementation of Plain Law Writing Act Kicks into High Gear
The Plain Law Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law last October by President Obama. As its name implies, the act is designed to ensure that government materials are easy for the public to understand and put to use. Assistant Secretary for Policy Dr. William Spriggs and his team are coordinating the department's implementation efforts, which include every agency having a plain language coordinator.
Regulatory Web Chats – 6 Completed – 1 More to Go!
More than 2,000 people participated in the department's semiannual regulatory agenda Web chats this week. If you missed them, you can still view these dialogues among the department's agency leaders, stakeholders and press. There is one more: The Employee Benefits Security Administration will hold a chat on Friday, July 15, at 2 p.m. EDT.
Karan Sok realized he needed skills and an education to move beyond dead end jobs. He obtained both through the department's YouthBuild program. Sok, 25, obtained a GED diploma, as well as certificates in construction leadership and green technology, from the Providence, R.I., YouthBuild site. "I obtained skills that make me more marketable," he said of his time in the program. Sok is now the site foreman for the rehabilitation of two local low-income apartment buildings, where he earns a good wage and directs the work of YouthBuild students.
Navy veteran Raymond Perrin was homeless and adrift but found help and employment through Operation Open Doors, a program of Goodwill Industries funded by the department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service. In Savannah, Ga., Perrin received counseling on how to write a resume and approach a job interview. He also learned how to establish credit and live on a budget. Recently, Perrin was hired as a store associate in a local Goodwill Industries facility. The program "gave me a new outlook on life" and "encouraged me to do better," he said. According to Open Doors manager Tabeter Robinson, since 2010, 46 veterans have found employment at local companies through the program.
DOL in Action
$354K in Fines Proposed Against Mass. Contractor
A Hyde Park, Mass., contractor with a long history of violating workplace safety standards faces a total of $354,000 in new proposed fines, chiefly for exposing its employees to cave-in hazards at work sites in Cambridge and Framingham. Since 2000, P. Gioioso & Sons Inc., which is primarily engaged in the construction of underground water and sewer mains, had been cited seven times for repeat violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's trenching and excavation safety standards prior to the most recent inspections. "Employers who ignore basic, common-sense and legally required safeguards will face substantial fines and consequences," said Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.
School Bus Manufacturer to Pay $176K+ to Settle Whistleblower Case
Georgia-based school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corp. has agreed to pay $170,800 in back wages plus $5,625 in interest following an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company illegally terminated an employee after he raised safety concerns regarding the proper use of a bucket lift. Blue Bird also agreed to reinstate the worker.
Former Union Employee Sentenced for Embezzling Funds
Mechelle Busse, former office manager for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 568 in Gulfport, Miss., has been sentenced to three years' probation, including six months of home confinement, and ordered to pay restitution for embezzling union funds. Earlier this year, Busse pleaded guilty to embezzling between $79,000 and $110,000 in union funds. During an audit in 2007, the department's Office of Labor-Management Standards found that some receipts had not been recorded or accounted for and minimal records were available for receipts prior to Hurricane Katrina. OLMS compared receipts, records, hundreds of members' monthly dues contributions and regular payments from multiple employers, and found that Busse had used a number of methods to hide the funds she embezzled through a check substitution scheme. Busse, who had been employed with Local 568 for 18 years, was the sole manager of the union's dues and other income.
T & D Metal Products Cited After Workers Suffered Amputations
Illinois-based T & D Metal Products LLC has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with four safety, including three willful, violations, after two workers suffered amputation injuries at the company's Watseka metal stamping facility. "T & D Metal Products failed to ensure machine guarding and safety procedures were in place to protect employees, even after a worker was injured. This negligence contributed to a second worker being injured on the same type of equipment eight days later," said Tom Bielema, OSHA's area director.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has filed two complaints in federal court to collect unpaid fines from mines in Texas and North Carolina. A complaint filed against Corchado's Dimensional Fence Rock in El Paso County, Texas, seeks to collect $42,484. The crushed and broken stone operation has refused to pay penalties following an investigation of serious injuries suffered by a miner when a front end loader rolled over on him. A separate complaint filed against North 321 Stone Co. Inc. in Caldwell County, N.C., attempts to collect $196,833 for at least 103 violations issued between August 2005 and February 2011. "There is no excuse for mine operators to deliberately flout their obligations to pay civil penalties for safety and health violations," said MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph Main.
Following a February incident in which an overloaded 30-ton crane tipped over during the removal of a 40-foot tree behind a commercial building on East Crystal Lake Avenue in Lake Mary, Fla., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Sun State Trees and Property Maintenance Inc. for eight safety violations. These carry $70,000 in proposed penalties. "This employer was aware of the safety issues regarding this crane but chose to expose workers to the hazards rather than fix them," said Les Grove, OSHA's area director.
A Walgreens Co. store in Lithonia, Ga., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with four safety violations for exposing workers to struck-by and other hazards. Penalties total $104,500. Three repeat violations are based on the same violations having being cited in May 2008 at a Chicago, Ill., Walgreens location. "This employer failed to address common and basic hazards posed by blocked exits, falls from heights and being struck by a heavy gas cylinder," said Bill Fulcher, director of OSHA's Atlanta-East Area Office, which conducted an investigation in January. "All employers have a responsibility to keep the work environment safe for their employees."
Jewel Food Stores Fined $75,000 for Safety Violations
Jewel Food Stores Inc. in Franklin Park, Ill., has been fined for 13 safety violations after an evaluation of the company's process safety management system by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found several required elements for handling ammonia refrigeration systems were lacking. Proposed penalties total $75,000.
MSHA announced this week that the focus of this year's Preventive Roof/Rib Outreach Program would be on improved mine rib control. Many of today's mines are located in coal reserves that previously were avoided due to poor roof conditions. These mines frequently are deeper and may have abandoned mines above and/or below them, which often exert additional stress on the roof and "ribs," or walls of the mine. "While recent trends have shown a decline in roof fall fatalities, the incidence of rib fall deaths has remained nearly constant," said Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "Approximately 100 miners are injured by rib falls every year, due in large part to the rise in mining heights underground. Through PROP, we hope to increase mine operators' awareness about the hazards and precautions necessary to prevent such accidents."
OSHA Cites Pilgrim's Pride for Combustible Dust, Other Hazards
Pilgrim's Pride Corp. has been cited for six safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a March inspection at its chicken feed plant in Enterprise, Ala. Violations include allowing excessive accumulation of grain dust that could potentially explode or cause a fire. Penalties total $85,800. "Pilgrim's Pride continues to allow combustible dust to accumulate on motors and electrical equipment, causing the potential for a fire or explosion," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's area director. "OSHA will not tolerate this type of irresponsibility."