Solis Champions Education at Latina Leadership Conference
Secretary Solis delivered remarks at the Latina Leadership Network of California Community College's Annual Conference last Friday. The organization, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is dedicated to advancing the presence, leadership growth and educational success of Latinas in California's community college system. Solis delivered a powerful message about the importance of education and leadership to hundreds of Latina students and officials. "If we are serious about meeting the challenges of the 21st century, and if the promise of fair access to higher education is to be realized, then it's going to happen at community colleges. In so many ways, Latinas are at the forefront."
Last week, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships hosted a Job Clubs symposium at Redeemer Covenant Church in Caledonia, Mich. Community leaders from towns across western Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Holland and Kalamazoo, gathered to discuss how job clubs and other employment support groups are helping Michiganders get back to work. Jay Williams, director of the administration's Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, addressed the audience on his office's role and the successful, ongoing recovery of the auto and manufacturing industries in Michigan.
Secretary Solis attended the 38th anniversary celebration of the Latino Alumni Association at the University of Southern California last Friday night. Solis earned a master's degree in public administration from USC in 1981. This year, the association honored the life and achievements of Dr. Richard Zapanta, a fellow alumnus and friend of Solis, for whom she delivered heartfelt remarks. As a doctor, activist, donor and mentor, Zapanta has dedicated his life to the advancement of the Latino community. "I don't know where you find the hours in the day to do so much good, Richard. I'm so proud to call you a dear friend," she said.
Emphasizing her agency's commitment to helping veterans obtain good jobs, Michele Hodge participated in the 52nd Annual National Conference of the American Legion last week. Hodge, the Mid-Atlantic regional director for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, joined nine panelists in an employment roundtable to discuss best practices in assisting veterans, the state of employment in the private and public sectors, and how to develop partnerships to serve veterans' needs. The seven-day conference was attended by hundreds of veterans and representatives from veterans' agencies, community-based organizations, employers and federal agencies. Hodge's comments emphasized OFCCP's commitment to promoting diversity, protecting workers and enforcing the law.
VETS' Ortiz Addresses LULAC
The Labor Department is providing veterans including those of Latino heritage with resources that will "prepare them to find meaningful careers and maximize their employment opportunities," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Veterans' Employment and Training Service Ismael Ortiz told a meeting of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Puerto Rico last week. Ortiz outlined some of the agency's initiatives designed to help veterans seeking employment, including My Next Move for Veterans, a website that matches military skills to available civilian jobs; the Veterans Job Bank, a website directory that helps veterans find job postings from companies looking to hire them; and the Veterans Gold Card Initiative, which provides veterans with career counseling at any one of the department's 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers across the country. Ortiz also discussed how VETS has helped redesign the curriculum for its Transition Assistance Program to "better communicate a veteran's value to a company's hiring manager and propel them into new careers."
OSHA, MSHA Heads Speak at Steelworkers' Conference
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Dr. David Michaels and the Mine Safety and Health Administration's Joe Main spoke this week on worker protection issues at the United Steelworkers' Health, Safety & Environment Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa. Michaels discussed reinvigorating OSHA's enforcement program to focus on the most dangerous industries and repeat violators, as well as OSHA's upcoming standard that aligns the agency's Hazard Communication Standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling
He thanked the steelworkers for their involvement in OSHA's hearings on the standard, which will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace while making it safer for workers to do their jobs. Main spoke about the challenges encountered in his two-plus years with MSHA, which include dealing with a backlog of more than 80,000 violations contested by mine operators, agency underfunding in previous years, inconsistency in enforcement and a wave of retirements that left about half of MSHA's inspectors with fewer than two years of experience. He also addressed the agency's focus to improve mine safety and health, while at the same time responding to the enormous challenge of the Upper Big Branch Mine tragedy.
Partnerships for Ex-Offenders
Representatives from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs' Mid-Atlantic regional office are spearheading regional efforts to develop interagency partnerships to support formerly incarcerated workers' re-entry into society. Deputy Regional Director Vincent Whipple discussed this topic last month at an event celebrating a mentorship program jointly supported by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Washington, D.C.'s faith-based community. Regional Director Michele Hodge expanded on this theme at Maryland's first annual Statewide Community Re-entry Symposium. Speaking on a panel, Hodge addressed an audience of 250 individuals, faith-based organizations, local law enforcement officials, public sector representatives.
