The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Work News for the Week Ending Aug. 28

by Brendan Coyne

Our weekly rundown of workers rights, union and wage stories... @ Sago Mine Lawsuits Filed @ Study: Census Undercounts Poor @ Hotel Workers May Strike @ Flight Attendance Forced to Work @ Ariz. Workers Comp ‘Confusion’

Sago miner, families sue mine operator

The sole survivor of the deadly year-opening explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia is suing the mine’s operator. Family members of two miners killed by the blast are also suing.

In separate actions last week, Randall McCloy Jr., the only miner to survive the Sago accident, and the families of James Bennett and Marty Bennett filed civil lawsuits against International Coal Group.

The suits allege that the company and its suppliers were negligent in outfitting and maintaining the mine’s safety equipment. According to an independent investigation completed last month by former Clinton administration mine-safety head J. Davitt McAteer, foam blocks intended to contain blasts failed to function properly at Sago, leaving twelve men to either die in the explosion or asphyxiate from carbon monoxide poisoning and nearly killing McCloy. The report also found that the required oxygen masks were faulty.

The suits seek unspecified damages and call for ICG to implement the McAteer report’s recommendations quickly. ICG told the Associated Press it intends to contest the suits.

Poor, uninsured, undercounted by federal government, study finds

The Census Bureau may miss millions when assessing the numbers of poor, unemployed and uninsured in the nation due to the way researchers gather information.

According to a study released last week by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), a progressive think tank, official estimates of the number of non-working adults are about 2.5 million lower than the real numbers. In addition, the report said, federal estimates of impoverished people are short by around 600,000 and down about 350,000 in estimating Americans without health insurance.

The CEPR study contends that the Bureau’s method of gathering information on those key economic indicators is flawed because the measure it uses, the Current Population Survey (CPS), relies on self-reporting.

Increasingly, CEPR found earlier this year, fewer people respond to the monthly survey, skewing the results, especially among poor and minority populations. Black males, in particular, showed an accelerated decline in self-reporting, with just 76.1 percent responding to the most recent CPS, a drop of nearly 7 points from a decade ago.

Government agencies rely on CPS data to determine employment and income levels and steer safety net and other programs. In under-counting poor, unemployed, and uninsured people, the federal government may not have enough information to adequately address the needs of many of the nation’s most marginalized.

The Census Bureau is scheduled to release its report on income, poverty, and healthcare coverage in 2005 tomorrow.

Hotel workers authorize strike in three states

Workers employed by Hyatt and Hilton hotels in four cities overwhelmingly approved of strikes last week. In votes held in Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco and Monterey, California, over several days, members of Unite Here, the nation’s largest hotel-workers union, authorized a strike should ongoing negotiations turn sour.

Unite Here has been increasingly pursuing an industry-wide approach to worker organizing and agitation. Last week’s votes set the stage for concurrent strikes in all four cities, even though each is at different stages in contract negotiations.

All four union locals are seeking better pay for workers while fighting against benefit givebacks and increasing workloads. As reported previously by The NewStandard, Unite Here hotel workers have been burdened with increasingly difficult jobs which are leading to serious health problems for many.

The strike approval stands in marked contrast to an agreement brokered between Unite Here and Hilton hotels in New York City last month. That deal permits workers to unionize through labor’s preferred card-check election method rather than balloting. It also makes area Hilton hotels the union’s official preferred choice.

Northwest flight attendant strike blocked

Flight attendants employed by Northwest Airlines once again were pushed back from the brink of a strike last week, this time by court order.

Friday, US District Court Judge Victor Marrero issued a temporary injunction barring members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) from engaging in job actions against Northwest while he considers the company’s appeal of a lower court ruling permitting the strike to go forward. Last week, a bankruptcy court found that it did not have the legal authority to prevent the workers from striking.

The order came just hours before a union-set strike deadline. It marks the second time this month the AFA strike has been delayed. Shortly after news broke of the alleged terrorist plot to blow up planes flying from England to the United States earlier this month, AFA voluntarily pushed its original August 15 deadline back by ten days.

In issuing the order, Marrero encouraged the two sides to re-enter negotiations. Both sides insist they are willing to talk but have not negotiated since a July bankruptcy court ruling held that Northwest could impose a previously rejected contract on the workers.

Arizona questions workers’ comp for undocumented immigrants

The future of workers’ compensation benefits for undocumented immigrants in Arizona could hang on a comma.

Earlier this month, a three-judge state appellate court panel declined to address Jose Luis Gamez’s Workers’ Compensation claim and upheld a lower-court ruling that denied the benefit on medical grounds.

But attached to the decision was a concurring opinion by Arizona Appellate Court Judge Daniel Barker that said Gamez’s claim is not only illegitimate on medical grounds, but also because Gamez is ineligible for workers’ comp benefit because he is in the country illegally. Baker noted that Arizona’s 1925 compensation law failed to carry a comma in a key portion spelling out which groups of workers qualify for compensation.

As written, "aliens and minors legally or illegally permitted to work for hire" are eligible for compensation. According to Baker’s assessment, the law "makes plain the legislature’s intent that ‘legally or illegally’ modifies ‘minors’ but does not modify ‘aliens.’" Therefore, Baker concluded, workers’ comp eligibility does not extend to undocumented immigrants.

Though Baker’s concurring opinion does not set precedent for lower courts, the Arizona Star reported, the Arizona State Compensation Fund is seeking to have the Baker opinion erased, saying it could cause confusion for employees, employers, and state officials.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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