NPR and PBS Frontline spent years investigating a recently discovered outbreak of advanced black lung disease, known as progressive massive fibrosis. A federal monitoring program reported just 99 cases of advanced black lung disease nationwide from 2011-2016, but the investigation identified more than 2,000 coal miners in just five Appalachian states suffering from the disease in the same time frame. Decades of federal regulatory data recorded by dust-collection monitors revealed a tragic failure to recognize and respond to clear signs of danger, even as it was happening. Scott Laney, an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, described it as an “epidemic” and “clearly one of the worst industrial medicine disasters that’s ever been described.” “We failed,” said Celeste Monforton, a former mine safety regulator who reviewed the NPR/Frontline findings.
Democrats have pledged to block Republican labor nominees if Republican senators won’t confirm Democratic nominees for seats on the NLRB and the EEOC. Vox reported that Senator Mike Lee (R.-Utah) is blocking Chai Feldblum, an EEOC commissioner re-nominated to keep her Democratic chair for another term, from being confirmed by unanimous consent. Feldblum responded to Lee’s criticism that she believes “rights for LGBT Americans are secured only by curtailing the rights of religious Americans” by saying that “various groups have mischaracterized my views in an effort to paint me as a radical opponent of religious liberty.” If Feldblum isn’t confirmed, the EEOC will lack a quorum in January. In response, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has pledged to block unanimous consent votes on all other GOP labor nominees unless Feldblum and Mark Pearce, re-nominated for his Democratic seat on the NLRB, are confirmed by unanimous consent.
Meanwhile, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate HELP Committee, announced yesterday that he won’t seek reelection in 2020. Politico reported that Alexander was already due to give up his position in 2021 when he reached his six-year term limit. Next in line by rank is Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), but it’s too early to tell if he will succeed Alexander as the next chair.
The possible government shutdown looming could have serious consequences for federal employees by cutting into their paychecks. Bloomberg Law reports that according to the Office of Personnel Management, paid time off is canceled when there’s a government shutdown, so federal employees who are on vacation or sick leave after December 21 could be docked pay through no fault of their own.
The University of Maryland’s Diamondback News featured the stories of Michael Bell and DuRay Jones, both electricians with the University of Maryland’s Facilities Management, who filed a $3 million racial discrimination lawsuit against the university in federal court last summer. Bell and Jones described their fight against a discriminatory and dysfunctional work environment for years before that. As what began as a $15,000 claim escalated, Bell and Jones watched their home lives and mental health deteriorate, illustrating the psychological toll that fighting discrimination can have on workers. Their story also illustrates the unique challenges of working with a criminal background, which makes it difficult to seek work elsewhere—and even more important to protect their reputations on the job.