West Coast Event Promotes Safety
Partnering with URS Corp., various state, federal and local agencies, and trade and professional associations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offered a week-long Pacific Coast "Safety fest" near San Francisco last week. Nearly 300 workers, safety specialists, managers, business owners and trade unions gathered for the event, held at the U.S. Army Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area in Dublin, Calif. Thirty-four classes were offered on topics related to residential and general construction safety, highway work zones, hazardous waste operations, crane safety and heat stress. The event also provided an opportunity for attendees to meet with representatives from professional organizations and companies to discuss improvements in safety equipment and best practices. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Richard Fairfax, the keynote speaker at the conference's opening session, commended the sponsors for making such an extensive safety training program possible.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia Shiu spoke at a class-action conference hosted by the Impact Fund last Friday. The conference brought together nearly 150 leading private and nonprofit attorneys who represent plaintiffs in systemic employment discrimination cases to share knowledge and best practices. Shiu provided an overview of OFCCP's enforcement activities, regulatory agenda and priorities for the agency in the coming year. Senior Program Advisor Pamela Coukos led an "OFCCP 101" presentation, explaining the general obligations of contractors, and the agency's review and complaint procedures.
Two town hall meetings will be hosted by the Labor Department on Wednesday, March 14, in Amarillo, Texas, to provide former employees of the Pantex Plant with information concerning a new class of employees recently added to the Special Exposure Cohort of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. Staff from the department's Traveling Resource Center will be available for extended periods to assist individuals with filing claims.
A passionate community in Alabama held signs that read, "We Are One, Respect Our Rights," coming together this week to join in the re-enactment of the historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Secretary Solis fired up a crowd of more than 400 people with her keynote address on workers' rights Wednesday evening in White
Hall. "We gather tonight in the shadows of history at a time of challenge and uncertainty here in Alabama fresh attacks on the right to vote, the right to organize, the right to receive a quality public education and, for some, even the right to hold a job or walk down the street without fear." On Thursday Solis joined a rally and march sponsored by labor organizations. Among the civil rights leaders present were Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and farm workers advocate Dolores Huerta. More than 700 activists from diverse backgrounds joined the march.
OSHA Puts Spotlight on Hazards in Tornado Cleanups
As residents recover from recent storms that have devastated the Midwest and South, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is on-site and providing assistance to workers and members of the public engaged in cleanup activities. OSHA is keeping an eye out for hazards workers may encounter, as well as steps they should take to protect themselves. Hazards may include illness from exposure to contaminated water or food, downed electrical wires, carbon monoxide and electrical hazards from portable generators, and fall and struck-by hazards from working at heights, such as during tree-trimming.
The U.S. Department of Labor turns 100 in 2013, and a year-long schedule of activities and educational efforts are in store as we mark this important milestone. But before we start the activities, some aspects of the department's Frances Perkins headquarters building needed a "spruce-up." As part of the department's Centennial commemoration events,
the General Services Administration is cleaning, conserving and preserving the four murals by famed artist Jack Beal that are located in the department's lobby. Over the years, the paintings have endured cracks and faded in color. Conservationists are restoring the
paintings using nontoxic, water-based cleaning products to bring them back to their original luster from when they were installed in 1977. The murals depict various eras of U.S. worker history from colonial times through space exploration.
OSHA Renews Alliance with Pennsylvania Business Chamber
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Harrisburg, Pa., area office renewed an alliance with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry to continue providing PCBI members and their employees with information, guidance and access to workplace safety and health training resources. Since the alliance's inception in March 2004, OSHA and the chamber have jointly provided safety and health presentations to approximately 2,500 workers in general industry, and safety and health professionals in the Harrisburg area. Presentations will be expanded throughout Pennsylvania.
It Happened on the Hill
DOL Encouraging Employee Retirement Plans for Small Businesses
Employer-sponsored savings plans are the best way for most workers to accumulate a nest egg for a secure retirement. Today, however, fewer than half of small businesses offer such plans. That sobering statistic has not gone unnoticed, according to Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration Phyllis C. Borzi, who testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday. "The department recognizes the critical role that small businesses play in the economy," she told lawmakers. "And we will continue to expand our efforts to help them offer high-quality retirement plan options to workers." In addition to the department's outreach, Borzi discussed efforts with advocacy groups and other federal agencies to assist small employers, such as through the Small Business Administration's BusinessUSA website, which highlights a range of government resources. She also pointed out EBSA regulatory initiatives that will provide small employers with greater transparency around the retirement plan services fees they are charged, and other initiatives that will hold investment advisors more accountable for the quality of the advice they provide.
