Mariya Strauss en A Legal Loophole Plays a Key Role in the Deaths of Teenage Farmworkers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">People think tend of child labor a thing of the past in the United States -- but in the agriculture industry, it&#039;s still a potential deadly occupation.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/tractor_gloves.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p class="dropcap"><em>This piece originally appeared in <a href="" target="_blank">The Nation</a> magazine, a project of The Nation Institute, and is reprinted here with their permission.</em></p><p class="dropcap">Michael Steele, a gregarious kid whose friends sometimes called him Bubba, had recently shot up from chubby middle-schooler to a teen with a six-foot-three, 185-pound frame. For the last couple of summers, beginning when he was just 13, he had worked chopping wood, selling his garden vegetables and hauling hay for local farmers. Michael, who shared a home in the tiny town of Frankford, Missouri, with his mother and sister, had his eyes on a single goal. "He saved up all his money for a truck," his mother, Dena Steele, told me.</p><p class="dropcap">"He went from playing video games 24/7 to working all the time. Even when one of his friends or his girlfriend wanted to hang out, he told them, 'No, I have to work.'"</p><p>The truck Michael wanted was a blue 2002 Dodge Ram pickup with a Cummins diesel engine, the kind you see on rural roads with custom alterations like giant wheels or chromed exhaust pipes curving up from the sides of the cab. Michael’s mind was so fixed on this truck that he’d begun to build his life dreams around it, setting his sights on a vocational program in diesel mechanics. </p><p>By last summer, Michael had saved up $7,000 from his modest farm wages, but he didn’t live to get his Dodge Ram. He went out the afternoon of July 1 with a friend, 17-year-old Matt McGlasson, to earn just a little more, moving hay bales for a horse farmer who is a cousin of his grandfather's.</p><p>Michael climbed high up into the driver’s seat on a 1954 International Harvester tractor, the same model his grandfather had taught him on—a tractor built before seat belts came along. It had a long flatbed trailer, 10 to 15 feet, hitched to its rear for carrying hay bales. </p><p>McGlasson rode on the empty trailer, his back to Michael. The gravel road to the hay field was dusty but even, free of potholes. But somehow Michael lost his balance. McGlasson told the Highway Patrol at the scene: "I was sitting on the back of the trailer facing north. I heard him yell and saw he was holding on to, I think, the back of the seat. I stood up and seen him let go and fall." </p><p>Michael had fallen to the left side, onto the roadway. McGlasson reacted fast, clambering along the trailer to the tractor's gears to stop it. But the tractor continued, driverless, for a crucial moment, long enough for the left wheels and axle of the flatbed to crush Michael's chest. He died at the scene. He was just 15.</p><p class="dropcap">People think of child labor as being a thing of the past in the United States, and to work most jobs kids do have to be at least 16. But from the start, the Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, treated farmwork differently. In agriculture, kids as young as 12 can work legally. Provisions governing dangerous work are different in agriculture, too. The Labor Department has a list of "hazardous occupations" that kids can't do until they turn 18; in agriculture, they can do them at 16, even though federal officials have found that farmworker youth are at "high risk" for fatal injuries. And that hazards list hasn’t been updated since 1970.</p><p>Last year, that was about to change. In late 2011, the Labor Department, based on research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), had proposed an updated list of hazardous occupations in agriculture that would be off limits to kids under 16. These included working near manure pits or inside grain silos (the latter had trapped at least 51 workers in 2010, more than half of whom died), using power machinery, working outdoors in dangerously hot weather, climbing tall ladders, working with certain livestock, harvesting tobacco, and driving large farm vehicles or trucks on certain roads, as Michael had been doing. </p><p>"It's just like in a McDonald's," says Zama Coursen-Neff, executive director of the children's rights initiative at Human Rights Watch. "We let 14- and 15-year-olds run the cash register, but we don't let them run the fryer." But after a storm of protest from the Farm Bureau and other agricultural lobbies [<a href="" target="_blank">see Gabriel Thompson's article</a>], the Labor Department withdrew the proposed rules—which had been years in the making—in April 2012. </p><p>The cost of that reversal may never be officially tallied. But after carefully piecing together available data, I discovered that, along with Michael, at least 12 other young farmworkers under the age of 16 have died since those protections were scuttled a year and a half ago. At least four of them died doing the hazardous tasks those rules would have prohibited them from performing.</p><p class="dropcap">My attempt to determine how many farmworker kids have been injured or killed since April 2012 met with many roadblocks. One important study, the Labor Department's Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), released in August and still preliminary, recorded 19 deaths among workers under 16 last year, up from ten the year before. But it doesn't yet specify which of these deaths happened in agriculture. Another study, the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illness (SOII), found a rate of 5.5 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers reported in the agricultural sector in 2011 and 2012—up from a rate of 4.8 per 100 workers in 2010—but it did not provide a tally of injuries to workers under 16. Agriculture has among the highest injury and death rates of all industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produced both studies, denied a request for case files, arguing that providing them would jeopardize the privacy of employers. (An appeal has been filed with the solicitor of labor.) The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigates workplace accidents, hasn't compiled data for 2012, and dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests filed with regional and state OSHA offices and workers’ compensation boards yielded injury data from only three states. </p><p>And there are limits on OSHA’s reach in any case. In Iowa, where the agency does cover agricultural employers, OSHA performed just 31 inspections on 92,300 farms in 2011. In other heavily agricultural states, like North Carolina, oversight is conducted instead by an agricultural safety council dominated by farmers' or growers' associations. North Carolina's Department of Labor responded to a FOIA request regarding injuries, illnesses and deaths among farmworkers ages 12 to 16 since April 2012 by saying it had "no records or documents" for this age group, adding that employers are required to report only accidents in which an employee dies or three or more are hospitalized. So any incident that does not meet these criteria (such as a single worker being hurt) is not reported. </p><p>I was mostly left to comb through local news clippings and to call farmworker advocates and researchers—people who spend time in the fields and might hear of accidents. The experts I called were vexed by the lack of available data on farmworker children. "The big story is, we don't have a surveillance system," says Amy Liebman, director of environmental and occupational health for the Salisbury, Maryland–based Migrant Clinicians Network. The CFOI numbers give "a general sort of idea," she adds, but "they really miss some of the hired teen workers." </p><p>In the end, I found 39 cases of injury or death over the last year and a half involving 12- to 15-year-olds working in agriculture. About a third—11 in all—worked on their parents' property and would not have been protected under the proposed rules, which contained an exemption for kids working on a family farm. But at least 12 kids under 16 were injured and four died doing tasks that would have been prohibited under the rules. An important contribution to the list came from California’s workers’ compensation board, which sent over brief, anonymous summaries of 16 relevant injury claims. But the cases I gathered don’t reflect the other states that advocates say are likely to have the highest number of young farmworkers: Texas, Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina and Washington State.</p><p>The cases I did find included 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an Amish boy from Deer Grove, Illinois, who was killed in July 2012. According to the sheriff's report, Kropf died after he leaned from his seat atop a tall, tractor-like vehicle called a High-Boy to pull the tassels off a stalk of corn, fell and was crushed under the vehicle's wheel. According to local press reports, OSHA officials arrived at the scene but left because there were fewer than ten workers on the farm, which meant they lacked jurisdiction. (The same was true of the farm where Michael Steele was working last July.) I also learned about Cleason Nolt, 14, a member of a Mennonite community in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, who died along with his father and older brother: all three drowned in a manure pit while working as contractors in May 2012. Another preventable death was that of 18-year-old Kyle Beck of Wauseon, Ohio, who was killed when he fell beneath a wagon full of grain that was being pulled by a 15-year-old driving a tractor, which would not have been allowed under the proposed rules.</p><p>And in April 2013, there was the death of 14-year-old Enrique Lopez. [<em>Names have been changed at the request of the family.</em>]</p><p class="dropcap">Enrique started learning early in life how to be a grown-up. His immigrant mother worked long hours at a warehouse sorting potatoes to support her two boys—and when her older son returned to Mexico, Enrique wanted to help her. "He always thought of everyone else first," his mother told me in Spanish. "When we lived alone, I used to come in from work late, and he used to save food for me. Sometimes I worked from 4 <span>pm</span> until 2 o’clock in the morning, and he would get up at two and say, '<em>Mami</em>, there’s pizza in the microwave.'" Enrique also wanted to take care of her financially, she said. "I used to give him $20 for Sundays, and then when we would go to the grocery store, he would pull it out his wallet to pay!"</p><p>In 2011, his mother moved in with her partner Miguel, an immigrant from Michoacan, who has worked for the past seven years as a hired hand at a cattle ranch in Idaho. The reserved, hard-working Miguel and the cheerful, charismatic Enrique got along, and the three shared a one-bedroom house on the ranch for which, Miguel said, the owner did not charge rent. In their little home, Enrique occupied a place of honor: he had the sole bedroom to himself, with a double bed on which he would stretch out to do his homework. His mother and stepfather slept on two foam-upholstered benches in the living room. </p><p>His parents said Enrique worked with Miguel on the ranch, feeding the cows, moving the heavy irrigation lines from field to field, and helping Miguel drive a truck to pull the alfalfa. They said he seemed eager to take on more responsibility on the farm. "He watched me, asked me questions, and that's how he learned" to drive a stick-shift pickup, Miguel said. Enrique drove without a license—but Ric Anderson, the sheriff of Caribou County, Idaho, observes that this is typical. "Rural America," he says. "If you're 8 years old and you can drive a truck on the family ranch, you're driving the truck. Is that good, bad? It's part of the culture."</p><p>The ranch where the family lives is nestled deep in a lush Idaho valley surrounded by mountains that appear purple, until the clouds part to let through ladders of sunlight. The soil is black, rich in minerals from nearby springs feeding the Bear and Portneuf rivers. The potatoes that grow in this region—the ones Enrique irrigated—are legendarily delicious.</p><p>One Saturday in April, Enrique evidently had trouble starting up one of the farm's pickups. What happened next is something of a mystery. The sheriff's report puts three pickup trucks in the yard: a Dodge, a Chevy with a heavy steel flatbed—"We'll call it a one-ton flatbed," Sheriff Anderson says—and a Ford. A farm dog was inside the cab of one of the trucks.</p><p>Enrique somehow got smashed between the one-ton Chevy and the side of the Dodge. He died there, pinned upright. Miguel, unable to reach him on his cellphone, went to the yard and found Enrique, already dead. The officer who reported to the scene wrote in his statement: "Appears that the chev pickup would not start so [Enrique] hooked both vehicles together and was trying to pull the chev pickup back some how [Enrique] ended up pinned between the two vehicles, it is unknown if the dog knocked the transmission into neutral in the chev." He then describes walking over to Enrique, whose mother was holding up his body. "I could tell…that he had been dead for some time," he wrote.</p><p>Enrique's work arrangement was informal: his parents told the sheriff that the rancher gave Miguel extra money in his paycheck because Enrique helped him. Yet Enrique would have been covered under all workplace safety rules, according to Mary Miller, an occupational health nurse and child labor specialist at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. "If someone is doing productive work for an employer, particularly a for-profit employer," she says, "then they must be treated as an employee." </p><p>OSHA opened an investigation at the ranch and last month published its preliminary findings, which cite eight violations of safety rules, six of them "serious," for a total of $8,500 in fines. OSHA's findings don’t mention that 14-year-old Enrique was handling the massive trucks alone; because the updates to the hazardous occupations rules were withdrawn, such work remains legal for kids like him. But there is support for his family's claim that Enrique was employed on the farm in the smallest of the fines: $500 for the failure to record a fatality as a work-related death.</p><p class="dropcap">Michael Steele and Enrique Lopez were both outgoing and popular, and their deaths hit their communities hard. Enrique's high school organized a memorial service for him and devoted space in the yearbook to his memory. Students had rubber bracelets imprinted with his name. Traces of grief for Michael appear online: the Facebook memorial page that his mother set up for him has 866 "likes." Both boys were big for their age, responsible, and had their eyes set on the future. Perhaps the adults in their lives—parents and employers alike—were convinced that they could do many of the things that men do. Indeed, they were highly capable kids. But they weren't men. </p><p>The lack of reliable information on kids like Michael and Enrique became even more glaring when I began looking for nonfatal injuries, which usually aren't covered in the press. The local newspaper item on Andy Mink, 15, who was hospitalized after being hit by a commercial truck as he drove a tractor for his summer job out on a Missouri road last July, was a rarity. California's list of 16 workers' compensation incidents involving kids under 16 included lacerations, sprains and even anaphylactic shock. I asked Barbara Lee, director of the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, based at Wisconsin's Marshfield Clinic, why there was no national database of injuries to young farmworkers. "Because there's no federal agency charged with doing this," she replies. "We have different federal agencies collecting different types of data. But this particular situation falls through the cracks." She said that every three to four years, the center receives estimates from NIOSH's survey of injuries that occur on farms and then does its best to extrapolate the risks to children.