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Friday, April 29, 2011

Alice Hamilton Awards for Occupational Safety and Health Announced

The Alice Hamilton Awards for Occupational Safety and Health recognize the scientific excellence of technical and instructional materials by NIOSH scientists and engineers in the areas of biological science, engineering and physical science, human studies, and educational materials.
The Awards honor Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869 - 1970), a pioneering researcher and occupational physician, and are presented each year by NIOSH on the basis of rigorous reviews by panels of scientific experts from outside the Institute.
The top three finalists in each category are:

Engineering and Physical Sciences

Evans DE, Ku BK, Birch ME, Dunn KH. Aerosol monitoring during carbon nanofiber production: mobile direct-reading sampling. Ann Occup Hyg 54(5):514-531, 2010.
Green JD, Yannaccone JR, Current RS, Sicher LA, Moore PH, Whitman GR. Assessing the performance of various restraints on ambulance patient compartment workers during crash events. Int J Crashworthiness 15(5):517-541, 2010.
NIOSH Report of Investigation (RI) 9679: Recommendations for a new rock dusting standard to prevent coal dust explosions in intake airways. By Cashdollar KL, Sapko MJ, Weiss ES, Harris ML, Man CK, Harteis SP, Green GM. Pittsburgh, PA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2010-151, 2010.

Biological Sciences

Sriram K, Lin GX, Jefferson AM, Roberts JR, Wirth O, Hayashi Y, Krajnak KM, Soukup JM, Ghio AJ, Reynolds SH, Castranova V, Munson AE, Antonini JM. Mitochondrial dysfunction and loss of Parkinson's disease-linked proteins contribute to neurotoxicity of manganese-containing welding fumes. FASEB J 24(12):4989-5002, 2010.
Leonard SS, Chen BT, Stone SG, Schwegler-Berry D, Kenyon AJ, Frazer D, Antonini JM. Comparison of stainless and mild steel welding fumes in generation of reactive oxygen species. Part Fibre Toxicol 7(1):32, 2010.
Wang LY, Mercer RR, Rojanasakul Y, Qiu AJ, Lu YJ, Scabilloni JF, Wu NQ, Castranova V. Direct fibrogenic effects of dispersed single-walled carbon nanotubes on human lung fibroblasts. J Toxicol Environ Health, A 73(5-6):410-422, 2010.

Human Studies

Hanley KW, Petersen MR, Cheever KL, Luo L. Bromide and N-acetyl-S-(n-propyl)-l-cysteine in urine from workers exposed to 1-bromopropane solvents from vapor degreasing or adhesive manufacturing. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 83(5):571-584, 2010.
Connor TH, DeBord DG, Pretty JR, Oliver MS, Roth TS, Lees PSJ, Krieg EF Jr., Rogers B, Escalante CP, Toennis CA, Clark JC, Johnson BC, McDiarmid MA. Evaluation of antineoplastic drug exposure of health care workers at three university-based US cancer centers. J Occup Environ Med 52(10):1019-1027, 2010.
The following three articles were submitted as one nomination:
  • Couch JR, Petersen MR, Rice CR, Schubauer-Berigan MK. Development of retrospective quantitative and qualitative job-exposure matrices for exposures at a beryllium processing facility. Occ Environ Med. Published online October 25, 2010. doi: 10.1136/oem.2010.056630.
  • Schubauer-Berigan MK, Couch JR, Petersen MR, CarreĆ³n T, Jin Y, Deddens JA. Cohort mortality study of workers at seven beryllium processing plants: update and associations with cumulative and maximum exposure. Occ Environ Med. Published online October 15, 2010.doi:10.1136/oem.2010.056481.
  • Schubauer-Berigan MK, Deddens JA, Couch JR, Petersen MR. Risk of lung cancer associated with quantitative beryllium exposure metrics within an occupational cohort. Occup Environ Med. Published online November 16, 2010. doi: 10.1136/oem.2010.056515.

Educational Materials

Slip, trip, and fall prevention for healthcare workers. By Bell J, Collins JW, Dalsey E, Sublet V. Morgantown, WV/Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2011-123, 2010.
Move it! Rig move safety for roughnecks. By: Cullen E, Hill R, Shannon J, Headding B. Spokane, WA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2011-108d, 2010.
Baron S, Stock L, Ayala L, Soohoo R, Gong F, Lloyd C, Haroon P, Teran S, Gonzalez P. Caring for yourself while caring for others: practical tips for homecare workers. In: Labor Occupational Health Program, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Service Employees International Union. Edited by United Long Term Care Workers. Oakland, CA: Public Authority for In-Home Supportive Services in Alameda County, 2010.

