There have been more than 30 deputy secretaries of Labor... but only one woman has held the title. Kathryn "Kitty" Higgins served as the "DepSec" from 1997 to 1999 during the second term of the Clinton administration. Higgins first joined the U.S. Department of Labor in 1969, as a clerk/typist. After decades of public service work on Capitol Hill and in President Carter's White House, she became chief of staff to Labor Secretary Robert Reich in 1993. Two years later, Higgins moved over to the White House as assistant to the president and secretary of the Cabinet. She returned to the Labor Department in 1997 as deputy secretary, where she helped direct an initiative to expand pension benefits for workers, the revision of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's cooperative compliance program, and efforts to assist workers impacted by trade and other economic dislocations.
Higgins was deputy secretary while Alexis M. Herman was the nation's 23rd secretary of labor, making the Labor Department the only major Cabinet agency to have women in the top two positions at the same time. Higgins went on to serve as vice president for public policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Currently she is chair of the board of directors of the Fair Labor Association, a global collaborative effort of universities, civil society organizations and socially responsible companies dedicated to protecting workers' rights around the world. The FLA grew out the Labor Department's "No Sweat" initiative.
• True Stories of the Minimum Wage: In his continuing efforts to shine a light on the struggles of minimum-wage workers and make a case to support President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage, acting Secretary of Labor Harris shares his experiences from minimum-wage worker roundtables over the past several weeks.
• Building a Better Workforce System for Tomorrow: After a visit to a Cleveland steel mill, acting Secretary of Labor Harris writes about the key role the department's workforce investment system plays in giving U.S. workers the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century global economy. He outlines the key principles of a reauthorized workforce system framework and points to the proposed Workforce Investment Act of 2013 as a "solid approach... to modernize, streamline and strengthen the public workforce system."
• Billions in Retirement Savings Is No Small Matter: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi highlights three settlements that have recouped tens-of-millions of dollars for employee benefits plans. Borzi notes that these major cases highlight what is often behind-the-scenes investigative work that last year recovered or protected more than $1.2 billion for workers and retirees participating in private sector employee benefit plans.
Highlighting Accessibility Efforts
The department's ePolicyWorks initiative leverages technology to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, highlighted the initiative in an address on Feb. 28 at the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference hosted by California State University, Northridge.
Speaking to more than 100 developers, accessibility experts, disability advocates and others, Martinez provided an update on the federal Social Media Accessibility Working Group. The group is collecting and sharing best practices to help agencies ensure their social media content is accessible to people with disabilities, and plans to work with social media developers, citizens and partners to encourage greater accessibility.
The department is working to ensure that the training and skills military personnel learn while in the service are "transferable to civilian jobs," Keith Kelly, the assistant secretary of labor who heads the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, said on March 4. Kelly spoke at a National Association of Counties meeting. VETS and the Employment Training Administration are working together to make sure "that work experience obtained in the military is protected and recognized" after service men and women leave the military, he said. Kelly also spoke about how military personnel are now learning to write better resumes, conduct thorough job searches and apply for work online thanks to a curriculum upgrade in the Transition Assistance Program. He noted that Local Veterans Employment Representatives and Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialists are funded by the department and available at about 2,800 American Job Centers nationwide to assist military service personnel seeking employment and training help.
An alliance to protect the safety and health of workers in Missouri and Kansas was signed March 1 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Consulate of Mexico. Charles Adkins, OSHA regional Administrator in Kansas City, Mo.; Alicia G. Kerber-Palma, head consul of Mexico in Kansas City, and Barbara Theriot, area director, OSHA Kansas City Area Office, signed the agreement.
"This alliance establishes a collaborative relationship to provide information, guidance and access to education and training resources for Mexican nationals working in Missouri and Kansas," Adkins said. "This is a step in the right direction to ensure the safety and rights of all workers in our area." Workers' rights courses regarding safety and health will be jointly developed by the Mexican Consulate and OSHA's area offices in Kansas City, St. Louis and Wichita, Kan.