</p><p>But those NIOSH surveys produce only estimates, based on voluntary reporting by farmers. "They only ask about direct hires," says Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch. "You have a whole category of children who work through contractors just like adults do. But you also have a whole other category of children who may or may not be legal to work—some are working who are underage on large farms, and some who might be legal age to work but who are not working on the books, who are out there with their parents." Enrique was one of these, working off the books at his stepdad's side.</p><p>In the Marshfield Clinic's 2012 report, "Blueprint for Protecting Children in Agriculture," Lee and her co-authors discuss the problem of evidence. "Since there are no 'official’ national injury and fatality data, goals and strategies for the future are based on the best available evidence…. In some cases, news clippings are the only methods used to track fatal and serious childhood agricultural injuries." It's impossible not to conclude that incidents are being missed. "It would be very valuable" to have accurate numbers, Lee tells me, "because if we could get a very clear picture of how young people are being injured, we'd be in a better position to intervene and suggest what can be done to minimize their injuries." </p><p class="dropcap">Even if good data can be obtained, Labor Department officials who still hope to expand protections for farmworker children will need to address what Sheriff Anderson referred to as "the culture": that is, agricultural employers and rural residents who don't want to be told they have to do things differently, even in the name of safety. Every September in rural Idaho, Enrique's mother told me, with school in session, you see "skinny little girls with a 50-pound sack of potatoes" and young boys, like her son, driving vehicles without a license. "Farmers like to do things their way," says Ellen Heywood, program coordinator at the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health. "And by gum, they are not going to put on a mask if they don't want to. They're a hard group to get to do things safely, until somebody dies."</p><p>Mary Miller, of Washington State's Department of Labor and Industries, agrees that any new regulations on farmwork are a tough sell." There's this whole concept of agricultural exceptionalism. It's part of the agrarian myth. They've historically been exempt from health and safety laws, and with fewer protections in child labor, and many states are not covered under workers' comp for agricultural workers regardless of age. Certainly some employer organizations have wanted to keep it that way. The fight over the child labor rules is evidence of that."</p><p>Even parents whose children were injured or killed may not desire new safety rules. Debbie Nolt, who lost her husband and two sons in that Pennsylvania manure pit, declined to be interviewed, saying only that doing farmwork "is the most preferable way for our young men to learn work ethic and safety and responsibility. We do not wish to have a lot of regulations from the public." Rebecca Mink, whose son was hit by a truck while driving a tractor in July, likewise declined to talk about her family's experience, saying she would not support restrictions on what teens can do as workers. "We are certainly opposed" to any new regulations, she said, "and I will not be contributing to that nonsense." Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch has a different view. "Children can get skills, and work ethic, and all sorts of valuable things from work. But they should be able to do that in conditions that don't put their lives at risk or their health at risk."</p><p>Here and there, nonprofit organizations, rural clinics, labor unions and state agencies have set up outreach and education programs aimed at preventing injuries among the youngest farmworkers. But without detailed information about what is causing their injuries, experts say, it is difficult to design an appropriate response. "We are talking about the most vulnerable workers in America—young farmworkers," says Celeste Monforton, a  professor at the George Washington School of Public Health and a former OSHA official<strong>.</strong> "And we don't have a clue what is going on. We don't even have a clue whether these education programs do any good." And while Mary Miller believes that part of the challenge is "changing hearts and minds," she knows that’s not enough. "You don't just educate a hazard away," Miller says. "You also have to control the hazards and remove exposure—even if it means removing the young worker from the exposure or hazard."</p><p>The day I sat with Michael's father, at a kitchen table stacked with photo albums of his son, I asked what he would say to other parents of kids who do farmwork. "I'd definitely talk to them very highly on the safety issues," he told me. "Maybe they ought to make an age limit as far as who can drive tractors." That's exactly what the hazardous occupations rule updates would have done. Instead, they were dropped. So, for summers to come, kids like Michael and Enrique will be out working on ranches and farms, legally doing the most dangerous tasks—some of them getting injured or sick, and some dying, leaving their families to bear the pain of their loss. "My life disappeared along with my son," says Enrique's mother. "But maybe telling you all this, you being here, could help save the life of one boy or one girl. Only God knows."</p><p><em>This article was reported in partnership with the</em><a href="" target="_blank">Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute</a><em>. Research assistance: Darren Ankrom, Abbie Nehring.</em></p> Mon, 16 Dec 2013 11:42:00 -0800 Mariya Strauss, Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute 937361 at Labor Investigations Labor michael steele child labor Frankford missouri 1938 fair labor standards act agricultural labor U.S. Labor Department I Was a Child Farmworker <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A Q&amp;A with Norma Flores Lopez, director of the children in the fields campaign.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/child_farmworker.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Meet Norma Flores Lopez, director of the Children in the Fields campaign of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, or AFOP, whose job it is to advocate for children who harvest and package the food Americans buy. Food prices here stay cheap because of the labor these children provide, and yet, as Flores Lopez describes, the kids themselves must pay a heavy cost to keep those prices low. Flores Lopez, who grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers from South Texas, spoke with me about her advocacy on behalf of farmworker kids. She tells here the story of her personal journey as a child farmworker, and the work that lies ahead to help make these kids safer and to make their lives better.</p><p>Note: Child farm labor is a little-discussed topic in the US, and readers should be advised that they may find some of the statistics and working conditions Flores Lopez describes to be shocking or upsetting.</p><p><strong>MTS: Can you tell me about your work?</strong></p><p>NFL: I work at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and I’m the director of the Children in the Fields campaign. It’s an advocacy campaign on behalf of farmworker children who are trying to improve their lives.</p><p>We feel the best way to do that is to make sure they are working in safe environments, and make sure they have the same educational opportunities that any other child in America has.</p><p>Right now there are two separate laws when it comes to child labor laws in the US—there are some that cover all other industries, and a different set of laws when it comes to agriculture. And we’ve seen that [the agricultural exemption] exposes them to a lot of dangers that can hurt them in the long run and even cost them their lives.</p><p>We also have seen that a lot of these exemptions for farmworker kids, it makes the children more vulnerable to exploitation, and to wage theft and other types of abuses. Not only that, it also gets in the way of them being able to get their education.</p><p>And what we are seeing is that we have these kids that drop out of school and get trapped in this generational cycle of poverty in which they are having to work really long hours out in the field to be able to make ends meet to be able to feed their families, and have to be out there [for their careers] because they ended up not having the support they needed for their education.</p><p>So we have a grassroots component that allows us to work with kids in some of the biggest agricultural states and where there are seasonal and migrant farmworkers. And we are teaching the farmworker youth how to be the best advocates for themselves, to go out into their community and make change.</p><p><strong>MTS: So tell me about what farmworker kids—what is their daily life like? Starting when the alarm goes off, or when their parents wake them up.</strong></p><p>NFL: There are two different types of farmworkers: there’s the seasonal and the migrant.</p><p>So migrant farmworker kids typically have to get pulled out of school early, we’ve seen sometimes around April, and start school late, probably around October, back in their home state. So they leave their home state, their home base, and have to travel to various states to follow the harvest. States like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, some of the big agriculture states. And they have to wake up probably around five in the morning, get ready to go out to work in the fields. They get dressed, and sometimes there will be a bus, or a van that the grower might provide, from the camps that the migrant farmworkers end up living in, which is housing that’s provided by the grower.</p><p>They might start their workday around, say, seven o’ clock in the morning, and are out there during these pretty warm months—especially during the summers. Having to be out there eight, ten, twelve hours a day. Sometimes seven days a week without any days off. Having to go three weeks of working out in the fields without any days off because it’s during the peak harvest.</p><p>And they are out there working—you know, it’s very hard, backbreaking work. And it’s hundred-degree weather with high humidity in some of those places. Having to work with sharp tools. Having to work around dangerous chemicals. Having to work around big heavy machinery. Having to perform at the same rate as their adult coworkers, having to keep up with them. And working –you know, picking different types of harvests.</p><p>Typically where we see kids is where there’s a lot of hand harvest, for example. And so they’ll be out there till really late, sometimes until they can’t see any more. And that’s when they’ll get pulled out of the fields.</p><p>Having to have their lunch breaks out there. Maybe they get a fifteen minute lunchbreak and that’s their only break for the whole day. They don’t get to go to a nice air-conditioned break room but instead have to go out there and eat it under the bus, inside the hot bus or even outside in the fields. They grab whatever food they were able to pack up for themselves, don’t have anywhere to wash their hands, sometimes they’re not even provided with water out there even though it’s required.</p><p>Sometimes they’re given water that’s been sitting out there for days. And just to be able to drink—you know sometimes they’re provided with bathrooms. They’re really lucky when they are.</p><p>And even for those folks that are provided with a bathroom, those are bathrooms that have not been, you know, cleaned out all season. Or even had the toilet paper replenished.</p><p>And so they are out there, these kids, working all day long and then having to go back home. This tends to overlap with them being in school. Even if, let’s say, school is in session, they might go to school but then end up going to work straight after in the fields. We’ve heard of kids working in packing houses till, say, one in the morning and then expected to go back to school and pay attention and have their homework done.</p><p>Day in and day out, even if they are feeling ill, they’re still out working in the fields. Because they know that they have to contribute to the family and by missing one day, [they lose] their wages that their family needs to be able to help put food on the table.</p><p>In regard to the seasonal farmworker kids, they have lives that are similar to that. They usually don’t have to leave their homes, because they are already living in an agricultural state. But they are having to balance school and trying to work out there in the fields.</p><p>So though the [seasonal] family does not follow the harvest, they are taking advantage of those seasons that are available to them, and then just hoping for the best during the off-season, during the winter months. We’ll hear of families, when there is no agricultural work for them to do, having to depend on the local food banks to feed their families.</p><p>But in any case, their education is going to be falling behind. Especially those migrant kids who are going to be maybe three months late when they go back home, and year after year after year of having to be moved between different states and different schools, and always getting behind. Some of them are so behind that they end up having no other option but to drop out of school.</p><p><strong>MTS: Norma, what is your personal story? What was your life like growing up?</strong></p><p>NFL: I grew up in a migrant farmworker family for many generations. I and my four sisters grew up working in the fields and having to pack up our house, usually in the month of June. Sometimes we did leave a little early. We left in April, for example, so instead of finishing up the school year in South Texas where we’re from, I would have to finish up the school year for example in Michigan, where I got enrolled for that last month.</p><p>And so we would always pack up our house and have to travel, everybody inside the pickup truck. Up to about ten of us having to pack up inside the pickup truck with all of our belongings and heading up north. For the first twelve years of my life we went to Indiana, to go work in the fields there.</p><p>And when we would get to Indiana we would go to some of the housing that was provided to us by the growers. And the housing—all of us, the ten-plus family members would pack up into this small house, you know sometimes many of us piled into a single bedroom. So I was sleeping in the living room. I remember there was a bed in the living room and other people sleeping on the floor.</p><p>I remember the shower was in the basement—and it was a creepy basement, it was not one of those nice finished ones, but one of those musty ones with mice, and you know—all kinds of insects running around, and even snakes that you would see down there. But that’s where we had to go shower.