CDC Urges Employers to Prohibit Cell Phone Use While Driving

The US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) released its annual census of work related fatalities and identified cell phone use as a major cause of employee deaths. CDC urged employers to prohibit texting while driving.  A safety initiative by employers will go along way to reducing workers' compensation costs.

"What is already known on this topic?
Highway transportation crashes are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the United States.

"What is added by this report?
Occupational highway transportation fatality rates declined 2.8% annually during 2003–2008, and groups at greatest risk for occupational highway transportation deaths (e.g., workers aged ≥55 years and truck occupants) differ from those identified for highway transportation deaths in the general motoring public.

"What are the implications for public health practice?
Employers need to know more about the fatality risks to workers from highway transportation crashes, and employer-based strategies (e.g., requiring the use of safety belts in fleet vehicles, restricting cellular telephone use while driving, and allowing for adequate travel time)

This is entirely consistent with findings reported by Jeffrey S. Hickman, Ph.D, of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.  A driver while texting has a 23.24 times chance of having a motor vehicle accident.

The new initiative by US OSHA to focus on both education and enforcement is a consistent and rational approach to lowering transportation fatalities. OSHA recently announced its intent to fine employers who permit and encourage texting while driving.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Presidential Proclamation -- Workers Memorial Day

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via Wikipedia


This year marks the 40th anniversary of both the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which promise American workers the right to a safe workplace and require employers to provide safe conditions. Yet, today, we remain too far from fulfilling that promise. On Workers Memorial Day, we remember all those who have died, been injured, or become sick on the job, and we renew our commitment to ensure the safety of American workers.
The families of the 29 coal miners who lost their lives on April 5 in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia are in our thoughts and prayers. We also mourn the loss of 7 workers who died in a refinery explosion in Washington State just days earlier, the 4 workers who died at a power plant in Connecticut earlier this year, and the 11 workers lost in the oil platform explosion off the coast of Louisiana just last week.
Although these large-scale tragedies are appalling, most workplace deaths result from tragedies that claim one life at a time through preventable incidents or disabling disease. Every day, 14 workers are killed in on-the-job incidents, while thousands die each year of work-related disease, and millions are injured or contract an illness. Most die far from the spotlight, unrecognized and unnoticed by all but their families, friends, and co-workers -- but they are not forgotten.
The legal right to a safe workplace was won only after countless lives had been lost over decades in workplaces across America, and after a long and bitter fight waged by workers, unions, and public health advocates. Much remains to be done, and my Administration is dedicated to renewing our Nation's commitment to achieve safe working conditions for all American workers.
Providing safer work environments will take the concerted action of government, businesses, employer associations, unions, community organizations, the scientific and public health communities, and individuals. Today, as we mourn those lost mere weeks ago in the Upper Big Branch Mine and other recent disasters, so do we honor all the men and women who have died on the job. In their memory, we rededicate ourselves to preventing such tragedies, and to securing a safer workplace for every American.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 28, 2010, as Workers Memorial Day. I call upon all Americans to participate in ceremonies and activities in memory of those who have been killed due to unsafe working conditions.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

Video of The History of US OSHA

The United States Occupational and Safety [OSHA] administration has released a video of its important accomplishments during it first 40 years of service.

"With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance."

Click here to view the video:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Distinguished Author About Asbestos Dangers Seeks to Save His Archives

Paul Brodeur, author of many articles concerning the dangers of environmental hazards including asbestos, and the award winning book, Outrageous Misconduct-The Asbestos Industry on Trial, is fighting with the New York City Public Library to save his research. A recent article in  The New York Times describes that the library will not return all of Brodeur's materials.

Brodeur, the former investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine, donated his research to the library 18 years ago. The library recently reviewed the material, and only wishes to keep some, and not all, of the boxes of materials that Brodeur donated. When Brodeur requested that the entire collection be kept intact, but the NY library offered to return only what it declined to accept, and if not taken back will destroy the remaining items. 