White House Community Summit Convenes in Philadelphia
Nearly 30 representatives from the Philadelphia offices of various Labor Department agencies joined Robert Asaro-Angelo, northeast regional representative for Secretary Solis, at the second White House Community Partnership Summit last Friday at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The day-long program, focused on housing policy and other issues, brought together hundreds of leaders from more than 250 entities representing government, education, private industry and community-based organizations to discuss critical issues pertinent to particular localities, regions and the nation. Department staff participated in 20 breakout sessions.
Women's Bureau Director Sara Manzano-Díaz delivered the keynote address at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's National Women's History Month observance, sponsored by HUD's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, on Thursday. She spoke about her own career path and passion for improving the lives of working women. "I am here to commemorate the struggles and celebrate the progress of women all around the world," she told the audience. March is Women's History Month, and March 8 is International Women's Day.
When most people think of the Department of Labor, they don't think of consumer protection. But it's the Employee Benefits Security Administration's job to ensure that workers, as consumers of investment products and health insurance coverage provided by private sector employers, know their rights and receive the benefits they have earned. During National Consumer Protection Week, federal and state government agencies and nonprofit groups are encouraging consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their rights and make better-informed decisions. For questions about employer-sponsored health insurance, retirement plans and other employee benefits, call 866-444-EBSA (3272) toll-free. EBSA is here to help.
When the real estate market tanked, realtor Lucy LaVoulle sought a new profession. She turned her "passion for sustainability" into a new Georgia business thanks to the Women's Bureau's "Women Going Green" pilot entrepreneurial program. LaVoulle learned about green construction techniques, conservation and energy efficiency over nine months of coursework. She also learned about starting a business from budgeting to marketing and eventually became a certified green trainer. She began a green training company, Eco Training USA, where she shares her expertise on how to "greenovate" homes. LaVoulle is writing a book about green techniques and expects to hire more staff as her company expands. The entrepreneurial program "gave me the skills and confidence I needed to begin my business and help people understand about greening their environment," she said.
Job Corps Grad Sees Career Take Off
Juan Castellano's career in aviation has taken off following training he received at Job Corps centers in New York state and Washington, D.C. Because he could not afford to go to college, Castellano took administrative and computer courses at the Cassadaga, N.Y, center, then transferred to the Potomac Job Corps Center in the nation's capital. There he attended and graduated from an advanced transportation program run by the Transportation Communications Union/Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Castellano then held a series of aviation jobs, working his way up from customer service agent to his current position as airport supervisor for the merged United and Continental Airlines, and now United Airlines in San Jose, Calif. Castellano said the Job Corps and TCU/IAM experiences "made me feel special and molded me into the best person I can be."
DOL in Action
$346 Million In Grants Available to Expand Opportunities for Seniors
The Labor Department announced the availability of $346 million in grants to help seniors obtain job training skills and to promote community service. The Senior Community Service Employment Program helps promote economic self-sufficiency for unemployed older Americans and help guide participants to businesses looking for well-trained and reliable employees. The department anticipates awarding between 10 and 20 grants that will fund training positions for approximately 35,700 seniors.
Seeking to expand education and training opportunities for at-risk youth, the Labor Department announced the availability of $75 million in grants for the YouthBuild program. The department expects to award approximately 75 grants to assist more than 5,200 out-of-school youths in developing critical occupational skills while working to receive a high school or General Educational Development diploma. The solicitation for grant applications is the first to incorporate new rules that expand required occupational skills training available to YouthBuild participants beyond construction to include training in high-demand industries such as health care and information technology.
EBSA Instrumental in Conviction Involving Multi-Billion Dollar Fraud
The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced that a federal jury in Houston, Texas, has convicted Robert Allen Stanford for orchestrating a multi-billion dollar investment fraud scheme. Stanford, the former chairman of the board of directors of Stanford International Bank, misappropriated $7 billion from SIB to finance his personal businesses. He was convicted on multiple fraud counts, as well as counts of money laundering and obstructing a government investigation. The Employee Benefits Security Administration played an important role in this case by rooting out fraud involving millions of dollars in retirement investments.
Three former payroll processing company executives were indicted by a federal grand jury for their alleged roles in a multi-million dollar fraud perpetrated by the Sommet Group LLC. Marsha Whitfield and D. Edwin Todd, both of Franklin, Tenn., and Brian Whitfield, formerly of Franklin, were all charged. The Whitfields each face one count of conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud, three counts of theft from an employee pension benefit plan and four counts of money laundering. Brian Whitfield alone faces four counts of filing a false tax return. Todd faces a single count of criminal conspiracy. As part of the fraud, it is alleged that the defendants failed to pay health insurance premiums, even though contributions were being deducted from employee paychecks. By June 2010, Sommet had outstanding unpaid health insurance claims of approximately $3.8 million.