Honor for Martinez
A tireless advocate for people with disabilities throughout her career, Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, was honored by the Viscardi Center with a Henry Viscardi Achievement Award on March 4. The award recognizes members of the global disability community who have impacted the quality of life of people with disabilities. "This award is an honor, and it is very much in keeping with principles the Department of Labor has espoused throughout its 100-year history: advancing opportunities for profitable employment, protecting work-related benefits and rights, and guaranteeing fair compensation for all members of the diverse American workforce," said Martinez.
Small businesses face challenges when starting and maintaining retirement plans, but the Employee Benefits Security Administration can help. Last week EBSA hosted two webcasts for employers as part of America Saves Week. The first targeted small businesses interested in starting a plan. The second was aimed at current plan sponsors interested in learning more about new fee-disclosure rules. Nearly 200 participated in the live events, and the archived webcasts are now available.
The Downstate Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Conference in Peoria, Ill., was the perfect venue for the Occupational Safety and Health Peoria Area Office to provide training and outreach sessions for more than 550 participants. Deputy Regional Administrator for Region V Bill Donovan and Peoria Office Area Director Tom Bielema presented an update on local and national OSHA activities. The state of Illinois presented The Governor's Award for Outstanding Contributions in Health & Safety to Bob Janssen, safety director of PIPCO Companies of Peoria. The conference featured OSHA representatives discussing hazard communication, inspections and safety issues and industry experts providing training sessions that included disaster preparedness and contractor safety management.
Weekly UI Claims
The department reported the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial Unemployment Insurance claims was 340,000 for the week ending March 2, a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average was 348,750, down 7,000 from the previous week's revised average.
For 100 years, the U.S. Department of Labor has been promoting the welfare of working Americans. On March 4, 1913, outgoing President William Howard Taft reluctantly signed the law establishing the department. A few hours later, newly-inaugurated President Woodrow Wilson appointed the first secretary of labor. Both actions signaled a commitment by the government to serve working Americans that has not wavered over the last century. The department observed its 100th anniversary this week with the raising of a centennial flag at its Constitution Avenue entrance, a special centennial history Web page for the public, a proclamation by the president, and an email to departmental employees from Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris. "We share a lasting bond with the men and women who came to work on that first day in 1913: a commitment to an extraordinary mission, no matter the challenge, even in times of great adversity," Harris wrote. In his proclamation, President Obama said, "the Department of Labor is working to restore the basic bargain that built our country: that no matter what you look like or where you come from, if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead. It is forging new ladders of opportunity so a generation of workers can get the 21st century skills and training they need. And to preserve a century's progress in labor rights, the department will continue to ensure hardworking Americans always have a voice in government and on the job." Nearly 200 governors and mayors also issued proclamations marking the centennial. More than 100 tweets were posted, recognizing the anniversary, and Federal News Radio in Washington aired an interview on the centennial. Special events have been planned in Washington and across the country to commemorate the department's centennial. Check this newsletter and the centennial website for more information.
Sixty-three year-old Sandra Burden thought she would enjoy her retirement when she ended a 30-year career in 2005, but her nest egg was hit with unforeseen taxes and further diminished by the recession. She now works for just above the minimum wage at a retail store in Pittsburgh, and says she has difficulty paying her bills. "When I retired, I took the lump-sum money, and I thought I was done," she said. "But I had to go back to work." Burden was one of several Pittsburgh-area workers who shared their stories
at a Department of Labor roundtable on March 4 on President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage. Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator for the department's Wage and Hour Division, told participants that raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour would significantly boost the income for about 15 million Americans. That's something Burden would appreciate. "It's rough. When my grandkids come over, and ask for something, I have to figure out if I can get it. I don't want to have to say no."
If you've ever wanted to better understand how to interpret and use the vast set of data produced by the Department of Labor, now you can. The Employment and Training Administration has just issued six new Quick-Lesson Podcasts to help individuals find and use workforce statistics on unemployment, worker dislocation, projections, industries, the economy, and states and localities. The podcasts presume no previous subject matter or statistical knowledge, making it accessible for a broad variety of audiences and purposes. Each presentation includes basic definitions, a brief historical background, links to the most important data sources, and practical tips on how to interpret and use the data. Transcripts of the podcasts are also available on the website.
