Thursday, October 12, 2017

NIOSH Interviews Working on Empty Filmmakers

Below is an excerpt from our interview. The NIOSH Total Worker Health newsletter reaches 70,000+ individuals across the country and abroad. To read the entire interview, please visit:

Why did you decide to create Working on Empty?

Many people have been researching the impact of work on health for decades. A substantial body of literature shows that working conditions impact the mental and physical well-being of workers. Work plays a major role in burnout, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

We believe that the public, in general, doesn’t understand well the relationship between work and health. There is a belief that stress is good because it helps you work harder and be more productive. However, if we are chronically stressed from work—e.g. because of feeling threatened by job insecurity, being unclear about the criteria for performance evaluations, not having enough control at work, etc. —it leads to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses.

One intent of making the film is to point out that stress related to work and poor working conditions is not inevitable. The poor health outcomes that we just described are partly the consequence of the way work is organized. They are preventable, and we need to do something to prevent them. Companies feel a constant pressure to increase productivity, some by going “lean” and, as a result, people are working harder and longer. We believe that many businesses don’t understand the consequences when they increase work demands. It results in worse health and more disability claims, absenteeism, sick days, and presenteeism. Productivity goes down when work hours exceed 40 hours per week. If companies knew more about these costs, they could rethink how they manage work, avoid situations with excessive demands, and increase engagement.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Los Angeles Fight for 15 March

Erin Wigger, a member of The Center for Social Epidemiology team, joined in the recent downtown Los Angeles Fight for 15 march which was demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. Several thousand people were in attendance, fast-food workers, home care workers, child care workers, union members, and organizers. Demonstrators gathered at a local McDonald's before making their way to City Hall. The march, part of a nationwide protest spanning 270 cities, was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who's current efforts in Los Angeles are focused on organizing fast-food workers.

Erin spoke to several key organizers for Fight for 15, as well as one protester willing to share her story. Gloria Vergara, a home health care worker with 40 years of experience, recently lost her job when her elderly charge needed permanent hospitalization. She says she's been looking for work but has found few real prospects. Gloria states that she loves what she does and feels her work is meaningful and an absolute necessity for those she helps, but Gloria also spoke of the ceaseless pressures of taking care of another person 24/7, the often invisible and unpaid work she's required to do, not having enough time to do it, the out of pocket costs, having little to no job security and chronic stress. She says it "feels like slavery". Gloria and her niece Idianna (both pictured below), who is also a home health care worker, have both been studying to become certified nurses but are having trouble managing their time and the cost of studying. They agree that raising the minimum wage is a necessary beginning to the changes needed in their industry.

The call for a raise in the minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour and has been unchanged since 2009) has been resounding louder and even made it into Tuesday night's GOP debate. The question, whether candidates were sympathetic to Fight for 15 protester's cause, was unequivocally rejected by all. Donald Trump went so far as to assert our "wages are too high."

Despite a lack of federal legislation, some progress has been made. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an order for public employees at the minimum wage to be paid $15 an hour by 2018, in Los Angeles the L.A. City Council and L.A. Board of Supervisors approved a law that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, and Seattle voted last year to raise its minimum to $15 by 2017.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Debunking Anti-Union Myths

Everyone should check out this YouTube video of a Professor talking about and debunking anti-union myths. She makes important points that are often overlooked when talking about the importance of organized labor – esp. that individuals who are not in a union have a difficult time enforcing their labor rights and protections without reprisals from employers. Unions have the power to act collectively to protect and enforce labor laws. The film also makes a case about how rampant wage theft is…

Friday, January 2, 2015

Apple 'failing to protect Chinese factory workers'

The below is an article by BBC journalist Richard Bilton on the discoveries he and several undercover investigators made at Pegatron, an Apple supplier, as well as problems with Apple's sourcing of raw materials. You can watch a short clip of the program here.

