For Immediate Release
For information:

Lane Windham 202/637-5018

Statement by

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney
Urging President Bush and Congress to Pass Immigration Reform
April 11, 2002

I am pleased to stand with this broad group of leaders here this
morning to say that it is time to put new urgency into our call for
immigration reform that rewards work and respects all workers, that
helps our economy and that makes our nation more secure.  The events of
the past seven months have slowed that task.  The message we deliver
today to the President and the Congress is not only that we must get
back to work, but that this is an even more important time for America
to stand behind its principles.  The attacks of September 11 and their
aftermath, including increased fear and scapegoating of immigrants and
the great burden imposed on immigrants by the recession, force this
nation and our leaders once again to ask of ourselves, "Which side are
we on? . . .What do we stand for?" 

We must stand in unequivocal solidarity with immigrant workers and
their families.  We must demand that they be treated with dignity and
fairness, on and off the job.  Anything less diminishes America, its
leaders and ALL its people, regardless of immigration status.  And we
must and can do so even as we make our borders more secure against
people who want to harm us.  That is the message we send to the
President and the Congress today.

Today the AFL-CIO, representing 13 million working men and women and
their family members, renews its call for:
·Legalization of the undocumented among us who are working hard, paying
taxes and contributing to their communities and the nation;
·Replacement of employer sanctions and the I-9 system that have never
served their intended purpose;
·Reform, not expansion, of guest worker programs;
·And full protection of workplace rights, including the freedom to
organize a union, for all workers -- regardless of immigration status --
and stiff and
meaningful penalties for employers who break immigration and labor laws
in order to exploit workers.

It should be clear from my last point that we feel strongly that
without a meaningful remedy, our rights and rules cannot be meaningful
-- and so we are deeply disappointed by the decision of the United
States Supreme Court invalidating the limited backpay remedy that the
NLRB has crafted for cases in which undocumented workers have been
discharged by their employers in violation of national labor law.  The
decision was wrong, and we will join with others, many of whom are here
today, to press for legislation to pursue fundamental justice and ensure
that exploitation does not come without a cost.

By allowing unscrupulous employers to unlawfully victimize undocumented
workers without any economic consequence, the court's decision
undermines the living standards and working conditions of all Americans.

Thank you.


April 5, 2002, 11:36PM

White House leaves safety rules to firms

Ergonomics guidelines will not be mandatory


Washington Bureau WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration handed industry groups a major victory Friday by deciding not to set mandatory worker safety rules aimed at preventing injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, the Labor Department will come up with guidelines sometime this year for businesses to adhere to voluntarily. The administration effectively put to rest, at least for now, a 10-year partisan debate over whether the government should dictate to companies everything from the types of chairs office workers should use to the configuration of assembly line machinery. "This is a comprehensive, practical approach," John Henshaw, an assistant secretary of labor, said of the administration's voluntary-based solution. He compared the current plan to a rule repealed by Congress last year that many business leaders said went too far. They said it was not based on scientific evidence linking work conditions to back, joint, wrist and tendinitis-type injuries often associated with what's called musculoskeletal disorders. Henshaw said the department will make a special effort to encourage industries that have not protected workers against ergonomic-related injuries to do so, although he declined to list which industries would be targeted. And, he said, special emphasis will be placed on educating immigrant workers about their rights to a safe work environment, but added that no new funding would be allocated for such efforts. Friday's announcement came a year after Congress repealed a tough Clinton administration rule praised by labor organizations. It sought to protect more than 100 million workers against musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive motion injuries. The new rule had taken a broad sweep, covering many industries. But it was targeted at secretaries, cashiers and assembly line workers -- like those in the Texas poultry industry where union leaders said low-paid, largely Hispanic immigrant workers suffer from painful and often incapacitating repetitive motion injuries. The Clinton rule was repealed by Congress shortly after President Bush took office, and in the face of heavy lobbying from business organizations who charged that the estimated $4.5 billion implementation cost in the first year would cause job losses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the Clinton plan "ill-conceived, unscientific and unworkable." Business groups also argued that several industries were already making workplace adjustments to protect against musculoskeletal injuries. But union leaders said the government needs to step in and force all industries to comply. "We believe the companies that care about the welfare and health of their employees are already taking steps ... from an ergonomic standpoint," said Ed Sills, spokesman for the Texas AFL-CIO. "The Clinton rule was to go after companies that hadn't taken care of their employees." Because Republicans were still in control of the Senate at this time last year, party leaders were able to call a vote, utilizing a never-before used law allowing Congress to repeal executive rules. The Senate voted 56-44 and the next day the House voted 223-206. "Last year, the Senate overturned the most expensive, intrusive and job-killing regulation ever handed down by OSHA," said Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the Senate's second-highest-ranking Republican, referring to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which would administer any new workplace safety standards. Nickles said the Bush administration has correctly rejected the notion that mandatory workplace safety standards were needed. And he echoed complaints from business groups who have charged there is little scientific evidence linking the often slow-developing injuries related to musculoskeletal disorders to actual work conditions. Roughly 600,000 people miss work every year in the United States because of ergonomic-related injuries, according to OSHA. And according to the National Academy of Sciences, the loss in worker production costs the economy about $50 billion a year. Henshaw said the Bush administration will address the problem from four angles: · Industry-specific guidelines for setting up ergonomically designed workspace. · Enforcement of current laws and legal precedents to crack down on "bad actors." · Training and other assistance to companies wishing to adhere to the yet-to-be-written voluntary guidelines. · Creation of an advisory committee to address the research gaps in ergonomic principles as they apply to workplace problems. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Education, Health, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the Bush administration's strategy will do very little and "handed a win to big business at the expense of millions of average workers." He added: "The primary victims of the administration's plan are women, who dominate jobs that cause ergonomic injuries. If corporate CEOs were experiencing these injuries, instead of cashiers and secretaries, we would see a very different policy coming out of this administration." On Thursday, Kennedy and two other Senate Democrats asked Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to provide a list of outside groups and individuals involved in developing the department's plan on ergonomics, plus any related internal memos, legal opinions or research material. Kennedy said the information was necessary to have in advance of an April 18 ergonomics hearing his committee has scheduled.