</p><p>The bathrooms were outhouses that were about 500 feet away from the house, and we had to walk to it if we wanted to be able to go to the bathroom. When it was pitch black outside, or really rainy, to go to the bathroom we had to go to the outhouse.</p><p>And we lived out there in the woods, in the middle of the orchard, and in the middle of the woods. And it was hard for us to be able to get into town. We had to drive quite a distance to be able to go find groceries.</p><p>Third grade is my first memory of having to work out there in the apple orchards. And my parents – it was bringing them some of the buckets, bringing them water, getting dropped off there after school, being out there with my parents on the weekends when they couldn’t find anybody to watch us.</p><p>And slowly the work kind of picked up more and more. By the time I was twelve years old, I was allowed to legally work to be able to have my own paycheck, which of course would go to my parents. I started working, again just in the apple orchards, and then went on to work detasseling corn in the Illinois cornfields.</p><p>And eventually we ended up moving to Iowa, where the housing was chicken coops that were converted into housing for the different farmworker families.</p><p>It was typical for us to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. All of us were expected to do so, because whenever you’re living in housing that’s provided to you by the farmer, every able-bodied person needs to be out there working because that’s why they were providing you with that housing. So there was this expectation to be out there whether you were sick or not.</p><p>And that’s kind of the environment that I grew up in. As I mentioned, sometimes going out early, and even coming in late—we wouldn’t get back to South Texas until October, sometimes even up until November.</p><p>And having to go show up late to school—and I would have gone to school in Indiana—but I would show up to school with my grades and they would say, “That’s great that you were doing so well in Indiana. Unfortunately these grades don’t translate,” because each state has its own school system and its own requirements.</p><p>And so when I would be down in South Texas, I would have to make up a lot of schoolwork.</p><p>But it could happen that I would walk into the classroom and the teacher would say to me, “You unfortunately will not be able to make up big projects that are part of your grade. And so therefore there’s no way you can pass.” So essentially I was failed on my very first day of just getting there.</p><p>That is very very tough and discouraging and we do see it a lot with other farmworker kids. But you know—I kept pushing on it and eventually I was able to get my high school diploma. That was thanks to a lot of support from these programs that existed that would help farmworker families that I participated in to get that extra support and tutoring to get my high school credits that I needed to graduate. And so I graduated, went on to college, and eventually found my way to working for this nonprofit to be able to help other farmworker kids that are in my situation today.</p><p><strong>MTS: OK. Let’s back out to the big picture again. How many children are we talking about and what are their ages?</strong></p><p>NFL: There are as many as 500,000 children who work in agriculture. Out of those kids, in the US it is allowed for 12 year olds to be working out in the fields as long as school is not in session, they are allowed to go out and work an unlimited amount of hours.</p><p>Now, there are kids who work on their parents’ farm. And for those particular children, they don’t have any restrictions. They can do any type of job on a farm at any age. But the expectation is that those parents are going to watch out for their children. And that’s why the law allows for that parental exemption.</p><p>But the other kids who don’t have that path to one day owning their own farm, whose parents are farmworkers, and they are out there to be able to help their parents make ends meet—those are the ones we are the most worried about. And so these kids allowed to work out there at the age of 12, and to work an unlimited amount of hours, and that’s what we see—from sunrise to sunset those kids are really pushed to their limit.</p><p>And at the age of 16, children can start doing work that we know is dangerous, hazardous work. In every other industry these children would have to wait until they were 18 years old.</p><p>Yet we see in agriculture, our laws permit that to happen, despite the fact that we know that there are high rates of these kids getting injured. And there’s also the long-term effects of being exposed to many chemicals: we’ve seen links to Alzheimers, to defects in their development.</p><p>And so for –when it comes to pesticides, right now the EPA regulates that for an adult male. That’s what the regulations are based on. What would be “safe” levels for an adult male. They’re not taking into consideration women, and they are definitely not taking into consideration a twelve year old child, who is just developing. And the effects that that has on those children.</p><p><strong>MTS: Last question. What policy priorities will you be pushing for in the next administration?</strong></p><p>NFL: So last year, in September of 2011, the Secretary of Labor introduced updates to the list of hazardous orders, which is the list of dangerous jobs that children should not be allowed to do.</p><p>She tried to introduce that, and then unfortunately those rules were pulled. Because there was mounting pressure from the agribusiness industry. Not the folks that are moms and dads owning and operating a small farm, but these huge corporations that benefit from having kids working out there in their fields.</p><p>So we tried get this list of rules updated, because it was mostly focused on farmworker kids and keeping kids from doing things like working in tobacco fields, where right now it is allowed for 12 year olds to work in these tobacco fields and be exposed to nicotine levels as high as the equivalent of 36 cigarettes.</p><p>There’s also updates like making sure that these kids aren’t working to heights of up to 20 feet. Those kids have no training, no safety equipment, but are allowed to work at heights of 20 feet. Had those rules been updated, it would have been changed now to six feet. [The difference between ] falling from 20 feet or falling from six feet can make such a huge difference for a child, especially when there is no safety equipment or training involved.</p><p>So these were some real common ssense changes that we were hoping for. But those rules were pulled in April of 2012.</p><p>So what we want to do with this next administration is to work with the Department of Labor to focus on these particular changes that would most benefit these particular kids who are farmworkers, and see if there’s ways for us to be able to push that.</p><p>Of course we will continue to push for the CARE Act, the Childrens Act for Responsible Employment, which is a bill that has been introduced for the past ten years, and what that would do would be to equalize the child labor laws, so that these kids, these farmworker children, have the same opportunities and protections that every other child has in America.</p><p>Then of course we have our grassroots campaigns that are looking at some of the local issues and finding solutions. In North Carolina in particular, we are looking at the state level to outlaw 12 year olds working in those tobacco fields, as that’s where you’ll see a lot of these kids working. So we’re also trying to not just work with the federal agencies, but also at the state level and hopefully grow support that will reach all the way up to Washington DC.</p> Fri, 04 Jan 2013 12:27:00 -0800 Mariya Strauss, Global Comment 771500 at Labor Civil Liberties Economy Labor News & Politics Norma Flores Lopez Children in the Fields Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programschild farm labor How the Supreme Court's 'Knox v. SEIU' Decision Could Dismantle Union Security Around the Country <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In Knox v. Service Employees International Union, the Supreme Court suggests that the First Amendment is for corporations, not working people and unions.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> The Supreme Court struck at the rights of workers with the blade of the First Amendment on June 21, when it made a decision that will restrict unions’ ability to spend on elections, and could open the way for passage and court approval of a national, union-weakening, so-called "right to work" law.</p> <p> The curious case of <em>Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000</em>—in which the high court decided to throw "judicial restraint" to the wind and go beyond the questions posed in the appeals court to rule against the union—portends nothing good for workers. <i>Knox</i> restricts how unions can get money for political uses from public sector workers in a unionized shop who refuse to join the union (Garrett Epps over at the <a href="’s-scott-walker-moment">American Prospect</a> has a great description of the particulars in the case.)</p> <p> Even as unions in the private sector have seen their memberships dwindle to around 6 percent of the workforce, public sector unions (in places where they are still recognized) have remained relatively strong because they have been allowed to collect some money—albeit less than the full union-dues amount—from workers who do not want to belong to the union. The public sector union contract has to cover all the workers in the agency, not just card-carrying members-- and all the workers benefit from the resultant pay raises, health benefits, pensions and other goodies. So non-members are expected to contribute something to the direct cost of negotiations. (Workers who don’t support the union shouldn’t get to enjoy the better pay and working conditions that their union colleagues fought for, but employers haven’t historically been willing to pay people less for NOT being union members. They much prefer to bribe, cajole and threaten workers to reject the union.).</p> <p> Public sector unions have been major political players, too (see: Scott Walker’s targeting of Wisconsin’s public employee unions).This is partly because fundraising for politics has been relatively simple: with everyone’s full knowledge and ample notice given (called “Hudson notices”), a percentage of both members’ and non-members’ funds could go toward political work. Anyone could opt out of this political fund, and their money would be reimbursed.</p> <p> The Knox decision brings this practice to a screeching halt.</p> <p> Essentially, the court held two things: one, that SEIU violated those existing rules in 2005 when it forced state workers who aren't union members to pay, without the usual opt-out chance, for a one-time special political fund; and two, that even giving the money back and letting workers opt out of the political fund was still a violation of the workers' First Amendment rights. The five conservative justices, led by Justice Samuel Alito, and two concurring liberals, further held that, from now on, non-members have to specifically tell the union to take money out of their paychecks for political purposes; that is, they have to opt in.</p> <p> In a statement released the day of the decision, Sacramento, CA-based SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Jim Herron Zamora said, “Unfortunately this decision continues the attack on the right of public sector workers to act collectively to impact their workplace on important issues.” Placed alongside the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that granted corporations unlimited election fundraising superpowers as part of "free speech," the Knox ruling makes plain whose First Amendment rights the conservative justices favor in electoral politics. The AFL-CIO Thursday released a statement to this effect: “We are disturbed but not surprised,” it said, “that the conservative majority places special burdens on public sector unions in their efforts to represent working people’s economic interests through the legislative process that the Court does not apply to corporations when they spend shareholder money on politics.”</p> <p> (Imagine if, as John Nichols at t<a href="">he Nation</a> noted, “the Court had on Thursday ordered corporations, corporate groupings and corporate political action committees to get pre-approval from all shareholders before spending money on political or lobbying initiatives.” Of course they wouldn't—but unions are now expected to.)</p> <p> Even more ominously for workers, though, Alito complained that, in his view, the entire system of “agency shop”— in which all workers at a government agency must pay something even if they don’t choose to join the union— approaches violating workers’ First Amendment rights. “The justification for permitting a union to collect fees from nonmembers—to prevent them from free-riding on the union’s efforts—is an anomaly,” Alito wrote. He added that requiring nonmembers to opt out of a pre-set payment “represents a remarkable boon for unions, creating a risk that the fees nonmembers pay will be used to further political and ideological ends with which they do not agree.”</p> <p> Unions representing public workers have long argued that when workers at an agency don’t have to join or pay anything, the union’s bargaining power sustains significant damage. This weakening of unions can be seen in states like South Carolina and Alabama, where big, anti-union businesses have managed to lobby successfully for divide-and-conquer–so-called “right to work”—laws that force unions to allow workers in a given workplace to opt out of joining or paying representation costs. The resulting damage to private-sector unions has been well documented: less than 6 percent of the private-sector workforce is now unionized, down from about 33 percent in the late 1940s, when the first so-called “right to work” laws were passed in over a dozen states in the South and West.</p> <p> It all started with workers using their voting and organizing power at the height of the Great Depression. Under the Wagner Act of 1935, when you got a job in a union shop anywhere, you joined the union. This “union shop” arrangement still prevails in many places. Similarly, when workers in a shop organized into a union, everyone had to join so that the union could act as the collective bargaining agent for all the workers in that workplace. Employers were bound by law to respect the union’s role as negotiator on the workers’ behalf. Workers enjoyed about twelve years of heavy union organizing, exercising their right to strike, and having a powerful voice on the job through collective bargaining.</p> <p> Employers got scared; then they got organized. They convinced Congress to pass the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which, in addition to limiting the right to strike, permitted states to pass so-called “right to work” laws, now present in 23 states. These laws allow workers in a unionized place to decide not to join the union or pay anything toward the cost of their representation. This arrangement is known as the “open shop.”</p> <p> Under these laws, though, the union must still represent even the non-members, and the non-members still benefit from everything the union has managed to win. This drop in the portion of workers who pay something weakens the union’s bargaining position and depletes it of needed funds for things like setting up strike funds, working elections, negotiating new contracts, and providing assistance to workers in trouble. And allowing non-members to get the union's services for free makes it harder to convince anyone to sign up to voluntarily pay; why buy the cow, as the cliché goes, when you get the milk for free?