The well-worn advertising slogan "don't leave home without it" might also be a fitting catchphrase for federal coal mine inspectors, who rely heavily upon their inspection procedures handbook during the course of a mine inspection. Recently, the Mine Safety and Health Administration completed updates on this vital resource, which inspectors can access from their laptops. "It is a living document that will provide greater clarity and consistency in our inspection procedures and better guidance to MSHA personnel," Joseph Main, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of MSHA, said. Late last month, MSHA began training its inspectors on the new handbook and expects to wrap up these exercises in early April.
Air Force Veteran on Track for Career in Energy Industry
Pennsylvanian Air Force veteran Mark Carney lost his managerial job and was unemployed for nine months. Carney was determined to find a high-demand, well-paying job in the energy industry, so he enrolled in the ShaleNET program run by departmental grantee Westmoreland County Community College. Carney said he factored in his age, military discipline and availability and looked for an industry "that was growing, where I could prove myself, and also move up the corporate ladder." Carney will graduate soon from Westmoreland with a certificate as a "roustabout," which in oil field work includes roughneck drilling, oil well completion and well servicing. According to Dr. Jane Heiple, the college's director of ShaleNET for the Western Region, energy companies are signed up to attend Carney's graduation ceremony and are eager to offer graduates immediate employment. ShaleNET "connects the dots between the supply side of workers and the demand side of employers seeking those highly qualified graduates," Heiple said. Starting salaries range from $60,000 to $70,000 a year, she added, and about 2,000 students have been placed in shale-related jobs nationally.
DOL in Action
New Jersey Gas Station Attendants to Receive $3 Million
Daniyal Enterprises LLC, owner Waseem Chaudhary, and other companies owned and operated by Chaudhary, have agreed to pay $3 million in overtime back wages and liquidated damages to 417 workers employed at 72 of Chaudhary's New Jersey gas stations after a Wage and Hour Division investigation. "This agreement returns hard-earned wages to workers in one of only two states that still mandates full-service gas pumps," said acting Secretary of Labor Harris. The investigation revealed that employees often worked up to 84 hours per week without receiving overtime pay and many were partly paid off the books in cash. The department also has assessed $91,000 in civil money penalties against this employer because of the repeat and willful nature of the violations. Additionally, the employer has agreed to take proactive measures, including a three-year monitoring program at each gas station, to ensure future Fair Labor Standards Act compliance.
Assistance for Laid Off Workers in Kentucky and Massachusetts
National Emergency Grants were announced by the department on March 4 to assist workers and families impacted by layoffs at coal mining companies in eastern Kentucky and more than 360 workers affected by layoffs in Massachusetts. In Kentucky, a $5,192,500 grant was awarded to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc. to provide re-employment services not only for miners who are laid off but for their spouses who have been homemakers and are, due to the loss of wages, seeking to enter the workforce to support their families. A $1,263,339 grant increment was awarded to the Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development to continue training and re-employment services for workers affected by layoffs at 12 companies. "For our nation to sustain a growing economy that creates good, middle class jobs, we must provide access to the training that today's jobs require," said acting Secretary of Labor Harris.
Mississippi and Arkansas were awarded National Emergency Grants on March 4 to assist with storm cleanup efforts. A $2 million grant was received by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to create temporary jobs that will support cleanup and recovery in the aftermath of recent storms, tornadoes and flooding that struck the state. The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services was awarded a $391,539 grant to assist with clean-up and recovery efforts following severe winter storms in December 2012. This grant will restore public lands and infrastructure by providing temporary work for those in need of employment. Acting Secretary of Labor Harris said, "Investments like this strengthen communities by assisting in their recovery and putting local workers back on the job."
Missouri Companies Cited Following Worker's Death at Sewer Project
Coatings Unlimited Inc. in Bridgeton, Mo., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 14 safety violations from an incident that resulted in a worker's death. The worker was overcome by exposure to methyl ethyl ketone and collapsed inside an 18-foot-deep vault manhole during construction of a sanitary sewer lift station. St. Louis-based KCI Construction Co. Inc., the project's general contractor, was also cited with one serious violation. The willful violations included failing to implement safety precautions and testing for atmospheric conditions prior to and during entry of confined spaces, and failure to control exposure to methyl ethyl ketone through the use of engineering controls, such as ventilation.