By Richard Bilton
BBC Panorama

Filming on an iPhone 6 production line showed Apple's promises to protect workers were routinely broken.
It found standards on workers' hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached at the Pegatron factories.
Apple said it strongly disagreed with the programme's conclusions.
Exhausted workers were filmed falling asleep on their 12-hour shifts at the Pegatron factories on the outskirts of Shanghai.
One undercover reporter, working in a factory making parts for Apple computers, had to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for a day off.
Another reporter, whose longest shift was 16 hours, said: "Every time I got back to the dormitories, I wouldn't want to move.
"Even if I was hungry I wouldn't want to get up to eat. I just wanted to lie down and rest. I was unable to sleep at night because of the stress."
'Continuous improvement'
Apple declined to be interviewed for the programme, but said in a statement: "We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.
"We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done."
Apple said it was a very common practice for workers to nap during breaks, but it would investigate any evidence they were falling asleep while working.
It said it monitored the working hours of more than a million workers and that staff at Pegatron were averaging 55 hours a week.
The poor conditions in Chinese factories were highlighted in 2010 when 14 workers killed themselves at Apple's biggest supplier, Foxconn.
Following the suicides, Apple published a set of standards spelling out how factory workers should be treated. It also moved some of its production work to Pegatron's factories on the outskirts of Shanghai.
But Panorama's undercover reporters found that these standards were routinely breached on the factory floor.
Overtime is supposed to be voluntary, but none of the reporters were offered any choice. In addition to the excessive hours, one reporter had to attend unpaid meetings before and after work. Another reporter was housed in a dormitory where 12 workers shared a cramped room.
Apple says the dormitory overcrowding has now been resolved and that it requires suppliers to retroactively pay workers if it finds they haven't been paid for work meetings.
Pegatron said it was carefully investigating Panorama's claims and would take all necessary action if any deficiencies were found at their facilities.
"Worker safety and well-being are our top priorities. We set very high standards, conduct rigorous training for managers and workers, and have external auditors regularly visiting our facilities to find areas for improvement," a statement said.
Dangerous conditions
Panorama also travelled further down Apple's supply chain to the Indonesian island of Bangka.
Apple says it is dedicated to the ethical sourcing of minerals, but the programme found evidence that tin from illegal mines could be entering its supply chain.
It found children digging tin ore out by hand in extremely dangerous conditions - miners can be buried alive when the walls of sand or mud collapse.
Twelve-year-old Rianto was working with his dad at the bottom of a 70-foot cliff of sand. He said: "I worry about landslides. The earth slipping from up there to the bottom. It could happen."
Panorama tracked down a gang who collect tin from the area where Rianto was working. One of them said they sold tin to a smelter on Apple's list of suppliers.
Johan Murod, who runs one of the smelters on Apple's list, said 70% of the tin that is exported comes from the small-scale mines.
"At the smelter there's everything from both large and small scale mines. It's all mixed. There's no way to know what is legal and what is illegal."
Apple says it is a complex situation on Bangka with tens of thousands of miners selling tin through many middle men.
"The simplest course of action would be for Apple to unilaterally refuse any tin from Indonesian mines. That would be easy for us to do and would certainly shield us from criticism.
"But that would also be the lazy and cowardly path, since it would do nothing to improve the situation. We have chosen to stay engaged and attempt to drive changes on the ground."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Apple supplier Pegatron plans changes after BBC report on worker mistreatment published the below article by Katie Marasl this past Monday, December 22.

"In response to a BBC investigation alleging mistreatment of workers at one of its factories, Apple partner Pegatron has vowed to look into the matter and implement any necessary improvements.

In a statement issued to the Taiwan Stock Exchange, Pegatron Technology said on Monday that plans to investigate the claims that appeared last week in the BBC report. The company also said that employee safety is its top priority, and it is working to ensure all of its workers are safe.
Pegatron also touted the strict training it requires for its employees and management, and noted it uses external inspectors to audit its facilities.

The statement made no mention of Apple, but BBC One focused on Pegatron's relationship with the iPhone maker, exposing multiple instances of poor treatment of workers on one of its production lines. The investigation by BBC Panorama used hidden cameras to discover a variety of infractions violating Apple's own Supplier Responsibility report, including illegal ID card confiscation, excessive working hours, poor living conditions, and underage workers.

