Multiple American companies made the cut this year for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s list of 2020 “Dirty Dozen” employers.
The Special Coronavirus Edition highlights how the actions of the companies on the list are contributing to hazardous work environments.
The edition’s release coincides with Workers Memorial Week, a global event to honor workers who have died or became injured or ill on the job.
According to Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director, National COSH, even before the onset of the current pandemic, there was grim news for America’s workplaces.
“Five-thousand-two-hundred-fifty workers died from traumatic injuries in the U.S. in 2018 — an 8.9 percent increase from 2014, the latest data from the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics,” she said during a teleconference with reporters on Thursday. “Ninety-five-thousand workers in the U.S. die each year from illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, caused by workplace exposures. Covid-19 has already begun to increase that number substantially.”
Goldstein-Gelb also noted that deaths from workplace trauma are rising even faster in communities of color.
“Between 2014 and 2018, Latinx workers experienced a 19.5 percent increase in deaths. African Americans fatalities increased by 29.5 percent,” said Goldstein-Gelb.
During the same press call, two workers talked about their personal trials on the job.
Construction worker Pedro Mendez worked on Florida’s privately financed and managed Interstate-4 renovation project for almost three years. He was lucky to leave the job when he did. According to the Orlando Sentinel, five construction workers have died on the project since it began five years ago.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Mendez to make because he has a wife and family to support. Still, he wasn’t willing to risk his life.
According to Mendez, the contractor never gave workers an explanation about the latest fatality or how it might have been prevented.
“The only response from the company was to close the construction site for a couple of days, but then things would just resume to business as usual,” he said.
Horacio Ruiz worked as a full-time server at a Capital Grille in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before he was furloughed amid the coronavirus shutdown.
He worked at the eatery for 12 years without paid sick leave, before a city council vote on March 15, finally extended the protection to Pittsburgh’s restaurant workers. But it didn’t come without a battle.
The National Restaurant Association warned its members that “paid sick leave laws spread like the flu” and led a multi-year legal battle against the worker protection that went all the way to the Supreme Court — prompting National COSH to designate the association as “the other NRA.”
“The NRA needs to follow Darden’s (Capital Grille’s owner) example and support paid sick leave for all restaurant workers. I hope that at the very least, the NRA has to get out of the way as a primary opponent to paid sick leave,” Ruiz said.
The Victoria’s Secret lingerie chain landed on the Dirty Dozen list because of a culture of misogyny and abuse.
Sara Ziff, the co-founder of Model Alliance, a labor rights non-profit in the fashion industry, said she and her colleagues met with a Victoria’s Secret representative in an attempt to get the company to change its culture — but to no avail.
She noted that shortly after that meeting, the New York Times produced an investigative report that showed that there was, indeed, a culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment at Victoria’s Secret even more egregious than previously understood.
Workers at Voyant Beauty, a company that makes and packages beauty products for Victoria’s Secret, also report that managers demanded sexual favors in return for better-paying jobs.
“In light of these abuses, fashion models and factory workers have joined together to demand respect and safe working conditions and we feel that we are at an important crossroad, and we can’t accept a return to normal,” Ziff said.
The full National COSH report and the list of the Dirty Dozen is available here.