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900 have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered asbestos exposures.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Independent and Impartial Judiciary Is A Duty Owed The People

"...judicial independence is not for the judges, and it’s not for the lawyers; it’s for the people who come to court..." 
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The US Judicial system is based on the cornerstone of the fairness, impartiality and absence of bias. Hearing official are charged with that obligation when they take their oath of office

The recent filing of a class action complaint in NY charging that a group of local Administrative Law Judges did not meet that responsibility is indeed shocking. 

See the complete NY Times report

Workers Memorial Day - April 28th

Decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions. But the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths remains enormous. Each year, thousands of workers are killed and millions more are injured or diseased because of their jobs. The unions of the AFL-CIO remember these workers on April 28, Workers Memorial Day.
The first Workers Memorial Day was observed in 1989. April 28 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the day of a similar remembrance in Canada. Every year, people in hundreds of communities and at worksites recognize workers who have been killed or injured on the job. Trade unionists around the world now mark April 28 as an International Day of Mourning.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

NIOSH Correction: Asbestos is A Know Carcinogen

NIOSH has corrected it originally released report last month and has now inserted the text:

"NIOSH has determined that exposure to asbestos fibers causes cancer and asbestosis in humans and recommends that exposures be reduced to the lowest feasible concentration."

For more about this correction see The Pump Handle article.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

NIOSH Proposes Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia As Compensable

NIOSH logoImage via Wikipedia

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing to treat Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) as a radiogenic cancer under EEOICPA. Under the current final rule on Guidelines for Determining the Probability of Causation Under EEOICPA (42 CFR Part 81) published in 2002, all types of cancers, except for CLL, are treated as being potentially caused by radiation and therefore, as potentially compensable under EEOICPA. HHS proposes to reverse its decision to exclude CLL from such treatment.

(March 21, 2011)

this document in PDF PDF 270 KB (8 pages)

HHS invites written comments on this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from interested parties. Comments must be received by June 20, 2011.

Persons or organizations interested in participating in this rulemaking by submitting written views, arguments, recommendations, and data can submit comments by e-mail or mail. Comments should be addressed to the NIOSH Docket Officer, titled "NIOSH Docket #209," and should identify the author(s), return address, and a phone number, in case clarification is needed. 

  • E-mail: NIOSH Docket Officer, Include "NIOSH Docket #209" and "42 CFR 81.30" in the subject line of the message.

  • Mail: NIOSH Docket Office,
    Robert Taft Laboratories, MS-C34
    4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226

All communications received on or before the closing date for comments will be fully considered by HHS.

All comments submitted will be available for examination in the rule docket (a publicly available storage of the documents associated with the rulemaking) both before and after the closing date for comments.

A complete electronic docket containing all comments submitted will be available at or comments will be available in hard-copy by request.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman  1.973.696.7900 have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered work related accidents and injuries.

Occupational Secondhand Smoke Exposures Continue in Some States

A recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that despite potential disease smoking is not prohibited yet in some workplaces.

"Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmoking adults each year. Smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in all indoor areas of a venue fully protect nonsmokers from involuntary exposure to SHS indoors. A Healthy People 2010 objective  called for enacting laws eliminating smoking in public places and worksites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC); because this objective was not met by 2010, it was retained for Healthy People 2020 (renumbered as TU-13). To assess progress toward meeting this objective, CDC reviewed state laws restricting smoking in effect as of December 31, 2010. This report summarizes the changes in state smoking restrictions for private-sector worksites, restaurants, and bars that occurred from December 31, 2000 to December 31, 2010. The number of states (including DC) with laws that prohibit smoking in indoor areas of worksites, restaurants, and bars increased from zero in 2000 to 26 in 2010. However, regional disparities remain in policy adoption, with no southern state having adopted a smoke-free law that prohibits smoking in all three venues. The Healthy People 2020 target on this topic is achievable if current activity in smoke-free policy adoption is sustained nationally and intensified in certain regions, particularly the South.

"As of December 31, 2010, in addition to the 26 states with comprehensive smoke-free laws, 10 states had enacted laws that prohibit smoking in one or two, but not all three, of the venues included in this study. Additionally, eight states had passed less restrictive laws (e.g., laws allowing smoking in designated areas or areas with separate ventilation). Finally, seven states have no statewide smoking restrictions in place for private worksites, restaurants, or bars. Of note, only three southern states (Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina) have laws that prohibit smoking in any two of the three venues examined in this report, and no southern state has a comprehensive state smoke-free law in effect.

