News & Commentary

October 31, 2014

According to POLITICO, the Coalition for Crane Operator Safety plans to ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to revise its certification requirements for crane operators. OSHA had previously promulgated its Final Rule on Cranes and Derricks in Construction. The Coalition is made up of major construction companies as well as construction unions. It hopes OSHA will revise the rule so that crane operators only have to be tested on the types of cranes, and not on the capacity of those cranes. The Coalition also wants the federal agency to place the burden on employers to train employees on how to qualify as crane operators. Unions hope the revised rule will enhance the safety of construction workers and the public.

Jared Bernstein argues in The Washington Post that the U.S. should learn from Denmark’s fast food model. Whereas the base pay for a fast food worker is $20 in Denmark, the base pay in the U.S. is about $8. In Denmark, fast food workers also get numerous benefits including five weeks of paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, and a pension plan. Unions represent about 68% of the Danish workforce, while unions have declined in power in the U.S. Currently, only about 11% of American workers are covered by unions. Bernstein argues that economic forces alone cannot explain the stark difference between Denmark and the U.S. According to Bernstein, “a burger is a burger,” and the difference should be attributed to a number of factors, including “union power, profit-margin differences, an acceptance of higher prices in the interest of higher pay, and a cultural/social commitment to paying a living wage.”

An Opinions article in The New York Times discusses “bonded labor” in Bangladesh, a country that ranks tenth on the Global Slavery Index which lists countries with the highest number of enslaved people. Bangladesh is known for its millions of child laborers and for the poor conditions in its garment factories. These conditions led to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, which killed more than 1,000 people. Garment factory workers in Bangladesh work long hours for as little as $50 per month. The article argues that hazardous conditions in Bangladesh have prompted many to seek work abroad only to be trafficked and exploited in their countries of destination.

In other international news, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (“Numsa”), the country’s biggest labor union, announced that it would break with the governing African National Congress (ANC). Numsa stated its intent to form a new socialist political party. Its absence will deal a “significant blow to the coalition of labor and political forces that has dominated the country since the formal end of apartheid in 1994.” Numsa has about 340,000 workers in critical economic sectors such as the auto industry. In recent years, the union has shifted progressively to the left after disputes with the ANC over labor and economic policy.

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