Suit Filed to Restore Funds to Employee Retirement Plan
A lawsuit has been filed by the department to restore $79,761 to the Hico Flex Brass Co. Inc. 401(k) plan. The suit alleges that the company, as well as former vice president Mark Isaacs and president Neil Isaacs, violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by failing to distribute plan assets to participants. The suit seeks to require the defendants to restore to the plan any losses, including lost opportunity costs, resulting from the fiduciary breaches they committed or for which they are liable. The suit also seeks to permanently enjoin them from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to any ERISA-covered plan in the future and to have an independent fiduciary appointed to terminate the plan and distribute its assets to eligible participants.
Union Pacific Railroad Ordered to Pay $309,000 to Conductor
Union Pacific Railroad Co. has been ordered to pay more than $309,000 to a conductor after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the railroad company violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. OSHA determined that the railroad retaliated against the employee in Pocatello, Idaho, for reporting a co-worker's work-related injury. This is OSHA's third finding in 13 months against the company's Pocatello operations. The Omaha, Neb.-based company operates in 23 states and employs more than 40,000 workers nationwide.
Investigators Find Overtime Violations at Kansas Company
Rice Precision Manufacturing Inc. has agreed to pay 12 workers a total of $92,727 in back wages and liquidated damages following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. The investigation found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime provisions at the Baldwin City, Kan., parts manufacturing company. The company failed to pay employees overtime compensation at time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a week. According to the investigation, the company believed that if workers volunteered for overtime, it was acceptable to pay only the straight time hourly rate for those additional hours.
Wisconsin Food Plant Added to Severe Violator Program
Richelieu Foods Inc. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 27 health and safety violations at the company's Beaver Dam, Wis. facility. The violations include two repeat violations involving inadequate energy control procedures. An inspection was opened under OSHA's Site Specific Targeting Program for industries with high injury and illness rates. Proposed fines total $228,900. Because of the hazards and the violations cited, Richelieu Foods has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
Nebraska Processing Plant Faces Penalties on Safety Violations
Nebraska Beef Ltd. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with eight safety violations, including one repeat, for failing to guard open stairs and platforms to prevent a fall hazard at its Omaha beef processing plant. Proposed penalties of $61,084 resulted from an inspection of high-hazard general industry establishments, as identified by injury and illness rates in Nebraska. The repeat violation was for failing to provide standard railings and toe boards on open-sided floors and platforms on a crossover platform in the scale room.
Georgia Company Pays $226,000 in Back Wage and Damages
Southeastern Painting Contractors Inc., of Carrollton, Ga., has paid $226,111 in back wages and liquidated damages to 67 employees following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. The investigation revealed the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions, as well as the prevailing wage and fringe benefits requirements of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts. The employer misclassified employees as independent contractors and failed to pay them overtime compensation. Employees were also classified incorrectly and were paid rates below those required by the contract. Southeastern Painting Contractors worked as a subcontractor under RK Redding Construction Inc., of Bremen, Ga., and Ra-Lin & Associates, of Carrollton on the federally-funded project involving the construction of new schools for Marion, Bartow and Whitfield County school districts in Georgia.
Ohio Automotive Company Faces Fines for 26 Violations
Mahle Engine Components USA Inc. has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with 26 violations. They include eight repeat violations for exposing workers to electrical, lead and machine guarding hazards at its McConnelsville, Ohio, automotive parts manufacturing facility. Proposed fines total $369,000. Two repeat health violations were cited for lead exposure, including failing to record employees' blood lead levels to monitor exposure to lead. The company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Construction Workers in Arkansas Receive Back Wages
Structural Systems Inc., doing business as SSI Inc. Design/Build in Fort Smith, Ark., has paid $17,154 in overtime back wages to 12 current and former employees. This action followed an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division that found the company failed to pay employees for time spent traveling between work sites during the workday and for hours worked in the firm's supply yard. The employer also improperly classified office employees as exempt from overtime requirements when, in fact, they were due overtime compensation at time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 in a workweek.
Pennsylvania Natural Gas Producer Cited After Worker Fatality
Natural gas producer and operator J.R. Resources has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for eight safety and health violations at its Ringgold, Pa., gas well site. This action follows an August 2012 worker fatality resulting from a flash fire. Violations include failure to require and provide flame-resistant clothing be worn, fall protection, written hazard communication program and training, properly label tanks and accident prevention.
