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The law needs updating, as ProPublica discovered, because many companies use confusion about who’s really in charge to evade laws requiring safety in the workplace. Temp workers are paying a terrible price. A few examples:
• “We don’t train temps:” That’s the answer given to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector after Simon Martinez, a 39-year-old contract employee, was crushed to death by three 800-pound bales of cardboard at a Sonoco Recycling plant in Raleigh, N.C. It was the second death at the facility in less than two months.
• “Not responsible:” 24-year-old Travis Kidd, a temp at a company called Workforce Staffing, was killed in 2011 when he was run over by a trash compactor at a Cleveland County, N.C., landfill. “Landfill management,” OSHA reported, “felt they were not responsible to require or provide Mr. Kidd with the same PPE [personal protective equipment] because they considered him a temporary employee and not their employee.”
• A temp’s temperature — 106.9 degrees: On May 29, 2012, Mark Jefferson, a former high school basketball star, went looking for work at Labor Ready in Trenton, N.J. He was assigned to a truck operated by Waste Management. After a nine-hour shift in 90-degree heat, he collapsed and never recovered; his internal temperature was recorded at 106.9 degrees. During his one and only day on the job, Jefferson never received training on using rest, shade and water to avoid the hazards of extreme heat.
Leadpoint Business Services employs 120 workers at BFI in Milpitas, a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of workers employed nationwide at McDonald’s franchises. But both groups are standing up for a larger cause. Millions of franchise, temporary and contract workers should not be treated as second class citizens. Holding all employers accountable, instead of letting them point fingers at one another, is a critical step in aligning U.S. labor law with the realities of the 21st century workplace.
Mary Vogel, an attorney, is executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.