Recently, the Library of Congress, the world's largest repository of knowledge and information, began a multiyear "Celebration of the Book" with an exhibition on "Books That Shaped America." Eighty-eight books made the initial list. According to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, "the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives." Several of the books on the list have had a major impact or influence in the creation of the U.S. Department of Labor, and later, throughout the department's rich history.
Among them: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan, The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. DuBuis, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and The Words of Cesar Chavez. The Library of Congress hopes that people will nominate other titles, and read some of the books on the list, which reflect America's unique and extraordinary literary heritage. It's also a great way to gain a better appreciation for the mission and work of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Veteran actress Lupe Ontiveros "used her celebrity, creativity and boundless energy to make a difference," Secretary Solis said in a remembrance of her longtime friend, who died on July 26 in Whittier, Calif. "Whatever the issue — HIV/AIDS prevention; domestic violence prevention and legislation; women's health and employment; access to education; the rights of people with disabilities, especially individuals who are deaf and those with Down syndrome; representation of people of color in front of and behind the camera — Lupe was there." Ontiveros appeared in "Selena," "Desperate Housewives," "As Good As It Gets," and dozens of other movies, stage productions and TV shows. "She was a fine actress, but more than that, she was a woman of great action," Solis said.
Joe Warren, a leader of the Memphis Sanitation Strike, passed away on July 27. The World War II veteran and his fellow workers were honored at the White House and the Department of Labor last April for their courage and perseverance in organizing against the poor working conditions and discrimination they faced as Memphis sanitation workers in 1968. One of the carriers of the famous sign with the iconic slogan, "I AM A MAN," Warren played an integral role in connecting the labor and civil rights movements. When inducting Warren and the more than 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers into the Labor Hall of Honor, Secretary Solis said: "We reaffirm that it takes many kinds of leaders to shape history." Over 300 guests including notable civil rights and union leaders attended the event.
HIV/AIDS and Employment
Following the conclusion of the International AIDS Conference held in Washington, D.C., the Office of Disability Employment Policy, in partnership with the National Working Positive Coalition, hosted a meeting on HIV/AIDS and employment. About 100 advocates, educators and community leaders gathered on July 28 at the Frances Perkins Building. Discussions included employment policies and model practices, recent HIV/AIDS research, government initiatives and workplace laws. Speakers included Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy; Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; and Alice Ouedgraogo, director of the International Labour Organization Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work.
With so many education and training options, it may be difficult to discern exactly what type of credentials that hiring managers look for when filling jobs. At the same time, job seekers need to know what industry-recognized credentials affirm the skills needed for the job they want. The Employment and Training Administration is asking businesses to help identify credentials used by employers when hiring and promoting workers. In the project's initial phase, ETA is focusing on four industries: advanced manufacturing, utilities, health care and information technology. Businesses can join the forum and select from and provide feedback on thousands of existing certifications in the database or add additional credentials. Once complete, a database of preferred credentials will be made available to the public.
A new and more comprehensive Transition Assistance Program is helping military service members craft resumes, learn interview techniques and "translate their skills into civilian terminology in order to prepare them for successful employment opportunities," Ismael Ortiz, the deputy assistant secretary of labor at the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, told a national conference. Ortiz spoke about VETS primary mission, to ensure all veterans are prepared for employment, at the 40th Annual Training Conference of the National Naval Officers Association in New Orleans on July 25. With one million service personnel expected to return to civilian life over the next five years, Ortiz said, "Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor are fully committed to ensuring veterans and their family's employment needs are met
Women's job rights were high on the agenda July 27 at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement's 19th National Membership Convention in Orlando, Fla. Dr. Gabriela Lemus, director of the department's Office of Public Engagement, delivered the keynote address to about 300 labor and community leaders at the event, which celebrated the council's 40 years of service to the Latino community. Lemus highlighted the department's efforts on equal pay, workplace flexibility, worker protection, paid leave, retirement security, veterans' services and employment opportunities for all women.
Supporting Our Heroes
Hiring discrimination against disabled veterans, especially women veterans, is unacceptable, Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said at a town hall meeting held at Rutgers University. In her keynote remarks, Shiu urged federal contractors and employers to assist OFCCP in creating a better plan to hire disabled veterans. "Change doesn't happen in a moment, but in a movement. We cannot do it alone," said Shiu. Representatives from more than 75 veterans and community organizations, federal contractors, and representatives of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, Women's Bureau and OFCCP attended the "Supporting Our Heroes" event in Brunswick, N.J. Held at Rutgers' John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development on July 31, the event aimed to connect women veterans looking for work with federal contractors committed to hiring veterans. Attendees celebrated the successes of women veterans and focused on efforts that still need to be made in achieving equality for them in the workplace.