</p> <p> The “agency shop” arrangement, like that used in the union featured in <i>Knox</i>, has served as a kind of compromise between union shop and “open shop” arrangements, because it allows the union to charge non-members something to cover the costs of negotiating their contract and handling grievances. Bolstered by President Reagan’s 1981 breaking of the air traffic controllers’ strike, the business community has used these laws to further erode workers’ ability to resist employers’ abuses.</p> <p> By using the First Amendment to call even the “agency shop” arrangement into question, the Supreme Court appears to be encouraging “right to work” advocates to push their agenda of forcing all workplaces to adopt “open shop” arrangements onto the national stage. (States that already operate under “right to work” have <a href="">lower wages</a> and of course, weaker unions.)</p> <p> Having tasted blood in the private sector, anti-union front groups like National Right to Work are moving in for the kill by coming after public sector union members. It would seem from the Knox decision that the Supreme Court is open to new laws that would break apart public sector unions.</p> <p> But SEIU, which represents 1.9 million public- and private-sector workers in the US, won’t be altering its ambitious election strategy one iota as a result of the <i>Knox</i> decision, according to a source at the national union headquarters. That strategy? “By Election Day, the SEIU field campaign intends to connect with voters by making 13 million phone calls, knocking on more than 3 million doors and holding more than 1 million conversations across the country, with the majority of the work focused in Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin,” the union said in a statement released June 19. In addition to these get-out-the-vote efforts, SEIU said it plans to purchase TV, radio and print ads—only now that the <i>Knox</i> decision is out, it will have to use only funds from its own members and from non-members who specifically opt-in to an elections fund.</p> <p> Whatever the success of SEIU’s efforts, it remains to be seen whether workers will allow themselves to be cut out of politics altogether by Supreme Court Justices who think the First Amendment should apply only to corporations. Maybe, as in 1935, the time is ripe for workers to make their own answers: to insist on striking a new deal with the employers—public and private— who would rather see them knuckle under and gratefully continue punching the clock for the same old poverty wages.</p> <p>  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mariya Strauss is a writer who lives in Baltimore. </div></div></div> Sun, 24 Jun 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 671370 at News & Politics News & Politics Labor labor unions court right-to-work supreme War On Women Extends to Their Paychecks: Senate Republicans Refuse to Pass Paycheck Fairness Act <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Paycheck Fairness Act would give women a shot at making the same as men for the same work--but the Senate GOP wouldn&#039;t even allow a vote on it.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> Imagine a country where men don't out-earn women by almost 25%. Where parents are able to hug their daughters and tell them to aim for the moon because they might just get there. Where employers can't get away with answering women who show they’ve been getting paid less than the men with a silent shrug of the shoulders. You have just imagined Canada and Australia. Now imagine it happening in the US, where Census numbers from 2008 show that women made 77 cents on the dollar compared to men for doing the same work.</p> <p> Backed by an array of women's rights organizations, Congressional Democrats—currently led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate-- have been trying to make equal pay for American women a reality since 2005. President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, the first sweeping gender pay equity law, in 1963. That's forty-nine years the Equal Pay Act has gone without an update. The Paycheck Fairness Act, Mikulski and DeLauro’s bill that would provide the necessary updates, came close to passing in 2009 and 2010, when it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.</p> <p> But last Tuesday, June 5, all Senate Republicans voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act as one, like the Borg using the power of collective thought to liquidate the entire Starfleet armada. The final tally of "Yea" votes was 52, eight votes shy of the number needed to overcome a filibuster.</p> <p> Re-applying her lipstick as a battle-hardened field general for American working women, an "enormously disappointed" Mikulski told the press after the vote that "we will be back. Though we lost the vote today, we are not giving up." Mikulski told women interested in seeing equal pay for equal work to "suit up" for the next Congress. There, she plans to introduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, which first went to Congress in 2009, again.</p> <p> Fatima Goss Graves is vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, a Washington, DC-based group that advocates for equal pay and other economic policies for women. “When the public is told about this bill, they like it and they understand it,” she said, adding that she supports Mikulski’s view that reintroducing the bill yet again is the right move. “When you have something that when polled is extraordinarily popular, and has come so close to becoming law, it warrants bringing to the floor pretty frequently.”</p> <p> The Paycheck Fairness Act would update the 1964 Equal Pay Act in a few major ways.It would force employers to cite a “business reason” for paying unequal wages to men and women. Under current law, employers don’t even have to give a specific reason.</p> <p> “Opponents of the bill have tried to make a lot of hay out of that change,” Goss Graves said. But, she went on, making employers give a “business reason,” rather than some vague other reason, for paying one all-female group of workers less, is similar to what is required under other civil rights laws. “This is something that should be familiar to these employers,” she said.</p> <p> The Paycheck Fairness Act would make it illegal for an employer to retaliate against someone for asking about the employer’s wage practices or disclosing their own wages. “Right now,” said Goss Graves, “women can get fired for simply talking about wages.”</p> <p> It would allow workers to sue employers for damages resulting from pay discrimination on the basis of sex. For instance, if a woman was fired for asking about her employer’s wage practices, and then she had to move to a new city to get another job, she may be able to claim that she was injured by the employer and could be awarded an amount corresponding to that injury, not just the current limit of two years’ worth of back pay.</p> <p> It would bring the Equal Pay Act of 1964 into line with other civil rights statutes that employers must follow, putting pay discrimination against women on par with pay discrimination against other groups. Goss Graves put it this way: “It makes no sense that sex-based discrimination would be treated differently from other types of discrimination.”</p> <p> Summarizing the Paycheck Fairness Act, Goss Graves said it “would make employees more aware of when discrimination is occurring, and give them more ways to challenge it when it occurs.”</p> <p> “For employers,” Goss Graves added, “it would provide the right incentives for them to properly correct pay inequities in the workplace.” Indeed, some in the business community agree that the bill is needed. “Certainly, women-owned businesses have backed this bill,” said Goss Graves. “There certainly are business-related groups that have supported it.”</p> <p> Organized labor also wanted the bill to pass, predictably—but unions may also have seen the vote as a way to publicly shame Congressional GOP members about their record of voting against women’s rights. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler wrote in an op-ed on the website, “Tuesday’s vote will show whether many in the Republican Party are really serious when they say they are not conducting a war against women. “</p> <p> Much was made among women’s rights groups of the 2009 passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which yanked open the window of time women have to file claims of gender-based pay discrimination. It effectively gave women greater access to the courts to redress the unequal pay situations at their workplaces. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader bill, addressing, among other things, workers’ own awareness of pay inequity. “People often aren’t even aware of what they’ve lost because of pay discrimination,” said Goss Graves.</p> <p> Raising awareness among the public about the need for the Paycheck Fairness Act is exactly what Goss Graves said she plans to do until it is re-introduced in the next Congress. “As always, we’re going to continue to educate the public about this issue,” she said. “We have not given up on the possibility of this moving forward.”</p> <p> In the interim, however, she said that there is “a range of things” the Obama administration can do to advance the rights of women in the workplace, short of Congressional passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. One thing the Department of Labor can do now, she said, is to re-institute a survey it used to do of federal contractors to uncover pay inequities among them. “It was a part of the Department of Labor’s practices over ten years ago,” said Goss Graves. “The compensation survey will provide [the Department of Labor] with the right sort of information to allow it to have more rigorous enforcement of federal contractors.”</p> <p> Meanwhile, Goss Graves echoed Mikulski’s disappointment in the absence of Republicans willing to break party lines to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act, and laid the blame squarely on the voting system in the Senate. “There is no question that a handful of people can stop something like this from going forward,” she said. “That’s a problem.”</p> <p>  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mariya Strauss is a writer who lives in Baltimore. </div></div></div> Sat, 09 Jun 2012 00:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 671139 at News & Politics News & Politics Labor Gender Economy war republicans women equal fairness equity pay mikulski paycheck graves fatima Pre-Kindergarten for All? Not By a Longshot <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Which states are walking the walk when it comes to funding pre-K programs -- and which are lagging far behind?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1338776707_shutterstock102171040.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Trying to guess which states fund pre-K adequately is like going on "Jeopardy" with no preparation—it’s easy to draw a blank. But for the 1.3 million children in public pre-kindergarten classes around the country, it's a more than a game: live in the wrong state, and you may not have access to these crucial programs at all. </p> <p>Pre-Kindergarten is a rare find in the world of schooling; it comes backed by such strong evidence of its effectiveness that it finds champions in every corner. Republicans and Democrats, state, local and federal lawmakers alike admit that, as senior policy analyst Karen Schulman of the <a href="">National Women's Law Center</a> puts it, pre-K has "all sorts of positive effects." Several high-quality, long-range studies have been done, Schulman says, "documenting both short-term impacts in the childrens' performance in school, and then seeing them do better in life. They have higher earnings, they get better jobs, they are less likely to be involved with crime." </p> <p>The positive results of pre-K are so universally accepted that it seems like they would be a guaranteed investment for public education budgets. Yet in these economically precarious times, some states are indeed placing pre-K on the budget chopping block—while others are doing their best to fund, expand and improve it.</p> <p>A <a href="">new report</a> from the <a href="">National Institute on Early Education Research</a> (NIEER) offers a revealing look at which states lead the pack in pre-K funding, and which states are falling behind. There’s no easily discernible pattern among states that prioritize pre-K funding and those that don't; each state has its own story to tell, and some of the states one might expect to see at the bottom of the funding list because of high poverty rates and a smaller tax base, like West Virginia and Alabama, actually perform very well.</p> <p>So which state takes the cake when it comes to funding public pre-K? It turns out that New Jersey, which spends about $11,000 per child enrolled in a full-time pre-K program (nearly three times the national per-child average), is first in the country in terms of its investment in early education. Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maryland are also putting serious money into pre-K, and ranked within the top five in overall pre-K spending in the NIEER report. So did West Virginia. </p> <p>But even as these states commit precious resources to our youngest students, a troubling trend has revealed itself. Despite the fact that early education experts are sounding a persistent call for more pre-K program – and notwithstanding an increase in total enrollment (which has risen a percentage point or two each year, from 22 percent of all 4-year-olds enrolled in 2007 to 28 percent in 2011) – overall state spending on pre-K per child is steadily declining. Given that several long-term studies have shown that pre-K is critical to ensuring positive outcomes for children later in life, these spending cuts are dismaying to observers who view funding for pre-K as a bellwether for how states are prioritizing families and education overall.</p> <p>“We're sort of hitting a roadblock right now with where states are” in terms of funding for pre-K, said Schulman, who studies pre-K and other policy trends affecting women and families. “This is a time when [families] need more supports and yet the supports are being undercut at the state and federal levels.” </p> <p>Indeed, many programs have depended on funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the stimulus package passed in 2009 that funneled billions of dollars directly toward preserving education systems in the states. The NIEER report notes that “Without ARRA, per child spending would have dropped to $4054... the lowest amount since NIEER began collecting data a decade ago.” But ARRA funds are running out, and the report confirms that in some states “this spending has not been replaced.”</p> <p>So with funding drying up left and right, how did New Jersey manage to out-fund everyone else? Thank the New Jersey Supreme Court: unlike most other states, New Jersey’s pre-K was established following a <a href="">1998 state Supreme Court case</a> on equity in the schools. “There was a ruling that said preschool is part of ensuring equity,” explained Schulman. “So for the low-income school districts that were part of that lawsuit, preschool became mandated. They had a judge overseeing it and enforcing certain quality requirements.” Nearly 15 years later, the New Jersey program remains robustly funded; the state’s budget-cutting forces have so far kept their blades away from pre-K even as ARRA funds disappear.   </p> <p>But funding alone doesn’t make pre-K work, so in addition to quantifying and ranking the size of states’ monetary investments in pre-K programs, the NIEER report also evaluates the quality of the programs, using benchmarks like minimum degree requirements for teachers, whether state inspectors conduct site visits, and whether a program provides at least one meal per day to determine their ranking. Which states performed best in meeting these benchmarks? Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and one program in Louisiana. In fact, if you live in Pennsylvania or California, you should know that Alabama outperformed your state in both funding and quality of pre-K programs.</p> <p>California and Texas, two of the most populous states, are listed in the report as being “among those where funding is a major concern.” California, which doles out funds to pre-K programs through a competitive process but leaves quality standards up to local control, also fell to the bottom five in the quality of its programs. </p> <p>At least they’re trying. Eleven states, on the other hand, had no state-funded pre-K program at all: Arizona (which eliminated its only program last year), Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.</p> <p><strong>Where It’s Working – And Why It May Not Last: A Closer Look at Maryland and Illinois </strong></p> <p>As these states struggle to pass a cent in the direction of pre-K programs, Maryland and Illinois are two states that have indeed found success harnessing funding for these critical services. A closer look reveals how each has managed to achieve state support for pre-K – as well as the difficulty of maintaining funding in these tough economic times. </p> <p><strong>Maryland</strong></p> <p>Maryland, which ranks third overall in funding for pre-K and 12th in access to it for 4-year-olds, has ensured steady funding for its programs by tying it to funding for K-12 education. Binding the fate of pre-K with that of K-12 education has had some benefit for kids in the state: half of all 4-year-olds in Maryland now attend some type of state-funded education program.</p> <p>The link Maryland has forged between pre-K programs and the K-12 education system not just financial – it’s physical, as well. “With very few exceptions, [the pre-K programs] are all in elementary schools,” said Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent in the Maryland Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Development. This approach differs from the trend in other states, where pre-K programs are often housed in child-care centers or community-based programs that provide a range of other services for families and children. </p> <p>Grafwallner says that in Maryland, “The long-term plan is what we would call preschool for all. A universal preschool approach,” with the state expanding its pre-K and child care subsidy offerings to cover all children, not just those from low-income households, as it does at present. Grafwallner notes that his department is currently piloting 10 such comprehensive programs in various parts of the state. </p> <p>But those big plans may come up against harsh economic realities; like most states, Maryland faces budget shortfalls because of the recession, and while only one county so far has had to cut back its pre-K offerings, it isn’t yet clear what the next few years will hold for pre-K in the state.</p> <p><strong>Illinois</strong></p> <p>Sessy Nyman, vice president for policy and strategic partnership at <a href="">Illinois Action for Children</a>, says her state uses a block grant to fund its version of pre-K—called Preschool for All— together with funding services for infants and toddlers. “That’s really intentional on our part,” she says of their strategic combination of funding sources. “We have a set-aside, so that for every dollar that's set aside for pre-K, 11 percent is set aside for birth-to-3. It became a really important funding stream for birth-to-3 services.” </p> <p>Unlike Maryland’s focus on school-based programs, Nyman said, Illinois Action for Children has pushed successfully to house pre-K programs in both schools and community-based organizations for young children and families, like child care or community centers. “Preschool for All is a two-and-a-half hour a day program,” she said, explaining that the state-funded child-care provided at these centers is a necessity along with pre-K. “Most low-income people don't work Monday through Friday mornings and get afternoons and summers off. We understand the realities of low-income families whose children need early learning opportunities, so we advocate for it to be available where children already are.”  </p> <p>The NIEER report shows this approach is paying off in terms of providing access to programs: though Illinois ranks 15th in access to pre-K for 4-year-olds, it comes in first in access for 3-year-olds. (That’s out of 24 states with preschool programs serving 3-year-olds.)</p> <p>But Illinois’ pre-K funding has been chopped back painfully in recent years, leaving it struggling along at number 32 in the country for overall spending, according to the report. The recent cuts also turn the state’s goal of serving all 3- and 4-year-olds by the end of 2012 into a distant mirage. “We are suffering under the budget crunch,” explained Nyman. “Not only do we have decreased funding for the program, but we have programs [that have been providing services all year] that haven't gotten a dime.” Nyman said that the state legislature has proposed more cuts to early childhood services, and some tough choices will need to be made if the state wants to keep pre-K and other early childhood programs operating.</p> <p>“How do we turn the ship around in harbor?” she said. “It becomes really hard to work yourself out of this mess. </p> <p>“We're right now borrowing from community based organizations in the form of nonpayment,” she added. “My fear is that the fallout, from not only funding decreases but also this cash flow issue of unpaid bills, is going to have a much longer legacy in terms of our ability to service at-risk kids.”</p> <p>So how can a state like Illinois become more like New Jersey? What will it take for states to begin funding pre-K and child-care more robustly?</p> <p>“I think it just needs to be seen as a real priority by states,” said NWLC’s Karen Schulman. “And [for them] to recognize that this is a real investment. It helps families by providing their children with a secure place to be, and then they can work and earn income. It increases their chances for success in school which will make them more productive in the future. It helps our whole economy.”</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mariya Strauss is a writer who lives in Baltimore. </div></div></div> Mon, 04 Jun 2012 01:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 671059 at News & Politics Education education funding pre-k nieer Over 100 Children a Year Die Working On Farms: Why Do Prominent Right-Wingers Fight Safety Regulations? <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A former child farmworker and other activists are working to bring farmworker kids out of the shadows and get them the same protections as kids in other industries.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Norma Flores López has a calm, musical voice that frequently bubbles over with laughter, but she speaks with electrifying urgency when it comes to the plight of kids who work in agriculture. She knows firsthand about the brutal heat, dizzyingly high ladders, dangerous equipment and lack of safety protections they face: Flores López spent much of her teen years picking crops alongside her family as a migrant farmworker.</p> <p>"When I was asked to go up on a ladder to pick apples, I wasn't given any safety training, any safety equipment, I was told just to go over there and get that ladder," said Flores López, who now directs the Children in the Fields campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) in Washington, DC. Flores López, who went on to earn a bachelor's degree, also serves as chair of the Domestic Issues committee for the Child Labor Coalition. Helping to protect farmworker kids is her vocation--but it's a particularly tough one these days.</p> <p>On April 26, the US Department of Labor announced that it was <a href="">scrapping</a> what Flores López and other child farmworker advocates thought was going to be "a natural process" of updating the safety rules for kids working in agriculture. These rules had been proposed without fanfare in September 2011 as a farm labor version of the safety rules for kids in non-agricultural industries the Labor Department put out in 2010.</p> <p>Sally Greenberg, co-director of the National Consumer League’s Child Labor Coalition, a network of organizations pushing to protect children in the workplace, is still fuming at the Labor Department’s decision to withdraw the rules. Calling it “a devastating setback,” Greenberg said, “The forces of misinformation and distortion won out," and “riled up a lot of people and got them very frightened--falsely--about the impact of these rules." Greenberg is referring to what a Labor Department spokesperson described as “an overwhelming number of comments on this, largely folks pushing back” on the rules.</p> <p>The comments came, Greenberg said, mainly from growers' groups like the American Farm Bureau (a right-wing growers’ association) expressing fear that the new rules would be so hard to put into practice that they would effectively keep farmers' kids from working on their own parents' farms.</p> <p>That was never a real threat, says Flores López, who adds that the updates were intended to protect children and teens of migrant farmworkers in rural communities who “are out there out of necessity and are pushing themselves harder than any child should, all out of the need to help make ends meet.”</p> <p>A May 11 <em>Washington Post</em> article about the political forces that led to the rules being yanked confirms that the so-called “parental exemption” allowing kids of any age to work on their family’s own farm would have remained intact under the new rules. The growers’ groups’ main objection to the rules, then—which led to the intervention of high-profile members of Congress like Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who the same article suggests may be on Mitt Romney’s short list for running mate—was based on false information.</p> <p>In fact, said Mary E. Miller, child labor specialist for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the rules would have updated existing safety rules for kids working in agriculture that have not seen an update since 1970. NIOSH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's workplace safety and health arm, "came out with a fabulous report in 2002 with lots of updates for the child labor regulations," said Miller. "A bunch had to do with non-agricultural labor," she added, and those updated rules took effect in July of 2010. So, Miller continued, "The next obvious item was to update the agricultural child labor safety rules."</p> <p>The existing safety rules allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in hazardous conditions in agriculture, but not in other industries. They allow kids as young as 12 to work in the fields, picking crops like tobacco, which can cause serious health problems. “So we don't allow them to buy cigarettes until they are 18, yet we allow them to work in those fields as young as 12,” Flores López said.</p> <p>The updates would have included preventing kids aged 12-17 from working in hazardous conditions--like up on the high ladders Flores López had to use--and with heavy equipment like tractors. Miller explains that tractors "cause the most deaths for workers of all ages" in agriculture. Yet, Miller said, she routinely sees kids aged 14 or 15 driving tractors after receiving "one single training course."</p> <p>And kids do die while working in agriculture. "Between 1995 and 2002 there were an estimated 907 youth that died on American farms," said Flores López, citing NIOSH's data. "That's well over 100 preventable deaths each year." For young workers under the age of 16, agriculture production accounted for almost 60 percent of deaths in this age group, and 79 percent of all work-related deaths for youth ages 10 or younger occurred in agriculture, according to a 2006 report in the <em>Journal of Agromedicine</em>.</p> <p>Many of these deaths occurred while the kids worked in some of the hazardous environments the new rules would have made off-limits, said Flores López. The updated rules would, among other things, “keep kids from working in manure pits, in grain silos,” said Flores López. Grain silos are particularly deadly places to work for workers of all ages: in one high-profile case from 2010, two youths, Wyatt Whitehead, 14, and Alejandro Pacas, 19, were trapped and asphyxiated inside a grain silo in Mount Carroll, IL. In another case in 2009, 17-year-old Cody Rigsby died after being buried alive in a grain silo in Haswell, CO. The proposed rule updates would have prohibited working in and around grain silos at any time for youth under 16 on farms and for all youth in commercial grain handling.</p> <p>Why aren’t these deaths and grievous injuries causing much public outcry? “Farmworker kids are kept in the shadows and forgotten,” said Greenberg, “and nobody cares all that much about them.” Human Rights Watch is one watchdog group that does care about them. It has put together a comprehensive report on the subject, called <em>Fields of Peril</em>, that documents the problem of kids under 17 working unsafely in agriculture in the US. On May 7, nearly two weeks after the updated rules were withdrawn, Human Rights Watch published a scathing op-ed in <em>The Hill</em> that re-stated the problem in concrete terms:</p> <blockquote> <p>“Nationwide,” it said, “hundreds of thousands of kids this year will cut the roots off onions, hoe cotton, climb tall ladders to pick oranges and apples, and drive tractors. If the past is a guide, some will be injured, some will be maimed, and some will die.”</p></blockquote> <p>In the absence of updated safety rules, Flores López and her fellow advocates say they will have to fall back on their long-term strategy: promoting best practices in child safety in agriculture, building a grassroots movement to protect farmworker kids and working to get the CARE Act passed.</p> <p>CARE, or Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, would change and update the regulations governing child labor in agriculture to make them more closely match those governing child labor in all other industries. Right now, explained Miller, child labor regulations for agriculture are a jumble of outdated safety rules, enforcement, and penalties for negligent growers and farmers. “Historically, anyone can see that the protections for kids in agriculture have lagged behind the ones for non-agricultural [sectors],” she said.</p> <p>The CARE Act, which features increased fines for child safety violations, stronger safety rules and raised age minimums for working in hazardous conditions and with heavy equipment, would “help better protect farmworker kids by making sure that all kids receive the same protections whether they work in agriculture or not,” said Flores López.</p> <p>“We need a groundswell” of support to help protect farmworker kids, said Greenberg. “We need parents whose kids have been injured and killed to come forward and say this is not how children in America should be treated and we should be taking every step possible to keep them safe.”