Secondhand smoking is a recognized compensable condition for workers' compensation benefits. Recently a casino worker exposed to secondhand smoke was permitted by a court to obtain benefits for the lung cancer that he suffered.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

OSHA Anniversary April 21, 2011 10:00am C-Span Event

A picture of David Michaels, Assistant Secreta...Image via Wikipedia
Featured speaker: David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Introduction by:: John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress Featured panelists: Cathy Stoddart, Staff Nurse, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, SEIU Mike Weibel, United Steelworkers/Goodyear Safety and Health Coordinator, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Topeka, Kansas Peg Seminario, Director of Safety and Health, AFL-CIO Joseph Van Houten, Senior Director of Worldwide Environment, Health, and Safety, Johnson & Johnson David Weil, Professor of Economics, Boston University School of Management Moderated by: Reece Rushing, Director of Government Reform, Center for American Progress.

Source C-Span

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Illusion of Workers Compensation Reform and Corporate America

Guest Blog by Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr.  

The book, Confessions of a Union Buster, gives us insight into the active national agenda of Corporate American to redesign the nation's workers' compensation system through a conspiracy employing the use of smoke and mirrors.

Martin Jay Levitt, who performed despicable acts as an employer-sponsored union buster for over 20 years, has written a book detailing his activities. In an effort to cleanse his soul, Levitt has written candidly, admits that it was a “dirty business,” and even acknowledges criminal activity. Many of the tactics he used and the derogatory attitudes toward workers have an alarming similarity to the attacks on injured workers seen over the last two decades. For example: 

He and his colleagues routinely pried into workers’ police records, personnel files, credit histories, medical records and family lives in search of a weakness that they could use to discredit any employee who favored unions.

In Sebring, Ohio Fred Moracco was a manager who was fiercely independent and sympathetic to union organization efforts. When he did not follow the company plan to discredit the proposed union, he was asked to sign a letter of resignation. He refused and was fired. A rumor was then started that he had stolen $13,000.00 and the local newspapers picked up the story. He was ruined. He lost his job, pension benefits, health and life insurance and never worked again.

Others who failed to go along with the anti-union program drew lousy shifts, would be harassed, shunned or punished to such an extent that life became so unbearable they decided they owed it to their families to quit and find another job. If abuse didn’t work, they would be fired. Levitt had no problem with depriving people of medical plans and vacation benefits if that was needed to get the job done. Thousands of men and women -- and their children -- would suffer because of his reckless drive for power and money. When asked if he could see their faces, he replied: “No....It was nothing personal.”

The rallying cry for business was “control labor costs.” That meant, according to Levitt, cut people’s pay. Initially focusing on the construction industry, employers alleged that high wages led to high-cost construction, which meant high-cost for everything else. The Labor Law Study Group (later called the Construction User’s Anti-Inflation Roundtable), a consortium of more than 1,100 businesses nationwide (including AT&T, Union Carbide, Exxon, GM, B.F. Goodrich, Chrysler and IBM, etc.) were instrumental in introducing so-called labor law reform bills before Congress. Their initial goal was to repeal state and federal laws for minimum wage standards in public construction projects.

Levitt and his co-horts used the non-scientific “opinion survey” as a tool to convince businessmen that a labor consultant was needed. The results were inevitable, no matter what the company looked like. An attitude assessment survey was later developed, as well as a battery of psychological tests that purported to be capable of identifying a proclivity toward theft, union activity and other undesirable behavior. Levitt knew that these tests were a sham and a fraud from the beginning. “The employer attitude survey is a shameful example of science twisted into service by industry.”

In 1979, then-Labor Secretary Ray Marshall rejected a federal government report inspired by pro-business groups that urged the repeal of protective labor legislation. He stated: “The report states that these federal laws have an inflationary cost of $715 million. However, because the report candidly admits that over two thirds of this estimate is based upon data which have no statistical validity....” the conclusions were flawed. 

Levitt also kept a stockpile of quasi-scientific data that he could tap into when requested to justify his claims. “Most of my data were accurate, if incomplete and totally lacking in context; some of them I just made up.”