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle



April 3, 2002, 11:17PM

Hispanic workers to be informed of their rights

 OSHA involved in getting info out


The Mexican consul general will meet with a regional OSHA official Friday to discuss the agency's plans to help Houston's Hispanic workers -- including illegal immigrants -- assert their rights in the workplace. Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday they plan to join a consortium of federal, state and local agencies to educate and counsel immigrants who believe they've been discriminated against at work, haven't been paid the proper wages or are having immigration problems. The consortium is a joint effort of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department, the Mexican Consulate, the city of Houston and the Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund. Anna Nunez, a community activist who sits on the Advisory Committee for the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs as well as the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Committee, lobbied for OSHA's involvement because she believes that many immigrants need help complaining about unsafe workplaces. A disproportionate number of Hispanics die at work, Nunez said. In 2000, Hispanics suffered 13.8 percent of workplace fatalities. But Hispanics make up only 10.7 percent of the work force. Diana Petterson, a Labor Department spokesman based in Dallas, said OSHA officials would jump at the chance to work with the program but until now weren't aware of it. "It's an important part of what OHSA does," she said. Mexican Consul General Enrique Buj Flores said he is concerned that Hispanic construction workers aren't getting trained in the language they speak. It doesn't help much if the worker speaks Spanish but the safety video is in English, he said. Flores said that the consulate may set up a special program with OSHA to teach immigrant workers how to be more careful at work and to encourage them to report problems if contractors aren't following safety rules. Flores said he believes there is room for improvement. "We're the linkage to the community, and we have access to media," he said. Many immigrants from Mexico may feel more comfortable coming to the consulate to complain about an unsafe workplace or unhealthy environment. The consortium has paid for about 30 billboards around Houston with a central phone number that directs calls to the consulate. The calls are then farmed out to the appropriate agency or nonprofit association. The consulate received 546 calls between July 20 and Dec. 31. From Jan. 7 through March 28, it has logged 71 calls. The biggest complaint -- or about one-third of the calls -- comes from workers who don't get paid for work they've done. The second most common complaint is discrimination based on race or national origin. While Hispanics are dying in greater numbers, it's coming at a time when work-related injuries and deaths are falling. Overall, the on-the-job injury and illness rate fell 31 percent between 1992 and 2000, according to OSHA. And the number of fatal on-the-job accidents fell by 2 percent between 1999 and 2000 while at the same time overall employment increased. But in 2000, 815 Hispanics, including 494 foreign-born workers, died on the job, an 11.6 percent increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' report on workplace fatalities. H. Joan Ehrlich, district director of the EEOC, said she is planning to duplicate the consortium's effort in the Asian community. Many times Asians don't take advantage of their rights, said Ehrlich, who is especially concerned that Asian professionals aren't getting the promotions they deserve. She plans to teach Asian businesses how to comply with the Civil Rights laws and advise employees about their rights

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle