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Wake-up call

Paper trail


Bleeding on the brain can result from a box falling on your head or from a diet of over-the-counter pain remedies that you take in order to avoid seeing a doctor and thereby risk disgruntling your employer for abandoning your workstation. 

According to Jeff Brylski, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 46, "too often workers at Amazon and other major warehouse companies are told to take an ibuprofen and get back to work." Isn't it thoughtful of the heads of the corporate family to recommend cost-saving generics to their cash-strapped line-workers?  

Relying on the beneficent concern of corporate watchdogs of worker welfare is a crapshoot, at best. Rumors of their showing original initiative to promote the well-being of employees, which is not the same as "fitness to work" as they see it,  have rarely been substantiated.

The Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act, recently signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, is a firm, potentially coercive reminder to warehouse overlords that they can no longer ignore or hide the injuries of workers and penalize them for attending to their acute pain at the expense of their boss's chronic pursuit of profit thresholds.

Two years ago, the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, which banned certain quota mandates for workers, was enacted. 

Although there haven't been any reports lately of management piping in the Banana Boat Song to the warehouse floor to keep the workers motivated, there are still unofficial and tacit expectations that employers find ingenious ways of making known to underlings. Abolition under law is not the same as abolition in the real world, and many workers today feel in their bones the legacy of their ancestors in the factories who got paid per piece of raw material they could conjure by the sweat of their brow and nimble fingers into marketable commodities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York State's warehouse worker injury rate is 54 percent above the national average. The National Employment Law Project reports that over a single recent year, the increase was 20 percent. Almost 90 percent of the injuries, mostly musculoskeletal and soft tissue, have been severe enough to force the employee to miss work or transfer to a different job, notes the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act sounds good on paper, but does it make a noise in the board rooms?  

It asks employers to identify and ameliorate risk factors, wherever possible, and review safety and first-aid protocols annually. "All on-site warehouse medical offices or first-aid stations must be staffed with medical professionals legally able to treat workers with symptoms of musculoskeletal injuries or disorders,” notes the Democrat and Chronicle. Ergonomists will be consulted, and furniture will be spine friendly, we are told.

Will the act make a difference? Since the edict's teeth, if it has any, may be invisible through the enforcers' gum line, it will depend on whether it is taken seriously. 

Like most newly promulgated labor laws, it includes the standard template and possibly disingenuous assurance that whistleblowers will be protected from reprisals for reporting violations. That covenant might as well be scrawled on tissue paper. It rarely holds when put to the test. 

Government and the Law often fastidiously soothe those they seek to dupe. 

Last year, 41 percent of American workers were hurt doing their job. Often they got no pay for the time they had to take for recuperation. The National Employment Law Project notes that the rate of on-the-job warehouse workers needing medical attention in 2022 was double what it was five years earlier.

Heavy lifting can be as hard on them as it is on people who speak the truth against the tide.

Non-prioritization, and often outright indifference to the health and safety of workers, has been a convention of management since the Industrial Revolution. Black lung disease was a birthright of legacy coal miners. And 146 immigrant women died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (directly caused by management's anti-worker policies,) right outside Washington Square Park, where I recently watched a guy playing chess. He was giving his "final solution to the Zionist entity problem" placard a rest and was about to take a break for brunch.

I returned later to a stone font-like edifice near the arch, to continue my book, "Edward R. Murrow to Joy Reid: The Spectacular Rise of Integrity in Journalism."

The government is more likely to be on top of the people than on top of its game of serving them. They're more concerned about our mattress tags not being removed than they are about the Navy's shipbuilding deficit with China.

Warehouse workers are prone to hernias and bad backs, but all New Yorkers get bent out of shape in their everyday transgressions with the government, even with little things. 

Recently I was first notified, via a "second notice" warning in the mail, to pay the summons for not displaying my Muni Meter printout in the window when I parked my car six weeks earlier. I'm obsessive-compulsive about this, like some people are about locking doors or handwashing, and I'm sure they were in error. They said I could prove it by sending them the receipt.

They know that nobody saves these one-inch-square fragile items that turn yellow and disintegrate almost overnight. I suspect there may be a quota scam underfoot, but I have no evidence. 

They enclosed a ream of papers explaining my rights of appeal. It was thicker than the Mueller Report and, in more languages, than there are rogues in the International Criminal Court gallery.

There's a meme of a child holding a toilet roll and the words "It's not over until the paperwork is completed.” That's also true of new laws and public service announcements by the government touting the virtue of their stewardship. We recall (too bad she couldn't be recalled when on the job) Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA, giving us in a jiffy the Fed's Seal of Approval for children to frolic among the WTC ash almost before the embers were extinguished.

We must not conflate government authority to impose itself with authoritative knowledge that should drive policy. 

But to New Yorkers, whether they're dealing with the DOT,  DMV, MTA or any other agency,  vindication of policy and practice comes from results, not "process" alone. Process is a path to a goal, not the goal itself.

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