They Need to Hear from You by Feb 1!

January 29, 2019

MassCOSH has a more than 40-year record of advocating for safe, healthy workplaces. In the last legislative session, MassCOSH and our allies expanded OSHA protections to over 430,000 public sector workers, expanded protections for pregnant workers, and increased corporate fines for manslaughter – victories that will define the early 21st-century movement in the Bay State.

This year you can support efforts to pass five pieces of legislation that we believe will ensure that all workers can go to work, earn a fair wage, be treated with respect and dignity, and return home to their families alive and well. Today, we are asking you to call your elected representatives, telling them you want them to support the following bills.

SD1182/HD2947: An Act Protecting Injured Workers
Lead Sponsors: Senator Jaime Eldridge and Representative Tram Nguyen
Workers’ compensation benefits are crucial for employees injured on the job, providing them with medical care and wage loss benefits when they are unable to work. Yet the law leaves workers largely unprotected when employers retaliate against employees or try to prevent them from reporting a workplace injury, seeking medical care, or filing a workers’ comp claim. Currently, no state agency has any power or ability to investigate retaliation complaints or to enforce the current anti-retaliation law. A worker may bring a lawsuit in court, but the scope of the lawsuit and the potential remedies are limited and ineffective. Too often, as a result of employer misconduct, workers remain unaware of their workers’ comp rights, are deterred from seeking medical care and benefits, or suffer greatly from delays in obtaining coverage. An Act Protecting Injured Workers strengthens the anti-retaliation law, provides for an administrative complaint and investigation mechanism for enforcement, and otherwise addresses employer misconduct that prevents workers from receiving timely medical care and benefits.

SD1322/HD3015: An Act Relative to Workplace Safety
Lead Sponsors: Senator Paul Feeney and Representative Michelle DuBois
This bill would protect Massachusetts taxpayers, law abiding businesses, and workers who are employed by contractors that do business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and/or are involved in excavation work. In October 2016, two workers tragically lost their lives in Boston’s South End in an unsafe trench. If these workers were provided with the proper equipment, a trench box, as required by law, they would be alive today. Subsequent investigation revealed that their employer had multiple outstanding safety violations for failing to protect worker safety. The safety violations in this case were so egregious that the owner of this company has been charged with manslaughter. But while punishment post-facto may bring justice, it will not save lives. This legislation will require companies seeking to do business with the Commonwealth, or seeking a trenching permit to report their record of safety violations. The Commonwealth will be able to avoid contracting with companies with a poor record of safety, thereby preventing future injuries and deaths. Responsible contracting laws are good for employers, workers, and Massachusetts taxpayers.

SD 1464/HD 3789: Act to Prevent Wage Theft, Promote Employer Accountability, and Enhance Public Enforcement
Lead Sponsors: Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Dan Donahue
Wage theft has become business-as-usual. In our modern economy, where employers increasingly subcontract or outsource core parts of their business to other companies, the epidemic of wage theft has overwhelmed the capacity of our existing labor laws and enforcement mechanisms. Nearly $700 million in wages are stolen from about 350,000 low-wage workers each year in Massachusetts. This legislation will protect workers and enhance enforcement in several important ways: (1) Increased Employer Accountability: Holds lead contractors accountable for the wage theft violations of their subcontractors, as long as there is a significant connection to their business activities or operations; (2) Enhanced Public Enforcement: Allows the Attorney General’s Office to bring civil wage theft cases directly to court, and allows for aggrieved employees or other whistle blowers to bring public enforcement actions on behalf of, and supervised by, the Attorney General’s Office. (3) Ensuring Timely Payment: Allows the Attorney General’s Office to issue a “stop work order” if it has determined that certain types of wage theft or unemployment insurance violations have occurred. Provides employers an opportunity to correct violations and resume work, or to request a hearing.
SD1573/HD3012: An Act to Protect Children, Families, and Firefighters from Harmful Flame Retardants
Lead Sponsors: Senator Cynthia Stone Creem and Representative Marjorie Decker
The tightly-knit Massachusetts firefighting community lost ten members who were killed by occupational illness in 2017. In Massachusetts, we are able to track occupational illnesses for firefighters because of a presumption law that enables them to access workers compensation for medical treatment related to occupational illness originating in the line of duty. This information along with research from NIOSH shows that firefighters experience increased risk of certain cancers – much greater than the general public. While serving their communities, firefighters put themselves at great risk where they are regularly exposed to mixtures of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic chemicals. Synthetic substances have pervaded American building structures, furnishings in them, and consumer products. These new materials also change fire behavior and can generate hazardous and poorly understood combustion products. Skin absorption rates increase at high temperatures, while residues on gear can prolong exposures. Ironically, the chemicals marketed by the furniture industry as flame retardants are among the substances that can cause adverse health effects in firefighters and the public. This bill bans the sale of certain harmful flame retardant chemicals in children's products and residential furniture. It is a practical, feasible step toward protecting the health and safety of those who protect us – the firefighters.

SD 1355: An act Addressing Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Harassment, without Regard to Protected Class Status
Workplace bullying is a serious public health concern. Over a third of workers — 60.4 million — will likely experience or witness bullying during their working lives. Many will suffer severe anxiety, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension, suicidal thoughts, and other conditions. Most employers do not take workplace bullying seriously. When employees complain about workplace bullying, most employers either ignore the problem or make it worse. Workplace bullying is the most serious form of employee mistreatment left largely unaddressed by current law. Most targets of severe workplace bullying have little or no recourse under Massachusetts law. Harassment law protects only those individuals who can prove the mistreatment is due to their protected class membership, such as sex, race, or age. Supported by 77 percent of Americans, a law would protect all employees from abusive mistreatment on an equal opportunity basis, filling a huge gap. The Healthy Workplace Bill will give severely bullied workers a right to seek damages. No longer will abused workers be left without legal protections. It is fair and efficient. It allows employers to minimize liability by preventing and responding to bullying situations. It also includes provisions that discourage weak or frivolous claims. Thirty state legislatures have introduced workplace bullying legislation.

Your voice matters! Please call now!