Michelle Johnson, a carpentry graduate of the New Haven, Conn., Job Corps Center, was selected by the National Office of Job Corps as the first ever recipient of the Better Occupational Opportunities for Tradeswomen Award for exhibiting "skills and abilities necessary to succeed" in a nontraditional career field. Pam Livingston-Lewis, a welding instructor at Weber Basin Job Corps Center in Ogden, Utah, received Job Corps' first annual Paramount Instructor Award in recognition of her passion for teaching, length of service, and ability to connect with her students.
Studies show that for a variety of reasons women are less prepared for retirement than men. But nearly 100 working and retired women gathered at the University of Illinois-Chicago on July 28 to learn what resources the federal government has available to help them close that gap. Hosted by Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis C. Borzi, the Employee Benefits Security Administration forum provided advice on overcoming savings challenges, increasing contributions to retirement accounts and what to guard against when seeking investment advice. Senior officials from the Social Security Administration and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also took part in the discussion, instructing women on when and how to claim Social Security benefits, and how to avoid becoming a victim of financial abuse. Video of the forum will be available soon on the EBSA website.
A summit on reintegration, held at the department on July 31, explored strategies to lower recidivism rates and help transitioning citizens find employment. Reps. Robert C. Scott of Virginia and Donna F. Edwards of Maryland and more than 600 stakeholders attended the daylong conference to learn about the latest research in the field and apply it to their daily work. Secretary Solis, who sits on the Federal Interagency Re-Entry Council, discussed the importance and benefits of engaging these communities. "I call this work turning 'tax takers' into taxpayers," said Solis, noting the high costs of recidivism. "It's about giving transitioning citizens the opportunity to contribute to our economy, rather than drain dollars from state and local budgets."
On the Front Lines
"Job Clubs" bring together unemployed persons to expand networking opportunities, discuss the latest job search techniques and provide counseling and emotional support. To help expand the scale and scope of job clubs, the department's Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships offers ideas and training for job club leaders across the country. On July 25 in Indianapolis, CFBNP Director Phil Tom spoke about organizing Job Clubs to better serve members and the community at a jobs fair hosted by the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis and the Community Resurrection Partnership. On August 1 in Denver, CFBNP Deputy Director Ben Seigel participated in the Job Clubs and Career Ministries Symposium at Agape Christian Church, where more than 100 community leaders discussed networking and job search strategies.
More than 75 Burmese and Nepalese migrants and refugees attended a workplace rights event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program in South Philadelphia on July 26. Representatives from the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Wage and Hour Division joined staff members from the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, the Philadelphia Nationalities Service Center, and Friends of Farmworkers to inform workers about wage and workplace safety and health rights.
Improving Financial Literacy
While Latinos today account for only 6 percent of the nation's small business owners, they are among the fastest growing small business communities in the country. The fiscal health of Latino business owners was among the topics discussed at a recent meeting of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. At the meeting, the secretary's chief economist, Dr. Adriana Kugler, highlighted many of the challenges faced by Latinos, including a general lack of information regarding financial planning for retirement and other long-term business needs. Kugler discussed the Employee Benefits Security Administration's successful Latino financial literacy outreach initiatives, which include Spanish language publications, videos, and webcasts that are helping to inform this expanding community.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will host a two-day disability underemployment symposium at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in Seattle on Aug. 6 and 7 to address barriers that keep individuals with disabilities from reaching their full potential in the workplace. To register, call 206-398-8005 or send an e-mail with name, HEADLINE, organization, e-mail address and telephone to OFCCPVM.SEATTLEWA@dol.gov.
August marks the 75th Anniversary of the National Apprenticeship Act, which launched the Registered Apprenticeship program and established clear training and safety guidelines for apprentices. Since then, these programs have provided valuable education, hands on skills training, and a path to well paying, good jobs for millions of American workers. To commemorate this milestone, on August 1, Secretary Solis brought together nearly 200 government leaders, community organizations and program practitioners to discuss how apprenticeships can prepare future generations' workers to meet the needs of the modern workforce. "We're reinventing and reimaging apprenticeship in ways never imaged before and there's still so much room to grow," said Solis during her remarks. "We're supporting a new generation of workers who earn while they learn." During the event, Solis was joined by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington in recognizing nearly 75 Trailblazers and Innovators of Apprenticeship. These organizations are applying the time-tested apprenticeship model to train workers in skilled trades and expanding apprenticeships to growing industries like computer programming, pharmacy technicians and home health aides.
