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Union members tell Bush: Ergonomics standards now!

August 3, 2001 | Page 15

CHICAGO--About 150 union members and supporters rallied July 20 outside hearings on ergonomics standards sponsored by the Bush administration.

The hearings, held at the University of Chicago, were one of three such meetings held around the U.S. But the hearings are only a smokescreen.

In March, Bush scrapped the ergonomics standard established by the Clinton administration. Even before the hearings began, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced a one-year delay in establishing a definition of musculoskeletal disorders in order to conduct more research--even though there has already been a decade of such studies. Occupational Health and Safety Administration statistics show that more than half a million such injuries occur each year.

The judge and panel of management-dominated "experts" didn't even bother to hide their contempt for the union members and officials who testified about workplace injuries.

Sarah Amos, International Executive Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), challenged the panel to sample the repetitive strain common in meatpacking plants.

"With a jerking motion, thrust that pen or pencil towards you as if you were cutting something that offered a good deal of resistance," she said. "Make that exact same motion 60 times a minute for just an hour. That's just one-eighth of a workday. See what happens to your wrist, your hand, your elbow, your shoulder. I challenge anybody in this room who doubts the reality of ergonomic injuries--to do what I just described and do it just for the time that this panel testifies. You will never deny reality again."

Squirming in their chairs, the management panel cut off Amos five minutes before her speaking time was up. After Amos spoke, union members marched outside for a rally addressed by Chicago Federation of Labor President Don Turner and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"I came down here to give a voice to the injured health care workers," said Maggie Flanagan, a nurse in Anchorage, Alaska, and a longtime activist for public health. "We are there if patients need us," Flanagan told Socialist Worker. "We are put in the impossible situation of taking care of patients without even taking a break."

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