</p> <p>Flores López agrees. “We need for there to be more discussion and more conversation around this issue,” she said, especially among consumers buying food at the market. “It's very difficult right now for us to be able to trace whether food includes child labor--it's not part of the American consciousness. People don't think to ask.”</p> <p>The Labor Department spokesperson said the Department does intend to work with “those on both sides” to “develop public education programs that will hope to meet the initial objectives of ensuring the safety of young people working in agriculture.”</p> <p>As frustrating as the safety rules update setback was for Flores López, she is not giving up on the process. “We're going to continue to find ways to work with the administration on ways to protect kids,” she said. “Our work is not done--as long as there are children out there that continue to be put in a vulnerable position."</p> <p>“I’m totally in favor of kids working,” said Miller, “but it has to be age-appropriate and well-supervised. It's about finding a balance—we are the adults that have to look after the children. They have no voice, they can't vote. We have to keep them from becoming an issue related to political self-interest.”</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mariya Strauss is a writer who lives in Baltimore. </div></div></div> Sun, 13 May 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 670764 at News & Politics Labor Food labor child work agriculture children workers kids farmworkers ayotte Grassroots Movement for Paid Sick Days for Workers Picking Up Steam Across the Country <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A broad coalition across the country is fighting--and winning--battles for workers&#039; right to stay home when they&#039;re ill.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It may seem like a no-brainer: get sick, stay home from work. But 44 million American workers do not get paid sick days from their employers, according to Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values at Work, a 16-state consortium that advocates for family-friendly work policies. In tough economic times, many workers simply cannot afford to stay out of work until they get well. Some employers will even fire workers for taking time off when they or their kids are sick, Bravo said.</p> <p>“Bad [economic] times are the worst time to lose your job because you're being a good parent,” said Bravo. “We can't say we [as a nation] care about family values, and have those values end at the workplace door.”</p> <p>Discontent with the lack of a coordinated policy on paid sick time has reached an unprecedented level. Groups of workers across the country say they've had it with being forced to show up sick to work. <a href="">Restaurant Opportunity Centers</a> (ROC) policy director Jose Oliva agrees that a change is needed. “Over two thirds of restaurant workers go to work sick,” he said, “because they can't afford not to go to work.” </p> <p>City- and state-based coalitions representing consumers, families, seniors, and other sectors of the general public are saying they've had enough germs in their restaurant food and enough of seeing their own kids get sick from contact at school with other sick kids whose parents must work rather than stay home with them. “It's a public health hazard to have workers work sick,” said Oliva.</p> <p>Places that have paid sick days laws so far include:</p> <ul><li>Philadelphia, where the city council voted 15-2 on Oct. 13  to mandate paid sick days for workers whose employers have contracts with the city or apply for city subsidies;</li> <li>San Francisco, where voters approved a citywide ordinance in 2006 giving workers the right to accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked;</li> <li>Washington, DC, which adopted paid sick days in 2008, adding “safe” days for survivors of domestic violence, but excluding restaurant workers and workers in their first year of employment;</li> <li>Seattle, where the city council approved a strong paid sick days law Sept. 12 and the mayor signed it Sept. 23; and</li> <li>Connecticut, which on Jan. 1, 2012 will become the first state to implement a paid sick days law.</li> </ul><p>Research groups, including ROC and think tanks like the Denver-based <a href="">Bell Policy Center</a>, have conducted studies showing that restaurants and other businesses tend to see improved worker retention, and that local economies thrive after starting to give workers paid time off for illnesses.</p> <p>Bravo cited a September 2011 <a href="">study of San Francisco’s economy</a>  by the women’s rights think tank Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “We now have the evidence,” said Bravo. “San Francisco has had paid sick days for four years. Job growth in that county is stronger than in the surrounding counties without paid sick days.”  </p> <p>But some business associations still oppose paid sick days, saying such laws impose too much of a burden on employers.</p> <p>Time—and battles over paid sick days legislation in places like Seattle and Denver—will tell whether such public support can build the kind of momentum that will be needed to overcome the lobbying efforts of these business groups and make paid sick days the law of the land.</p> <p><strong>The Slow Spread of Paid Sick Leave</strong></p> <p>In city after city, state after state, groups of people--senior citizens' groups, black and Latino advocacy groups, small business owners, public health professionals, labor unions, parents' groups, anti-poverty groups--are teaming up to push for local laws requiring employers to give workers at least a few paid sick days a year. Bravo’s group, Family Values at Work, is helping to coordinate and advise the local groups, and is pushing Congress to pass a national paid sick days law called the Healthy Families Act.</p> <p>"I'll be happy when no one in the United States has to choose between the job they need and the family they love," said Bravo. "When no one has to choose between their health or the health of a loved one on one hand, and financial security on the other." Bravo's impassioned argument has the weight of public opinion behind it: a July 2011 survey of Connecticut voters found that over 70 percent approve of the paid sick days law that passed there on July 5. Support for paid sick days is gaining strength at the grassroots level, so even though FVAW is helping to coordinate a national campaign for the policy, it is the local coalitions that are slugging it out against big business associations in city council meetings and at ballot boxes.</p> <p><strong>Seattle</strong></p> <p>In Seattle, WA, the City Council voted eight to one on Sept. 12 and the mayor signed the bill Sept. 23. to require all employers to provide paid sick days.</p> <p>“It was just a wonderful, exciting campaign that ended in a glorious victory,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI). Watkins estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 people in the city will benefit from the new law, "a lot of [them in] the service sector where the norm is to not provide any paid leave."</p> <p>ROC has studied the issue in the restaurant industry, Oliva said, and its findings confirm Watkins’ observation. “We've done extensive research,” he said, “Over 8,000 surveys. What we have found is that over 90 percent of restaurant workers do not get paid sick days.”</p> <p>Watkins said a broad coalition of advocacy groups, small business owners, labor unions, and community organizations came together to craft a more robust paid sick days law than the ones that had been passed in other cities like Washington, DC and San Francisco. She called it “a collaborative process,” and said that one important element in getting Seattle’s law passed was that “compromise was in the writing of the bill rather than waiting for the adversarial process” of  bargaining at the City Council meetings.</p> <p>Watkins said the coalition’s massive on-the-ground organizing effort paid off. “We had a very large and engaged coalition that was really capable of engaging grassroots involvement,” she said. “We heard from [councilmember] staffs that nobody could remember a City Council issue where every councilmember was getting phone calls, where at every event we were able to pack the halls with people who wanted to demonstrate their support.”  </p> <p>Opposition to the paid sick days legislation did come, but it wasn’t enough to counteract the support the coalition had built, Watkins said. She said the bill’s opponents were “established business associations—the Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Association—that tend to take an ideological stance against paid sick days. People who are used to having their say in City Hall, and used to being able to have individual conversations with the mayor and city councilmembers and get their way.”</p> <p>Despite such opposition, said Watkins, “we were able to prevail with a really strong bill.”</p> <p><strong>Denver</strong></p> <p>Denver, CO is the latest city to host a paid sick days campaign. There, said Labor Project for Working Families policy director Carol Joyner, voters will decide Nov. 1 on a ballot initiative that would require employers to provide paid sick days.</p> <p>Oliva said the Restaurant Opportunity Center is watching the Denver situation closely. “For us Denver is particularly interesting,” he said, “because the restaurant industry has been playing the usual game of  [saying] ‘you're going to destroy the restaurant industry in Denver if this law passes.’ We now have been able to counter that argument by having restaurant owners from places like San Francisco and DC where there are already paid sick days laws on the books, and having them say that it hasn't negatively affected their bottom line at all.”</p> <p>Erin Bennett, the Colorado director for 9 to 5, a national women’s rights organization, said Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler used another tactic to try to squash support for it: trying to withhold ballots from people who did not vote in the 2010 Congressional elections.</p> <p>Joyner calls this attempt at voter suppression “an opening salvo for 2012….To kick 55,000 registered voters off the rolls and not send them ballots because they did not vote for whatever reason in 2010.”</p> <p>“The reason they're doing that,” Joyner explained, “is because those 55,000 workers are unmarried women, African Americans, Latinos, and that's the population in most dire need of paid sick days and who are most likely to vote for it."</p> <p>Family Values at Work and other organizations worked feverishly through the courts to keep these Denver voters from being taken off the rolls. In what she called a “huge win,” Bennett said that District Judge Brian Whitney decided Oct. 7 to allow the 55,000 so-called “inactive” Denver voters to receive ballots.</p> <p>“The city actually did win,” said Bennett, “and Denver County will be able to mail ballots to those voters so they can vote.” About the paid sick days ballot initiative: “We're excited,” Bennett said. “I think it's still looking good.”</p> <p><strong>Philadelphia</strong></p> <p>Philadelphia-based paid sick days activists are celebrating a hard-won victory this week. The City Council, after narrowly passing a paid sick days law for all workers in 2008 only to have it vetoed by the mayor, passed a modified paid sick days requirement Oct. 13 that will cover workers at employers who apply for city subsidies or who have contracts with the city.</p> <p>“We are planning on reintroducing a bill next year that will cover more workers in Philly,” said Marianne Bellesorte of Pathways PA, a statewide nonprofit organization that helped bring together activists and business owners to push for paid sick days. Bellesorte added that with several new members starting in January, the Philadelphia City Council will likely approve a more inclusive bill.</p> <p>Bellesorte explained that Philly’s paid sick days coalition now includes many business owners, who understand the common-sense spirit of the legislation and are willing to speak out in support of it. The coalition, called the <a href="">Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces</a>, is running a publicity campaign with decals that businesses can place on their storefronts to show their support. “When we sit down one-on-one and really talk to a business about the bill, they are interested and willing to talk about it,” Bellesorte said.</p> <p><strong>Labor’s Role</strong></p> <p>Joyner, who works with unions to help them organize members in support of paid sick days campaigns, said organized labor has long fought for such benefits. “It’s not new,” she said. “The labor movement has been fighting for time for a hundred years. Particularly to take care of family and family health issues--they always see it as an economic issue.”</p> <p>In the past, Joyner added, unions have fought to take care of their own members first. Not so with paid sick days. “We're seeing this is an issue for everyone in America; particularly the non-union workers do not have control over their time. They do not have time to take care of themselves, to take care of their families.”</p> <p>This city and state campaign for paid sick days may have elements in common with the living wage campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s, in which anti-poverty groups, organized labor, and faith-based community groups came together to write ordinances requiring businesses to pay a local minimum wage that would provide workers enough to support themselves. Or it may resemble the campaign leading to the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993. “The reality of it is, if you think about FMLA,” said Joyner, “it moved across the country state by state, city by city, long before they had a national bill.”</p> <p>Like both of those struggles, said Joyner, the paid sick days movement demands that unions and other groups advocate for everyone, not just their own members. “Unions are taking this fight outside of the bargaining table into the communities,” she said.</p> <p>Bravo added that labor’s involvement has helped advance the cause of paid sick days nationally. “In some cases,” she said, “union organizing drives have taken up the issue of paid sick days, and that overlaps with our work. It's been great to have that support just as it's been great to have the support of business leaders.”  </p> <p><strong>“A public health menace”</strong></p> <p>Bringing up the rear flank of the grassroots paid sick days campaign are public health officials and advocates, who say paid sick days could make the difference in helping to stop or slow an outbreak of disease. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of Boston’s Public Health Commission, appeared in a short <a href="">public service film</a> in support of paid sick days, saying "As a public health official, my advice is to stay home if you're sick. Paid sick days could help us prevent a real contagion."  </p> <p>Oliva agrees. “It's actually a public health menace to not have paid sick days on the books,” he said. He added that graphic testimony from restaurant workers often confirms the darkest fears of consumers and public health officials. Oliva cited workers like Mariana in Chicago, “who had a 101 fever and was serving in the restaurant and dripping sweat onto the food that she was serving.”