A study released during the summit found that those who complete a registered apprenticeship program earn at least a quarter of a million dollars more over the course of their lifetime. To help grow these programs, the Labor Department is getting ready to launch a "registered apprenticeship to college credit consortia" that will allow apprentices to earn college credits. The summit also included an opportunity to share best practices, as well as a town hall session to discuss a vision of where apprenticeship needs to go in the next 75 years.
A granite monument weighing more than 35 tons and erected recently in Whitesville, W.Va., was formally dedicated last week to honor the 29 men who perished in the deadly April 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion. The imposing structure, which stands 8 feet tall and 48 feet long, contains a silhouette representing the victims, along with their names and the names of those who survived what became the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years. It also pays tribute to the men and women who go to work every day in America's mines. Hundreds of people attended the dedication, which included remarks by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, Reps. Nick Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main. "It's true that mine safety is the law," said Main. "But it's more than that to those of us who have made a life in mining. It's a promise to a wife, a husband or a child. A promise that when a miner leaves home to begin their workday, that they'll be back after their shift – healthy and whole. It is that basic ideal that we all share, a common thread that links miners throughout a town, a state and a nation."
One of the most successful mine rescues in U.S. history marked its 10-year anniversary last week in Somerset, Pa., just 15 miles from the site where United Flight 93 crashed eight months earlier. On July 24, 2002, miners working underground in the Quecreek Mine inadvertently breached an adjoining abandoned mine, unleashing a torrent of water that trapped nine men for 77 hours. As the nation looked on, officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, along with company representatives, engineers and drill rig operators, worked for three days and nights to locate and rescue the miners one by one by lowering a steel capsule 240 feet beneath the earth's surface. Members of the rescue team, miners, government officials and townspeople returned to the rescue site, a dairy farm owned by Bill and Lori Arnold, to reminisce about the event that rallied millions of Americans still reeling from 9/11. Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA Joseph Main and then-Pennsylvania governor Mark Schweiker were among the dignitaries who joined in the celebration and grand opening of the Visitor's Center, which houses memorabilia from the rescue effort, including MSHA's rescue capsule.
Grants to Foster Workplace Assistance for Individuals With Disabilities
Two grant opportunities were announced by the Office of Disability Employment Policy on August 2 to establish and maintain technical resources for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. A $1.1 million grant will fund the establishment of the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Advancement of People with Disabilities, a technical assistance center that will focus on improving employment outcomes and promoting the economic advancement of people with disabilities. A second grant in the amount of $950,000 will fund a cooperative agreement to establish and operate the Accessible Technology Action Center, a new national resource that will facilitate and promote the use of accessible technology in the hiring, employment, retention and career advancement of individuals with disabilities.
After completing intensive three-week training on the Fair Labor Standards Act, 43 members of the Wage and Hour Division completed their Basic I Investigator Training last week. Wage and Hour Division's Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink was on hand to congratulate the new investigators. Approximately half are bilingual and a number served in the military, Peace Corps, or other federal agencies prior to coming to work for the department. Despite its name, "Basic I" is not exactly for beginners — prerequisites to the course include completion of a comprehensive 12-week pre-training session and a minimum of three months of on-the-job training.
We're improving mobile access to www.dol.gov, and we want your help. The federal Chief Information Officer has developed a digital strategy to improve how the federal government purchases and uses information technology, including making more government services easier to access on mobile devices. You can assist in shaping the department's approach to a more mobile government. As we begin our efforts to deliver content and services anytime, anywhere, and on any device, we want to know where you think we should start. What existing Department of Labor website or online service would you like to see optimized for mobile devices first? Please go to our blog and add your ideas.
Protecting Workers from Mercury Exposure in Fluorescent Bulbs
The growing use of energy-saving fluorescents, which contain mercury, calls for more attention by workers who handle, dispose of, and recycle used fluorescent bulbs. When broken accidentally or crushed during disposal or recycling, the bulbs release mercury, which, depending on the level of exposure, can cause nervous system disorders such as tremors and kidney damage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued two new educational resources, a fact sheet and Quick Card, to help protect workers from mercury exposure.
A public meeting of the ERISA Advisory Council, scheduled for Aug. 28-30, is an opportunity to learn more about current retirement, health and other benefits issues facing private-sector workers, retirees and employers who sponsor employee benefit plans. Each year the council typically selects two to three topics for study. This year, the council is studying the following issues: managing disability risks in an environment of individual responsibility; current challenges and best practices concerning beneficiary designations in retirement and life insurance plans; and examining income replacement during retirement years in a defined contribution plan system.
