Born in the U.S.A. and working in the fields — what gives?

Los Angeles Times

Born in the U.S.A. and working in the fields — what gives?

Diego Romo, left, and Jose Lopez put boxes of cantaloupe on pallets on a trailer in the fields of Del Bosque Farms in Los Banos, Calif. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Cindy Carcamo, Reporter

Nicholas Andrew Flores swatted at the flies orbiting his sweat-drenched face as he picked alongside a crew of immigrants through a cantaloupe field in California’s Central Valley.

The 21-year-old didn’t speak Spanish, but he understood the essential words the foreman barked out: Puro amarillo. And rapido, rapido! Quickly, Flores picked only yellow melons and flung them onto a moving platform.

It was hard and repetitive work, and there were days under the searing sun that Flores regretted not going to a four-year college. But he liked that to get the job he just had to “show up.” And at $12 an hour, it paid better than slinging fast food.

(Los Angeles Times)

For Joe Del Bosque of Del Bosque Farms in the San Joaquin Valley, American-born pickers like Flores, though rare, are always welcome.

For generations, rural Mexico has been the primary source of hired farm labor in the U.S. According to a federal survey, nine out of 10 agricultural workers in places like California are foreign-born, and more than half are in the U.S. illegally.

But farm labor from Mexico has been on the decline in California. And under the Trump administration, many in the agricultural industry worry that deportations — and the fear of them — could further cut the supply of workers.

But try as they have to entice workers with better salaries and benefits, companies have found it impossible to attract enough U.S.-born workers to make up for a shortage from south of the border.

Del Bosque said he’ll hire anyone who shows up ready to work. But that rarely means someone born in the U.S.

“Americans will say, ‘You can’t pay me enough to do this kind of work,’” Del Bosque said. “They won’t do it. They’ll look for something easier.”

A cantaloupe picking and packing crew in the fields of Del Bosque Farms in Los Banos. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

For some immigrants working the fields, people like Flores are a puzzle — their sweating next to them represents a kind of squandering of an American birthright.

“It’s hard to be here under the sun. It’s a waste of time and their talents in the fields,” said Norma Felix, 58, a Mexican picker for almost three decades. “They don’t take advantage of their privilege and benefit of being born here. They could easily work in an office.”

Most don’t last long, she said.

“There is always one or two who show up every season,” Felix said. “They show up for three or four days and turn around and leave.”

Agriculture’s reliance on immigrant labor, especially in the American West, goes back to the late 1800s, after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, said J. Edward Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist.

“The domestic farm workforce was simply not big enough to support the growth of labor-intensive fruit and vegetable crops,” he said.

With the notable exception of the Dust Bowl years in the 1930s — when American migrant workers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas moved out west after a severe drought devastated their livelihoods — there was never a time when mostly U.S.-born farm-workers picked in California, Taylor said.

But those workers eventually moved on to nonfarm jobs.

Now, Mexico is undergoing some of the same changes the U.S. did around the middle of the 20th century, Taylor said, with “employment shifting from farms to industry and services.”

According to Taylor’s research, the number of farm-workers coming out of rural Mexico is decreasing by an estimated 150,000 a year. That means U.S. and Mexican farmers will have to increasingly compete for a dwindling pool of labor.

Some advocates of restricting immigration see greater farm mechanization and the importation of fruits and vegetables as ways to reduce the reliance on labor from illegal immigration.

“If we tighten immigration rules, there are going to be fewer farm jobs, but they will be better-paid. They will be more stable and consistent with more regular jobs,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. “That should be the goal. Huge increases in individual productivity so where you now need 200 farm-workers working seasonally, a farmer would be able to employ 10 people year-round, full-time.”

Taylor said there’s reason to believe that technology would take over before pay increased enough to attract U.S.-born employees to the fields in large numbers.

“We would develop new picking machines, including robotic harvesters, and use them out in the fields instead of paying wages that could possibly be high enough to induce some U.S.-born farm-workers out into the fields,” he said.

Erick Roman waits for boxes of cantaloupe to fill so he can move them through a labeler at Del Bosque Farms in Los Banos. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In California, farm wages increased 13% from 2010 to 2015, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some farmers have resorted to giving field laborers benefits such as 401(k) plans, health insurance and even subsidized housing.

But they’ve still struggled to recruit enough workers.

At Del Bosque Farms, about 300 workers pick during the cantaloupe season. Some of the U.S.-born laborers who show up could not get jobs in industries like fast food or retail because of criminal convictions. Others felt college was out of reach and they needed quick money.

Diego Romo, a 24-year-old American, said he grew up watching his father work the cantaloupe fields. The Los Banos resident has worked every season at Del Bosque Farms since he was 17.

When he’s not in the fields, he’s at a local college, studying to become a corrections officer. He harvests cantaloupe to help out his parents and to pay for his textbooks, he said.

On a recent autumn afternoon, he stacked cardboard boxes full of cantaloupe into pallets. His father, Rodrigo, worked on the same crew. He put the boxes together on a moving platform — an easier job for older workers.

He did not like that his son worked in the fields.