</p> <p>Bravo added that healthcare industry research supports the idea that workers like Mariana should get paid to stay home when they’re sick. A <a href="">study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research</a> found that paid sick days would reduce unnecessary emergency department use, saving $1 billion per year. </p> <p>Bravo said people in the healthcare system are eager to see paid sick days pass for other reasons. “We have hospital officials who have spoken out,” she said, “saying their hallways are lined with seniors whose adult children are not allowed to leave work to pick them up after a procedure or doctor's appointment."</p> <p><strong>The Healthy Families Act</strong></p> <p>All of these city- and state-based campaigns heap additional public pressure on to the national push for paid sick days. Called the Healthy Families Act, the legislation now before Congress would provide all workers in the US with seven earned days per year, to be used to care for themselves or a sick child or ailing relative. Oliva said if the law passes, workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work.</p> <p>Oliva said that although the national business lobbying groups say they oppose the bill, he thinks it is only a matter of time before there is enough public pressure to counter them. “You remember the argument from the restaurant industry when cities tried to outlaw smoking in restaurants?” he said. “It was going to be the end of the restaurant industry as we knew it. I don't think there's a single city in the US where smoking is still allowed in the restaurant. It's exactly the same thing [with paid sick days]. It's not going to kill the restaurant industry.”</p> <p>But Bravo said the Chamber of Commerce and other business associations are really afraid of something else. “It’s a huge amount of money that big restaurant chains are pouring into this. They're doing it because of power--they want to be the ones who decide. They don't like that this is being left up to the will of the people.”</p> <p>Bravo added that cracks have formed in the lobbyists’ resistance to the legislation, and some former opponents are now coming out in support of paid sick days. She cited a June 2010 article in <a href="">Bloomberg’s Business Week</a> in which Golden Gate Restaurant Association director Kevin Westlye—a lobbyist who had formerly opposed San Francisco’s paid sick days law—wass quoted as saying paid sick days “is the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?” </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Mariya Strauss is a writer who lives in Baltimore. </div></div></div> Sun, 16 Oct 2011 20:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 668154 at News & Politics News & Politics Economy Activism economy workers ellen bravo jobs restaurants sick leave paid sick days Sandy Pope Vs. History, Round 1: The Fight For Teamster Leadership Heats Up <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Can Sandy Pope take on years of union history to become the first woman president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>On June 30, <a href="">Sandy Pope</a> won official nomination for the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Pope's contest--against incumbent James P. Hoffa--will be one of the most watched union leadership races in a long time. Pope, a rank-and-file Teamster since 1978 and a two-term local union president, has gone from hauling steel to hauling the dreams of a newer breed of trade unionists. These reform-minded members want to see the Teamsters union survive and grow beyond the cronyism and corruption that have caused its membership to stagnate and its contracts to wither in recent decades.</p> <p>I'm guessing that the members' dreams weigh more than the steel ever did.</p> <p>Into the ring with Hoffa, Pope also carries the hope for a better life of people who have recently begun calling themselves "excluded workers": women, people of color, immigrants, literally those who have gotten shut out of decent-paying union jobs by exactly the guys who now run the Teamsters union. Pope is ready to bring excluded workers into the union, ready or not.  The trouble is, in order to do that, she has to win the votes of existing Teamsters. And they tend to vote for guys named Hoffa.</p> <p>Pope's chops for the job are undeniable, but that's never stopped unions--especially those like the Teamsters who obnoxiously retain the anachronism "Brotherhood" in their names--from shutting women out of leadership. (Read Jane LaTour's excellent oral history <em><a href="">Sisters in the Brotherhoods</a></em> for a full treatment of how and why this happens.) Pope is a former steel hauler and truck driver who now serves as president of a small local in Long Island City. She's a dynamic speaker. She's a natural organizer: I've heard her speak and go off on a passionate tangent about a group of warehouse workers whom she had all ready to sign union cards and another union moved in to claim them...and the workers balked and still lack a union to this day. But  again, this isn't a fair fight: her skills, passion and experience just break like waves against the battlements of Teamster entrenched interests. As I see it, there are only two reasons she even has a shot at beating Hoffa.</p> <p>One is her fearlessness, a quality she says she gained from driving big rig trucks and from having to deal with sexist truckers on the road. She may also cultivate that fearlessness effectively in her Tae Kwon Do practice. She holds a black belt and the readiness for anything is there in her eyes at all times. In a radio interview for <a href="">American Public Media</a>, she talks about how sad it makes her to talk with local union presidents who say they want to speak up for change but are too afraid (of what specific retaliatory measures, she doesn't say) of the Hoffa behemoth to publicly do so. <em>New York Times</em> reporter Steven Greenhouse <a href=";pagewanted=all">wrote on June 27</a> that this fear explains why Pope doesn't have a full slate of two dozen local union presidents on her ticket, as Hoffa does. </p> <p>Pope's lack of such fear is enough to rally some supporters around her. She's starting her third term as president of Local 805. (I should mention that I don't know anything about her record as Local 805's president, which would seem germane to this discussion at first glance, but seems less so when you take into consideration that, as Teamsters International President, Pope would have the chance to pick her financial and bargaining advisers. This race, in my view, is about leadership platforms and public relations.)  On the campaign trail, Teamsters are attracted to her plainspoken offer of a shift from playing defense against the trucking industry to "rally the members together to strengthen the union again." Corporations could interpret those as fighting words, and they'd be right.</p> <p>But it's the weakening and crumbling of the Teamster institution under Hoffa that could provide a real chance for Pope--an organizer to the core--to get inside and seize control.</p> <p>In her profile of Pope for <a href=""><em>New York Magazine</em></a>, Jennifer Gonnerman wrote, "If elected, Pope plans to get back to basics: stop writing checks to politicians and instead use the money to recruit more new members, target workers at nonunionized competitors, and end what she sees as Hoffa’s autocratic ways. " That bit about recruiting more new members is what should scare Hoffa the most. Except for adding 30,000 private school workers and 7,500 airline ramp workers to the Teamsters' total membership of around 1.4 million, Hoffa's mostly failed to do much organizing in twelve years. He has instead opted to continue bargaining on management's terms, falling back again and again to defensive positions that keep the union and its members under constant fire from belligerent companies. Pope says this defensive attitude creates a false (and now crumbling) wall against non-unionized workers, who will eventually realize they need a union too: "After a while you have to think, should I just be mad at people who have a better situation than I do, or should I fight to try to get that better situation for myself?"</p> <p><a href="">Some writers</a> have been eager to render Pope's candidacy as an against-the-odds feminist pioneering story.  I think that's only a minor subplot here.  Don't get me wrong: we feminists will be the first to place our own wreaths around her neck should she win the race, but neither Pope nor any woman has anything left to prove in the "we can do anything the boys can do" arena.  Several men have already made a run at Hoffa during the last twelve years; all have been dragged down into the quicksand of anonymous non-history-makers.</p> <p>Any candidate for Teamster president, male or female, would have to display political agility, star quality and PR savvy on par with late-2007-era Barack Obama in order to win enough rank-and-file support to dethrone Hoffa. (In fact, Pope likened herself to Obama in the Times story of June 27, saying "I think of winning the way the Obama campaign won; with ground action.") Pope has scads of all three; she is a 54-year-old politician, not a doe-eyed ingenue. </p> <p> What remains to be seen is whether the energy and momentum of an organizer can, in the minds of Teamsters themselves, trump the entrenched, decades-old interests of a union in bad decline.  Pope, though, is not looking back;  I end with this hard-edged quote that measures the fathoms of utter crap in which she has swum in her long career as a Teamster:</p> <p>"When I see people lose their jobs and I can't do anything about it...that's when I think well, it was nice just being on the road and having to just worry about me and the truck and the road.  But I have to say, you can't be too romantic about driving a truck. Because there's always winter."</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Tue, 19 Jul 2011 04:00:01 -0700 Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 667138 at News & Politics News & Politics Labor labor unions teamsters sandy pope jimmy hoffa What Women Aren't Told About Childbirth <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new survey of mothers reveals some disturbing things about hospital maternity care that may make pregnant women want to take a closer look at their options.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Even in this age of cybervoyeurism and hyperinformation, the act of having a baby remains one of the few bodily activities about which many people choose to remain blissfully ignorant. This might best be described as the "but it won't happen to me" phenomenon. Understandably, women hope, despite all they may learn otherwise, that pregnancy, childbirth and parenting will go easier for them -- <i>their</i> baby will sleep, <i>their</i> feet won't swell to the size of melons and, of course, <i>they</i> will have an uncomplicated -- sweaty, perhaps, but not seriously painful -- labor.<br /><br />Like most myths, there are the people for whom the fiction is the reality, but they are the exception. Chances are your baby will cry at night; your feet will swell; and unless you are willing to research in depth, shop around for care providers and advocate stubbornly for what you want, you probably won't have the labor you expect. This isn't just a benign statement about how we never get what we expect: A new survey of mothers reveals some disturbing things about hospital maternity care that may make pregnant women want to take a closer look at their options.<br /><br />The survey <a href="">Listening to Mothers II (LM 2)</a> was released in 2006 and reports on U.S. women's childbearing experiences. Conducted for <a href="">Childbirth Connection</a> by Harris Interactive in partnership with Lamaze International and Boston University School of Public Health, it is the first comprehensive survey of women's childbearing experiences. The survey population is representative of U.S. mothers 18 to 45 who gave birth to a single infant in a hospital, with 1,573 actual participants.<br /><br />"The predominant picture that emerges from our data," the report states, "is of large segments of this population experiencing clearly inappropriate care."<br /><br />The majority of women ended up attached to IVs, catheters and fetal monitors. They had their membranes artificially ruptured and were given epidurals. Most of these women had little understanding of the side effects of these interventions, including <a href="">cesarean</a> and medical inductions. The report also shows that though women understood that they had the right to refuse medical interventions, few did, and many received interventions, such as <a href="">episiotomies, without their consent.<br /><br />Just as troubling is what is not being done. A "very tiny minority" of women received all of the</a><a href="">care practices</a> that promote natural birth. "With 4 million U.S. births annually, a single percentage point represents about 40,000 mothers and babies per year," the report authors say. Despite the relative health of women in the United States, many women are not getting the uncomplicated births they might expect.<br /><br />But whose responsibility is it to make sure a baby's birth is a positive experience for the mother and her family? And what kind of birth do women want?<br /><br /><b>Achieving a more <i>natural</i> natural birth</b><br /><br />Popular media outlets and advertisers would have women believe that labor and delivery happen in only one context: hospitals. When television shows, health magazines and films depict birth as a highly medicalized phenomenon that involves lots of screaming, a command to push and a baby before the next commercial break, it is no wonder that so few women in labor think to ask for more information when they are offered medical interventions. Or that so few are educated about natural childbirth.<br /><br />Juli Walter teaches childbirth education classes on Chicago's northwest side. "Most of my students have an idea when they come to class that they would like to have a natural childbirth," says Walter. "However, they don't really have an understanding of what they need to have a natural birth." Though some make an effort to learn about birth from other mothers or books, most pregnant women don't have a grasp of the details of childbirth -- things like the physical and emotional stages of labor, the anatomical changes their bodies are experiencing, or the amount of pain they are likely to experience in labor and delivery.<br /><br />Even among the women who say they want a natural birth, the term "natural" doesn't always mean the same thing. Many people believe that labor and birth are a natural human process, engineered by evolution with such sensitivity that any intervention -- like administering anesthesia or drugs to speed labor -- could cause it to malfunction. Under this model, most births are attended by midwives who act as lifeguards -- well-trained birth professionals who will be constantly present and intervene only if serious complications arise. This type of assistance during a birth, says doula and <a href="">certified professional midwife (CPM)</a> Mary Doyle, is "more about collaborating and being an ally to a pregnant woman, honoring her choices and letting her be in control of her experience rather than dictating what is going to happen."<br /><br />Following this model of care for labor and birth, a woman might have her baby at home or in a midwife-staffed birthing center, both with the ability to transfer to a nearby hospital. Women have all sorts of reasons for wanting an alternative to hospitals: "For some women, it's the intimacy of birth that makes them want a birth center or to give birth at home," says Gayle Riedmann, a <a href="">Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)</a> who runs a midwifery practice in Oak Park, Ill. She is a board member of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG), a group of health professionals and researchers that advocates for health-related policy improvements across the state.