Following an intensive, two-year scrutiny of agency actions prior to the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has released its report documenting that internal review. The internal review team, tasked with evaluating MSHA's performance relative to the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years, identified a number of deficiencies and shortcomings, including inspectors' lack of experience, insufficient training, and inadequate supervisory and management oversight. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joseph Main minced no words during a telephone news conference announcing the release of the report: "MSHA is responsible for its actions and will address each of the problems the team has specifically identified," he said. "We take the deficiencies and recommendations outlined in this internal review extremely seriously. In fact, shortly after the tragedy at UBB, we began aggressively implementing a number of corrective actions, some of which directly address the internal review team's findings."
Sullivan University System to Pay $483,000 in Back Wages
Following an investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division, the Sullivan University System Inc. based in Louisville, Ky., will pay $483,201 in back wages to 248 employees who were denied overtime pay while working as admissions officers and high school representatives. The investigation found that employees were incorrectly classified as exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the employer failed to keep accurate records of the employees' hours.
Judge Rules to Bar Virginia Firm From Federal Contracts
U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge C. Richard Avery has ordered that Ares Group Inc., based in Alexandria, Va., be debarred from bidding on or receiving any federal contracts due to violations of the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act uncovered through a Wage and Hour Division investigation. Investigators found that Ares owed employees back wages totaling $195,196, primarily for failing to pay for training time prior to the commencement of the contract, but also for failing to pay correct wage rates and required health and welfare fringe benefits.
Hobart Brothers Cited With 55 Safety, Health Violations
Hobart Brothers Co., a manufacturer of welding wire and ground power equipment for airplanes in Troy, Ohio, has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with a total of 55 safety and health violations, including inadequate lockout/tagout programs, fall protection and noise sampling, among others. Proposed penalties are $174,600.
Agricultural Employer to Pay Back Wages to H-2A Farm Workers
A Susanville, Calif.-based agricultural employer has agreed to pay $287,800 in back wages to 430 temporary workers and $169,200 in civil money penalties to the Labor Department following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. Sierra-Cascade Nursery Inc. violated the rights of H-2A temporary nonimmigrant workers, failed to pay them properly, and violated federal housing, safety and health regulations.
Metal Stamping Firm in Cleveland Cited for Workplace Violations
Falls Stamping and Welding Co. has been cited with a total of 19 – including one willful and three repeat – safety and health violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration began an inspection after receiving a complaint alleging a failure to lock out and tag out machinery energy sources at the company's Cleveland, Ohio, metal stamping facility, which exposed workers to amputation hazards. Proposed penalties add up to $124,740.
OSHA Moves to Protect Workers at Wisconsin Dairy Farms
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established a local emphasis program to protect workers from hazards found on Wisconsin dairy farms, such as those related to manure storage, lack of vehicle roll-over protection, machine guarding, confined spaces and animal handling. Since 2006, OSHA has conducted five fatality inspections at dairy farms in Wisconsin.
Former Washington State Union Official Sentenced for Embezzlement
An Office of Labor-Management Standards embezzlement investigation has led to home confinement for a former Washington state union official. Poutoa Tuiolemotu, former financial secretary for Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Local 50 in Seattle, was sentenced to one year of probation and 90 days of home confinement, and was ordered to pay restitution totaling $17,250. The conviction stems from one count of knowingly and willfully embezzling labor union funds. During the investigation, Tuiolemotu signed a statement acknowledging that he illicitly had converted union funds to his own personal use.
Maga Construction Cited for Serious Violations at Texas Worksite
Buford, Ga.-based Maga Construction Inc. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 12 serious violations at the company's San Antonio, Texas, worksite. Violations include exposing workers to fall hazards and failing to provide guardrails or toe boards for employees working on scaffolding, failing to ensure that scaffolds were erected on mud sills and ensure that employees had proper access to and egress from the scaffolding. Proposed penalties total $43,800.
JSW Steel Cited for Numerous Safety and Health Hazards
Baytown, Texas-based JSW Steel (USA) Inc. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 11 repeat, 23 serious and two other-than-serious violations for exposing employees to numerous safety and health hazards, including failing to cover floor openings, guard open-side platforms, provide railings along walkways above dangerous equipment and ensure that stairways providing access for emergency exits were of adequate width. Proposed penalties total $469,420.