Onshore, Offshore or Overseas, the Department Has You Covered
Whether you work onshore, offshore or overseas, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act provides compensation and medical benefits to workers injured on the job or from occupational diseases occurring on the navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining areas. Since the Act was enacted in 1927 and through subsequent amendments, the department has embodied America's commitment to maritime workers by ensuring that those who are hurt on the job receive the benefits to which they are entitled – benefits that sustain them and their families while they are injured and unable to work. The history of American shipbuilding and maritime commerce is a long and storied one, and now $1 billion in benefits in more than 60,000 cases is paid for maritime workers and various other special classes of private industry workers every year.
Former Feed Materials Nuclear Workers Added to SEC
Former nuclear workers of the Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald, Ohio, were notified by the department about a new class of workers added to the Special Exposure Cohort of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. Workers included in a designated SEC class, and diagnosed with one of 22 specified cancers, may receive a presumption of causation under the EEOICPA. Effective July 27, the designation applies to those who worked for at least 250 workdays during a specified period of time either solely under one of the three SEC worksites or in combination with other SEC classes. To date, the department has paid $150.5 million in compensation and medical benefits to 1,243 eligible Feed Materials claimants, while more than $8.3 billion has been paid to eligible workers nationwide.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is accepting nominations for members to serve on the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. Matters that come before the committee include occupational safety and health programs, enforcement, and new initiatives and standards for maritime industries. The committee makes recommendations and assists the department and OSHA on policy issues about safe and healthful employment in maritime industries. MACOSH consists of no more than 15 members appointed by the secretary of labor. Nominations of new members or resubmissions of former or current members will be accepted for those interested in representing employers, employees, safety and health professional organizations and government organizations. Members serve two-year terms.
When Army veteran Jason Siglar left the military to return to Iowa, he felt his experience as a Patriot Missile launch technician would make him "super employable" in a number of fields. But emotional and dependency problems caused him to lose his job, exhaust his savings, and sleep on the couches of friends and family. Siglar sought and received local help from Goodwill of the Heartlands, a grantee of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. He was hired as a temporary retail employee at a Goodwill store and was then promoted to a full-time position. Siglar said the program "turned my life around by instilling confidence in me," and he now trains other formerly unemployed adults.
'Start Young Initiative' Inspires Job Corps Students
Rhonie Barnes is a Milwaukee Job Corps Center student who wants to open a plus-size fashion store. Michelle Holmes is a culinary student enrolled in the Philadelphia Job Corps Center who dreams of starting up a bakery. They recently completed the Start Young Initiative, a partnership of Job Corps and the Small Business Administration that focuses on teaching young people the skills needed to become entrepreneurs.
The nine-week program features business mentors and trainers who teach students how to write a business plan, how to seek financing and how to start a company. Thirty-eight students completed the program, including participants from the Brooklyn Job Corps Center. Holmes said the class helped her realize that "if I can believe it, I can achieve anything," including eventually opening a bakery. Barnes already has the name of her clothing company – Rhonie+ - picked out with a goal of "helping big girls exude confidence when they leave my store."
DOL in Action
New Compensation Practices at Alabama Sheriff's Department
The Macon County Commission in Tuskegee, Ala., has agreed to pay 12 county sheriffs' $104,159 in back wages following a Wage and Hour Division investigation that determined the commission authorized workers to earn compensatory time off in excess of the amounts allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. "Workers putting their lives on the line for the public deserve the full protection provided by federal labor laws. While we recognize that the violations committed were not willful, it is incumbent upon local governments to ensure that they comply with the FLSA for all their employees," said Kenneth Stripling, director of the Wage and Hour Division district office in Birmingham.
Minimum Wage Violations at Assisted Living Facility
Exceptional Enterprises Inc. has paid $151,119 in back wages to 15 employees for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime provisions. The assisted living facility is located in Coalmont, Tenn. A Wage and Hour Division investigation revealed the employer had been improperly deducting time for sleep from employees' hours, resulting in minimum wage violations for sleep time that was not compensated. The employer also failed to pay workers overtime compensation for hours worked beyond 40 in a week.
Two Grille 54 restaurants in Tampa and Trinity, Fla., have agreed to pay a total of $157,866 in back wages and liquidated damages to 113 employees following an investigation that found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime provisions. At the Trinity location, the employer failed to pay the required overtime rate for hours worked over 40 in a week, the Wage and Hour Division found. In Tampa, employees were also denied overtime and one employee did not receive sufficient tips to meet the hourly minimum wage, as required.