Wage Violations Found at Three South Carolina Restaurants
Three Hilton Head, S.C., restaurants have agreed to pay six employees $23,155 in back wages following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. Investigators found some employees had worked in the restaurant's kitchen and as servers and bussers, but those hours were tracked and paid separately, even when their combined totals exceeded 40 hours in a workweek. The employer similarly failed to combine hours worked at different locations for the same employee during a single workweek, resulting in failure to pay overtime compensation. The employer also failed to maintain accurate records of employees' work hours and wages. The three restaurants are: Alexander's Restaurant Co., doing business as Alexander's; Downtown Hilton Head Inc., doing business as Red Fish; and the Old Oyster Factory Restaurant.
Nebraska Food Processing Facility Faulted on Machine Guarding
Darling International Inc., which operates as DarPro in Lexington, Neb., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with six safety violations. The violations include failing to properly adjust or provide adequate machine guarding at the company's food byproducts processing facility. Proposed penalties total $91,300. They resulted from a January local emphasis program inspection for high-hazard general industry establishments, as identified by injury and illness rates in Nebraska. A repeat violation was issued for failing to properly adjust work rest and tongue guards on grinding machinery in the company's maintenance shop.
New York Union President Sentenced to Prison for Embezzlement
John McNamee, former president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 829 in New York was recently sentenced to one year and one day of imprisonment, two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine for embezzling union funds. On Oct. 16, 2012, McNamee pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement in the amount of $150,000. The plea came after an investigation by the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which revealed that between January 2004 and February 2011 McNamee used the union credit card to cover personal expenses, including jewelry, clothing, restaurant bills, entertainment tickets and vacations for himself and his family. McNamee made full restitution prior to sentencing.
North Carolina Agricultural Employer Pays Back Wages and Penalties
J. Roland Wood, the owner of J. Roland Wood Farms Inc. in Benson, N.C., has paid 138 employees $16,870 in back wages and an additional $3,950 in civil penalties following an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. The investigation found the agricultural employer violated provisions of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The employer failed to pay wages when due; failed to inform migrant workers that rent would be deducted from their wages; failed to disclose employment terms and conditions to workers in a language they could understand at the time of recruitment; and failed to provide required wage statements to workers.
Lawn Equipment Manufacturer Cited After Worker Suffers Amputation
Agri-Fab Inc. has been cited with three repeat safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after receiving a complaint that a worker suffered an amputation injury at the Sullivan, Ill., manufacturing facility. The repeat violations include failing to develop, document and use energy control procedures, provide employee training on energy controls, and require that lockout/tagout devices be attached to energy isolating devices during maintenance operations. The company manufactures attachments for snow removal, lawn and garden equipment. Penalties of $93,500 have been proposed.
Repeat Safety Violations at Staten Island Pier 1 Store
Pier 1 Imports has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for five safety violations including two repeat at its Staten Island, N.Y., store. The company faces $45,100 in fines for exposing workers to hazards, including failing to address the lack of clearance and working space in front of electrical panels, maintain an exit route free of obstructions and properly storing materials.
Surgical Center Faces Fines for Bloodborne Pathogen Hazards
CTO Management LLC, doing business as Health East Ambulatory Surgical Center, has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 10 serious violations involving bloodborne pathogen hazards at its Englewood, N.J. facility. The serious violations include failure to counsel an employee who was stuck with a contaminated needle, test the employee's blood in a timely manner and provide the appropriate medicine to the employee to prevent contracting a potential disease. The company faces $68,000 in fines.
Safety Violations Found at Illinois Manufacturing Plant
Komatsu America Corp. in Peoria, Ill., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with four safety violations, including two repeat violations, after a worker was injured while testing hydraulic cylinders for leakage. During that process, the hydraulic coupler on the return line of the hoist stand failed and released pressurized hydraulic fluid, which struck the worker. The employee died two days later from injuries sustained at the truck manufacturing plant. Two repeat violations were cited for failing to develop machine-specific energy control procedures and training to ensure workers understood energy control procedures.