Union busters developed insidious double speak which infiltrated labor-management relations. They encouraged a fundamental distrust of workers, and a fear of unions so powerful that every employee program was twisted into a tactic to destroy the collective spirit of workers, no matter how noble its original intent. Frightened managers were easily duped and corporations paid out enormous amounts of money to hucksters like Levitt, based on false information.

Having gained experience fighting hotel and restaurant unions, Levitt sent out seminar brochures across the country marketing his expertise and spreading fear. He included newspaper clippings from a Las Vegas strike, and the brochures included a blend of truth and distortion, by design. His seminars were filled and he pedaled the lies necessary to keep them filled. “My clients never heard the truthful version of the law, nor did they care to.” While fighting unions he intentionally spread misinformation among the workers and got them confused. A union meeting might last three-four hours because the organizer spent so much time straightening out Levitt’s twisted disinformation.

In 1935 The National Labor Relations Act (commonly called The Wagner Act) established the right to organize. As part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, it prohibited many union busting tactics (spying on and intimidating union activists, provoking violence, and enticing workers into management controlled company unions). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established to enforce The Wagner Act. 

After World War II, corporate America unleashed an angry anti-labor propaganda campaign. It created the myth that companies were at a disadvantage, legally and financially, during a union drive. Unions were characterized as fat, greedy, corrupt and un-American, and employers demanded that Congress amend The Wagner Act. In 1947, after a long debate, conservative congressmen passed a sweeping reform call The Taft-Hartley Act. “To this day union leaders consider The Taft-Hartley Act a primary cause of labor’s failure to organize the majority of American workers.”

In 1959 the Landrum-Griffin Act was passed. This law required unions and employers to report and disclose all union activities and expenditures. One part of the law required companies to report anti-union activities, including the hiring of labor consultants (like Levitt). “Had it not been for a couple of well-placed loopholes, these disclosure provisions would have snuffed out the anti-union consulting industry in its infancy....but the loopholes in Landrum-Griffin are shameful, enormous, gapping errors in the law that have left room for a sleazy billion-dollarindustry to plod through without even sucking its bloated middle.” Levitt never filed with Landrum-Griffin in his life, and few union busters did. 

After nine months of foot dragging by the company he represented in negotiations, a strike was imminent. The union suggested that a federal mediator be brought in. Levitt agreed, not because it would help but because it would just keep the process stalled. “I knew the federal mediator system was bullshit, so I wasn’t worried...It just used up time and made me look as though I were really trying. Meanwhile the clock went tick, tick, tick, tick.”

On one occasion a labor lawyer refused to bargain in bad faith (also called “surface bargaining”) because it violated the NLRB as well as the lawyers Code of Professional Conduct. Since no ethical code existed for labor consultants, Levitt was more than willing to sit at the bargaining table with absolutely no thought of working toward any settlement. He simply used that process to delay proceedings further.

In the early 90's there were over 7,000 attorneys and consultants in the United States who made their living busting unions. A consultant billed $1,000-$1,500 a day and an attorney billed $300-$700 per hour. It was a one billion dollar plus industry, and employers paid willingly. One employer paid Levitt $15,000 a month. It would have taken two years for one of the regular employees (a housekeeper whose job was changing sheets and scrubbing floors) to earn that much money. 

United by their fear of an organized work force, employers formed networks – both local and national – to spread the word about union busting and to get support for anti-union legislation. One of the most notorious networks was the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). It sent a well-dressed public relations team around the country promoting the concept of a merit shop (pay by merit, not contract). According to Levitt, it was just a ruse to sweet-talk the public into accepting non-union, lower-pay jobs in construction, and it worked. By the mid-1980's, ABC had 18,500 members. 

Another group was the National Right to Work Committee, first established in 1955. By the 1970's it began to spread out into state organizations and some of these tried to hide their affiliation (like the Californians for the Freedom to Work) because everyone recognized the Right to Work Committee as an anti-union organization. 

Levitt considered the powerful National Association of Manufacturers the granddaddy of the corporate anti-union conspiracy. It had fought unions since 1903. In 1977 it created the Council on a Union Free Environment specifically to defeat President Jimmy Carter’s attempt at a significant labor law reform bill. The Council succeeded. 

Local 47 of the Service, Hospital, Nursing Home and Public Employees Union attempted to organize the workers at Copeland Oakes, Inc., a retirement home in Ohio. About 170 (60%) of Copeland’s hourly employees, who were making a few pennies over the minimum wage, were ready to petition for a union. As the fight approached Christmas Eve, Levitt wanted to make the union look bad, hoping to turn the tide. He dispatched a few commandos to scratch up cars of pro-company employees and make threatening calls to others. The president of the company then wrote a letter blasting the union for such outrageous scare tactics. 