But the report itself has also come under fire, as Apple responded last week with an internal memo saying officials at the company were "deeply offended" by the allegations made in the telecast. Apple executive Jeff Williams said certain details provided by the company to the BBC were "clearly missing" from the special that aired on the news channel last week.

Williams noted that that Apple's audits and tracking show that it has achieved an average of 93 percent compliance with its 60-hour workweek limit. He also admitted that the company can do better, and vowed that it will.

'We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers,' Williams wrote."


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Excessive Work Hours Still the Rule at Apple Suppliers

While Foxconn has received media attention in the last few years for deplorable working conditions and the consequent suicides of some of its workers, there are other Chinese factories within the Apple supply chain guilty of the same, if not worse, practices.  These practices, which include excessive work hours, low wages and lack of work breaks, are against Apple’s supplier code of conduct as well as many Chinese labor laws.

One such plant, investigated and reported on by China Labor Watch (CLW), is Jabil Wuxi. CLW published a scathing report in September of 2013 of the many labor violations it found Jabil guilty of including hiring discrimination, imposed hiring fees, lack of safety training and gear, 110 hours of overtime per month, mandatory and sometimes unpaid overtime, a lack of effective grievance channels, occupational safety hazards, etc. Some workers were said to have been forced to stand for 11 consecutive hours during a shift while only receiving half-hour meal breaks (1, 2, 3).

On their website, Apple claims 95 percent of its manufacturers comply with it's standard of no more than 60 hours per week, the Chinese legal limit is 49 hours (5, 1). Apple also claims, in response to these accusations, that the Jabil plant has an "excellent track record" of compliance with Apple standards. Apple did, in fact, complete an audit in early 2013 which found that some Jabil employees had worked more than six consecutive days, but added that the factory was working towards better regulating overtime. Jabil responded separately that it would correct any issues found when it conducted its own audit (4).

One year later, little seems to have changed at the factory. According to CLW, who investigated the plant for a second time in September of 2014, working conditions had not gotten better but may in fact have gotten worse since sales of the iPhone 6 have continued to soar and Jabil production lines are straining to keep up with demand. CLW claims workers at Jabil “perform even more overtime (up to 158 hours), where they are not permitted to talk or even look up from their work,” while working in unsafe buildings that are still under construction and where ceiling slabs have been reported to fall down around the production line (1).

Here again, given the repeated reports of abuses at many factories, it is difficult to believe that Apple is doing everything in it's power to prevent such conditions. If CLW’s findings are representative of the working environment at Jabil, Apple has failed to make good, as yet, on its promise of improved labor practices within its supply chain. This is perhaps especially true in the wake of newly released Apple products and where demands for increased production of iphones have soared.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That"

On September 30, 2014 yet another Foxconn worker committed suicide. Xu Lizhi was 24 when he died at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant after working there for four years. A post from’s Nao blog has translated Xu’s obituary as well as several of the poems Xu wrote about his life at the factory, several of which were published in Foxconn’s internal newsletter, Foxconn People.
We wanted to share a few of these with our readership in order to keep awareness of the conditions of Chinese migrant workers alive and highlight the need for further progress in these factories towards creating humane working conditions for their workers. Besides describing the feelings of one young worker’s devastating struggle, they are also heartbreakingly beautiful. 

"I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That"

"The paper before my eyes fades yellow
With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black
Full of working words
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages ...
They've trained me to become docile
Don't know how to shout or rebel
How to complain or denounce
Only how to silently suffer exhaustion
When I first set foot in this place
I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month
To grant me some belated solace
For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words
Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons
Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early
By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,
How many days, how many nights
Did I - just like that - standing fall asleep?"
- 20 August 2011

"The Last Graveyard"

Even the machine is nodding off
Sealed workshops store diseased iron
Wages concealed behind curtains
Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts
With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust
They have stomachs forged of iron
Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric
Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall
Time flows by, their heads lost in fog
Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night
In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent
The jig forces the skin to peel
And while it's at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloy
Some still endure, while others are taken by illness
I am dozing between them, guarding
The last graveyard of our youth.
- 21 December 2011