Company Cited for Failing to Call Emergency Services
Dukane Precast Inc., in Naperville, Ill., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with four safety violations. A willful violation was cited for failing to immediately call emergency services when a worker became engulfed in a sand bin and suffered serious injuries. Plant employees allegedly attempted to rescue the worker for more than an hour before the company summoned emergency assistance. Other violations involve OSHA's permit-required confined space regulations. Proposed fines total $70,000.
An administrative law judge with the department has ordered Kristy S. Schleining and Donald H. Schleining, president and vice president of J.N. Moser Enterprises Inc., respectively, to pay $265,722 in unpaid wages and benefits to 105 truck drivers. An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division found that the defunct Montgomery, Ill.-based company failed to pay employees the prevailing wages and benefits due under the terms of 16 federal contracts the company held with the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail. Additionally, the defendants have been barred from serving as federal contractors for a period of three years.
Two Minnesota companies with common ownership, Star Ocean Foods Inc. and Sun Foods Inc., will repay a total of $226,081 in back wages due to 131 employees following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. Investigators found that employees were denied the minimum wage and overtime pay, and that the grocery chain did not keep adequate records in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Investigators found the violations occurred at the Star Ocean Foods distribution center in St. Paul and two Sun Foods grocery stores in St. Paul and Brooklyn Center.
Parker Hannifin Corp. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with nine violations at the company's metal fabricating plant in Grantsburg, Wis. OSHA issued two repeat violations for failing to protect workers from amputation and electrical hazards by ensuring the use of machine guards on mills and conducting periodic inspections of energy control procedures. An inspection was initiated after OSHA received a complaint. Proposed penalties total $123,300. The company, which is headquartered in Cleveland, has facilities throughout the nation and in 46 countries.
Jimenez Custom Harvesting Inc. in Clovis, N.M., has agreed to pay 45 current and former workers $66,979 in back wages after an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. The investigation found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, established under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The department has assessed civil penalties totaling $35,625.
A Kentucky coal mine with a history of compliance problems was one of 12 operations to receive specially targeted impact inspections by the Mine Safety and Health Administration last month. On June 21, federal inspectors launched a surprise inspection at Bledsoe Coal Corp.'s Abner Branch Rider Mine in Leslie County, Ky. Among the violations cited were accumulations of combustible materials, an improperly functioning methane monitor, and defective electrical wires. As a result of the 19 citations and 12 withdrawal orders issued, the mine shut down for eight days. This marked the third impact inspection at Abner Branch Rider Mine since the program began in April 2010. It also is just one of two mining operations ever to be placed on a pattern of violations, one of MSHA's toughest enforcement tools.
Branch 142 of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C., has agreed to conduct a new election, including new nominations if necessary, under the supervision of the Office of Labor-Management Standards. An OLMS investigation of the local's January 2012 election found that it failed to provide adequate safeguards to ensure a fair election. The post office box used for the election was accessed prior to the ballot tally and ballots were removed, OLMS noted. A new election must be held by Oct. 26.
Penalties Proposed for Georgia Packaging Manufacturer
Curahee Group, doing business as Pak Pro LLC in Toccoa, Ga., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 16 safety and health violations. The packaging manufacturer faces $52,360 in proposed penalties for several violations, including failing to create a lockout/tagout program, exposing employees to struck-or crushed-by hazards, and various electrical deficiencies.
Site Engineering Inc., a utility contractor in Atlanta, has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with three safety violations – one willful, two serious – following an agency planned inspection at a work site on Fulton Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta. The willful violation is for failing to remove workers from a trench that had an inadequate protective system and exposed employees to possible cave-in hazards. The two serious violations involved failing to train workers to recognize trenching and excavation hazards and not providing employees head protection. Proposed penalties total $65,800.
Satellite Dish Installation Companies to Pay $203,000 in Back Wages
Satellite Link Corp. and Digital Media Group will pay a total of $203,539 in back wages to 159 current and former employees. The companies contract to install satellite television dishes in Minnesota, and Satellite Link also performs installations in South Dakota. An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division found that both companies failed to pay their technicians the minimum wage and overtime pay, and failed to keep accurate records, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The violations stemmed from the employers' practice of paying technicians on a "piece-rate" basis without regard to actual hours worked. Digital Media Group is a subcontractor of DirectSat USA, which is a subcontractor to Direct TV. Satellite Link Corp., which has offices in Vadnais Heights, Minn., and Blackhawk and Colton, S.D., is a subcontractor of Dish Network.