<br /><br />Others believe that all birth can be considered "natural" and that birth with epidural anesthesia and continuous <a href="">electronic fetal monitoring</a> is no less natural. A large percentage of women -- 76 percent of all women in the LM 2 survey -- wind up getting an epidural for pain during labor. Many doctors consider epidurals to be the standard of care for treating the pain of labor.<br /><br />In a 2003 article on birth, the <a href=""><i>American Family Physician</i></a> suggests childbirth classes as a good way to learn more about labor, natural childbirth, the benefits and risks of pain medications and alternative pain management techniques. These nondrug means of easing the pain of labor include walking, changing positions, taking showers or warm baths and using breathing exercises, hypnosis, relaxation and massage." The article also says that by hiring a <a href="">doula</a>, a birth assistant who focuses on the laboring woman's needs, "you might be less likely to need pain medicines. You might also be less likely to have a cesarean delivery."<br /><br />The LM 2 survey, however, shows that only 2 percent of women received all of these natural pain-relieving measures. Despite the fact that half of the interviewed women felt that birth should not be interfered with unless medically necessary, the vast majority received medical interventions. Many women reported experiencing pressure to have their labors induced, to accept an epidural and even to have a cesarean. A full 73 percent who had an episiotomy were not given a choice in this decision.<br /><br /><b>What are women not being told?</b><br /><br />The World Health Organization recommends that the rate of cesarean births for any country not exceed 10 percent to 15 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the U.S. rate at over twice that: <a href="">30.2 percent</a>, and the LM 2 survey suggests this number is on the rise.<br /><br />The United States is also one of the only wealthy countries where the maternal death rate is climbing. In 2004, the most recent year for which information was available, the maternal death rate in the United States jumped to <a href="">13 deaths per 100,000</a>, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This marks a significant increase from just four years earlier when it was 11 deaths per 100,000 births. Maternal death rates continue to be significantly higher for African-American and Hispanic women.<br /><br />Among developed countries, the World Health Organization reports, 29 have better <a href=";strIndicator_select=MortInfantBoth&amp;intYear_select=latest&amp;language=english">infant mortality rates</a> than the United States, including Slovenia and Cuba, and 41 have better <a href="">maternal mortality rates</a>.<br /><br />Why are women in the United States more likely to die from childbirth than their peers in other industrialized countries? The rising rates of medical intervention and surgery in birth and their attendant risks are a big part of the answer.<br /><br /><b>Obstetricians tend to intervene in a normal birth</b><br /><br />Walter says that women in her classes are routinely uninformed about the birth attendants they choose. "Most women just go with their OB who has been doing their pap smear for ten years and are like, 'Oh, I want to have a natural childbirth.'"<br /><br />The LM 2 survey confirms Walter's perception: The majority of women surveyed never bothered to interview multiple providers or find a hospital with an approach to childbirth matching their own.<br /><br /><a href="">Obstetricians</a> are surgeons with an expertise in female reproductive pathology. They often provide routine gynecological care, but when it comes to childbirth, their training has primarily prepared them to actively manage a high-risk birth or to intervene medically and surgically when something goes wrong during a birth. Though they may have attended hundreds or even thousands of births, few obstetricians have much experience with unmedicated births. Even fewer have attended out-of-hospital births.<br /><br />Indeed, their professional association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), last year went so far as to issue a wholesale condemnation of out-of-hospital birth. They cited a lack of evidence to support the safety of birth outside hospitals, despite its undisputed <a href="">record</a> of safety in many other countries. In their Guidelines for Perinatal Care, fifth edition, published in 2002, ACOG states, "Although ACOG acknowledges a woman's right to make informed decisions regarding her delivery, ACOG does not support programs or individuals that advocate for or who provide out-of-hospital births."<br /><br />One doctor who practices out-of-hospital birth anyway is Mayer Eisenstein, founder and medical director of Chicago's Homefirst Health Services. Homefirst provides doctors and midwives to attend births in homes. Though some people bristle at Eisenstein's hands-off approach to birth, he has been attending births in homes for over 30 years. With more than 14,000 deliveries, his practice maintains a cesarean section rate of less than 10 percent, an episiotomy rate of less than one percent (compared to nearly 35 percent nationally) and virtually no need for pain medications or I.V. fluids.<br /><br />Many obstetricians have never witnessed a natural birth in its entirety, and today, Eisenstein says, a natural birth in a hospital is "almost nonexistent. It was more likely 25 years ago than today." People ask more questions when they buy a car or a house than they do when they choose the care provider and birth location that will be part of one of the most important experiences in the life of a family. All of the doctors are nice, he says, "but you're not hiring your doctor to like [him], you are hiring [him] to have the safest possible birth."<br /><br />"For 20 years," says Eisenstein, "OBs have been saying you can't have your baby at home because it's too dangerous. The corollary would be, if you have it in a hospital, it would be safe."<br /><br />"It's not true," he says. "Show me a study that shows it's safer to have a baby in a hospital. It's not evidence-based." Eisenstein says he feels that women are being led to believe that their low-risk pregnancies are likely to have better outcomes in the hospital and when something goes wrong, "they sue."<br /><br /><b>A cascade of interventions</b><br /><br />Childbirth educators often talk about the "cascade" of medical interventions: the likelihood that once you receive one intervention, like <a href="">Pitocin</a>, you are more likely to receive another intervention, like an epidural. Many women never question these interventions, though they frequently are linked to babies being born by cesarean section.<br /><br />"In an unmedicated labor," Doyle says, "the body releases its own oxytocin, which stimulates contractions. The brain responds to the pain of these contractions by releasing endorphins. When synthesized oxytocin [aka Pitocin] is administered through an IV, contractions can come on quite suddenly, and these contractions are often longer, more intense and more consistent than the body's natural endorphins can keep up with." The intense pain of Pitocin-augmented labor often causes women who may have wanted an unmedicated birth to ask for or accept pain medication. Doyle has attended dozens of hospitals births as a doula and has seen this phenomenon many times.<br /><br />The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved Pitocin for the use of augmenting labor and it has been suggested now that mismanagement of Pitocin is the leading cause of liability suits and damage awards.<br /><br />Continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring is another seemingly innocuous medical intervention that is linked to adverse outcomes. Even though it requires women to be strapped to a machine and therefore limits their mobility -- movement in labor is listed as one of the recommended comfort measures by Lamaze International -- it may seem that constant feedback on a baby's heart rate would reduce unnecessary interventions and surgical procedures. Yet, some studies have shown CEFM to be an ineffective indicator of fetal distress and one of the causes of the increase in cesareans.<br /><br />"There is no scientific reason do to any of this stuff," says Eisenstein.<br /><br /><b>Cesareans lead to more cesareans</b><br /><br />Once a woman has a primary cesarean, chances are she will have a cesarean for subsequent births. Fewer and fewer obstetrics and midwifery practices are willing to assist in a vaginal birth after cesarean, or <a href="">VBAC</a>. The risks to both mother and baby from a potential uterine rupture during labor are greater than they would be for a woman without a cesarean scar. This is part of the reason why the rate of cesareans is increasing nationally.<br /><br />"A small proportion of mothers with a previous cesarean (11 percent) had VBAC, though quite a few would have liked to have had the choice but had providers or hospitals unwilling to support their vaginal births," according to LM 2. The vast majority of the women surveyed in the report supported the right of a woman to choose a VBAC. The <a href="">Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP)</a>, a 2000 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, showed that the average hospital stay and total charges were over 40 percent higher for women with repeat cesareans than for women who manage to have a VBAC.<br /><br />There are measures a woman having a cesarean can take to help her own chances of being able to have a VBAC. Evidence links a <a href="">fad</a> in obstetrics care -- the single layer uterine suture -- with an increase in incidents of subsequent problems like uterine rupture. Noted midwife and childbirth expert <a href="">Ina May Gaskin</a> advises in her book <i>Ina May's Guide to Childbirth</i> that a woman may be able to increase the likelihood of having a VBAC in the future and reduce the chance of other serious complications by requesting a double-layer suture: separate sutures for the uterine wall and for the skin and tissue covering the uterus.<br /><br /><b>The business of birth</b><br /><br />With childbirth accounting for more than four million hospital stays annually and over $33 billion dollars in aggregate charges in 2003, according to HCUP, babies are big business.<br /><br />Many families choose -- out of convenience or out of financial necessity -- to go to a provider that is paid for by their health insurance company; it is often more affordable for a family to go to a doctor or nurse-midwife based in a hospital because healthcare providers generally will not cover home-based birth.<br /><br />The irony is that, although patients may pay less out-of-pocket, hospital births cost a great deal more than births in birth centers or at home. Nationally, birth centers cost 30 percent to 50 percent of a hospital birth, and homebirths, which usually range from $1,500 to $4,000, cost a mere 10 percent to 30 percent of a hospital birth, on average. The difference in costs is partially due to how hospitals bill: "Each thing has a charge, each doctor. There are IV fees, different machines, even Kleenex fees. With a home birth you have a midwife fee and some supplies," says Ida Darragh, chair of the North American Registry of Midwives. Gayle Riedmann, the midwife from Oak Park, explains that birth centers, too, charge a single fee for the entire birth experience, adding, "A number of families who do not have health insurance and can't afford a hospital birth could use a birth center."<br /><br />But here's a funny thing: Women without insurance are less likely to end up with cesareans, as are women with Medicaid, according to the HCUP study. Women with private insurance, the study says, have the highest cesarean rate.<br /><br />Sue Thotz, a Chicago mother of two who had both children without medication in hospitals with midwives says, "I would have loved to birth at home." However, she explains this wasn't an option for her because, "Both births were insured with Medicaid, and the state doesn't exactly pay for homebirths." Of the national population surveyed in LM 2, 41 percent received Medicaid or similar government benefits for some of their care. Medicaid does cover the costs for CPMs in nine states (including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington).<br /><br />For most women, the fact that hospitals have virtually cornered the market on childbirth and maternity care means that birth itself can assume the form of a medical problem rather than a normal human process. And, since most mothers are giving birth in a hospital room surrounded by highly trained doctors and sophisticated medical instruments, a low-risk, unmedicated labor can rapidly convert into a complex surgical case.<br /><br />Progress is being made nationally in providing birth options to women and their families. That progress, however, varies significantly from state to state. In <a href="">11 states</a> women are prohibited from having a homebirth-trained attendant (a CPM) at their birth or are forbidden homebirths altogether, and in 17 states there are no freestanding <a href="">birth centers</a> available to women.<br /><br />In 2005, Virginia and Utah, and in 2006, Wisconsin passed regulatory legislation allowing CPMs to practice midwifery in their states. This year attention is on <a href="">Missouri</a>, which has appealed to the state's Supreme Court to allow a new CPM law to remain standing, and on Illinois, which has passed <a href="">legislation</a> to legalize and establish freestanding birth centers and has a CPM licensure <a href="">law</a> pending. One by one, these states are helping families regain control of their own birth experiences -- and for some, that is preferable to the technological advancements hospitals offer.<br /><br />"It's about choice," says Riedmann. Whether women choose hospital birth or evidence-based, skilled care outside a hospital, Riedmann sums up: "We have to respect women's choices."<br /><br /><i>Books for further reading on childbirth:</i><br /><br /><ul><li><a href=";PID=31816">Ina May's Guide to Childbirth</a>, by Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM</li> <li><a href="">Pushed: The painful truth about childbirth and modern maternity care</a>, by Jennifer Block</li> <li><a href="">The Think Woman's Guide to a Better Birth</a>, by Henci Goer</li> <li><a href="">Born in the USA: How a broken maternity system must be fixed to put women and children first</a>, by Marsden Wagner, MD, MS</li></ul><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Manda Aufochs Gillespie has served as editor of F Newsmagazine and Ink Literary Journal and was a regular contributing writer for the journal EcoCity Cleveland. Her work has been published in Conscious Choice , Cleveland Magazine, Communities Journal. Manda had her first baby at home with midwives in November 2006. Mariya Strauss' recent publications include literary reviews for <a href=""></a>, feature articles and art reviews in F Newsmagazine. She recently edited a catalogue of essays published by the <a href="">Video Data Bank</a>. Mariya had her first baby in a hospital in September 2006. </div></div></div> Fri, 19 Oct 2007 21:00:01 -0700 Manda Aufochs Gillespie, Mariya Strauss, AlterNet 642082 at Personal Health Personal Health Labor labor pregnancy mothers childbirth cesareans