In 1977 Levitt named his consulting company “Employee Unity Institute” and ran workshops on counterorganizing campaigns. He was even hired by Actor Clint Eastwood for the trendy Carmel eatery, Hog’s Breath Inn, and did many other jobs for the National Restaurant Association. “What I taught I presented as science, but really it was an art, the art of illusion.”

A union film, Like a Beautiful Child, documented a 100 day strike in 1969 by 500 South Carolina hospital workers, mostly black women, who demanded the right to organize. They eventually won and got substantial raises and better working conditions. Levitt used the film against union organizers at hospitals and factories alike, “ awaken within the mostly white supervisor corps a hatred of blacks, fear of violence, contempt for women, mistrust of the poor, and, of course, a loathing for the union that brought together all those despicable elements.”

In his first year in office President Reagan filled the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and its regional agencies with pro-management members. The President also slashed the Board’s budget, making it difficult for agents to carry out full, lengthy investigations. That made it harder than ever for unions to convince the NLRB to issue unfair labor practice complaints.

Reagan, a former union official himself as one time President of the Screen Actors Guild, displayed his contempt for organized labor when he pulled off the biggest union bust in history. In 1981 he fired 13,000 striking federal air traffic controllers, who were essentially striking for safer working conditions, and prosecuted 5 union leaders under a never-before-used law prohibiting strikes against the government. He made union busting an act of patriotism and when Levitt realized this development, he just grinned. 

Levitt once visited a plastic manufacturing plant in Ohio, and had to keep his mouth from dropping open. He was both astonished and appalled . He had been in factories before, but only once had he seen a plant dirtier than this one. In some areas the air and floor were thick with colored dust, greens, browns and blues. Men and women labored over the large machines, lifting and pouring bags of colored powder, scrapping multi-colored globs out of equipment, adjusting levers and plates. The starting workers made about $4.50 an hour and had to breathe dangerous levels of lead and cadmium-tainted paint dust. In 1980 safety inspectors fined the plant $1,800 for high levels of lead in the air. A year later another fine of $680.00 was assessed for the same problem. After a third fine for $1,000 was assessed, the company still made no real improvements or changes to help the workers. When the workers began to consider creating a union, the company hired Levitt to prevent that from happening. He succeeded. 

All of the deception and blindness to human suffering took its toll on Levitt. He had been drinking heavily, never seemed to have enough money and hated the way he felt. It eventually led to alcoholism, bankruptcy and divorce. In his recovery, he began to see clearly what he had become and what he had done. His book is an attempt to help destroy “...a mentality that condemns millions of American workers to a life of futility and humiliation.”

Although Levitt’s book is not a literary gem, it is well worth reading and some may consider it mandatory for those who naively think corporate America is inactive and has no national agenda. As the legislative reforms in workers’ compensation laws have moved with increasing speed through the various states since 1980, Levitt’s book helps us understand that the same forces aligned against unions have shifted their focus to the workers’ compensation arena. Levitt indicates the need to expose the lies and distortion used by these forces, either through congressional hearings or other public exposure. For example, he mentions the demise of one of the notorious union busting firms, Melnick, McKeown and Mickus, after government hearings revealed that the defense department spent more than one million dollars toward Rockwell International’s anti-union campaign, most of it going to this firm. According to Levitt, such notoriety did not help these men in their conspiratorial enterprise, since it depended on secrecy. “A master of illusion, the union buster pulls off his tricks amid the confusion of smoke and mirrors; his magic disappears under the blazing lights of center stage.”

Confessions of a Union Buster, Martin Jay Levitt, Crown Publications, Inc., New York (1993) 290 pp./$25.00

Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr. practices in Raleigh, North Carolina (The Jernigan Law Firm). Mr. Jernigan is the author of North Carolina Practice, Workers Compensation Law and Practice 4th ed. He previously served as president of the Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers. Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr. is an Adjunct Professor of Workers Compensation Law at North Central University School of Law. He is one of only 48 workers' compensation attorneys in the United States authorized by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) to represent its members. He is also authorized to represent players in the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA) as well as other professional athletes.

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