“I want you to study hard and not work out there … like I do every year,” he told him in Spanish. “You need to better yourself.”

Diego Romo said he’s aware how unusual workers like him are. Those who show up usually end up being overcome by the heat or the sheer repetitive diligence required to do the work.

Diego Romo waits for full boxes of cantaloupe to load onto pallets at Del Bosque Farms. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

He takes pride in having lasted so long. But there are days when he regrets having not done better in high school. Perhaps he could have done well enough to get a full ride into college. Now Romo nags his 15-year-old brother, sounding like his father: “Study hard and better yourself. You see how we have to work every year — sunrise to sunset.”

Ignacio Leon, a 21-year-old from Los Banos, was on his second day on the job at Del Bosque Farms. He was happy for the work because he needed to make enough to pay off a traffic ticket so he can start his career in truck driving, he said.

Leon was born in the U.S. and graduated high school, but said he got into trouble with the law.

“I do feel like I did mess up big-time. I do regret it,” he said. “Also, not going to college. In high school, I got too lazy.”

He told a cash-strapped friend of his to join him in the fields. The friend rejected the offer, Leon said, preferring to stay home and play video games at his parent’s house.

The cantaloupe harvest was still weeks away from ending. But a few days after starting a job that he described to his friend as “easy money, bro,” Leon stopped showing up to work.

Erick Roman takes his morning break at Del Bosque Farms in Los Banos. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Cities across America are already getting 100% of their energy from renewables, and saving big money in the process.

EcoWatch
January 4, 2018

From Vermont, to Kansas, to Colorado, cities across America are already getting 100% of their energy from renewables, and saving big money in the process. Is your hometown on board?

Read more: ecowatch.com/100-renewable-energy-by-2050

via Years of Living Dangerously & Climate Reality #WeCanSolveThis#YEARSproject

From Vermont, to Kansas, to Colorado, cities across America are already getting 100% of their energy from renewables, and saving big money in the process. Is your hometown on board? Read more: ecowatch.com/100-renewable-energy-by-2050via Years of Living Dangerously & Climate Reality #WeCanSolveThis #YEARSproject

Posted by EcoWatch on Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Can’t Read Well, Former Employees Say

Newsweek

Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Can’t Read Well, Former Employees Say

Zola Ray      January 3, 2018

President Donald Trump doesn’t do much reading, Michael Wolff reported in his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which was adapted for New York Magazine on Wednesday.

According to former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, Trump’s ability to carry out his plans seemed questionable, hindered largely by a lack of skills—including reading comprehension.

“Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense,” Wolff wrote. “He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate.”

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1_3_Donald_Trump_Tax_ReformPresident Trump presents a tax reform bill after signing it in the Oval Office. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

When asked during the presidential campaign if he’d read any presidents’ biographies, Trump said “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before,” The Washington Post reported in July 2016.

In interviews, Trump stated that he doesn’t feel the need to read much. His reason was that he can make decisions correctly “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability,” The Washington Post reported.

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Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump, also is reportedly not much of a reader. Kyle Pope, a former employee for the New York Observer during Kushner’s time as publisher there, reported that Kushner wasn’t interested in reading his own paper, nor did he read other publications frequently, Newsweek reported in October. Pope revealed this in a tell-all piece written for the Columbia Journalism Review, of which he is currently the publisher and editor-in-chief.

1_3_Trump_KushnerPresident Donald Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner speak at a White House Hanukkah Reception in December 2017. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“I never knew him to discuss a book, a play, or anything else that was in the Observer’s cultural wheelhouse,” Pope wrote.

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Last month, Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked Michael Anton, a national security spokesman, whether Trump had read the entire 55 pages of a national security strategy document that had recently been given to him. Anton responded that he was unsure, The Hill reported.

“I can’t say that he’s read every line and every word. He certainly had the document… and has been briefed on it,” he said.

This was a little more than a month after Trump said that he doesn’t get much time to watch television because he is “reading documents,” as reported by Newsweek in November.

More from Newsweek

Welcome to 2018! Donald Trump Is Worse Than Ever!

The Nation

Welcome to 2018! Donald Trump Is Worse Than Ever!

Unfortunately, The New York Times doesn’t seem to be entirely on top of that story.

Trump in the White HouseDonald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on November 28, 2017. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)

By Joan Walsh     January 2, 2018

On the first workday of 2018, Donald Trump proved that he’d made no New Year’s resolutions to sober up politically. He’s going to be the exact same maniac he was in 2017, on Twitter at least. CNN posted a dizzying Hollywood Squares matrix of Trump’s nine morning tweets. In just a few minutes, he attacked his own “Deep State Justice Department,” called for Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to go to “jail,” again mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man,” savaged the “Failing New York Times,” and took credit for the fact that 2017 saw zero fatalities in domestic air crashes. There have been zero fatalities in domestic air crashes since 2009. (Thanks, Obama!)

Trump is incorrigible and still, predictably, dangerous. Over the long holiday weekend, angry progressives vented some of their fear and outrage over that at the very same New York Times Trump attacked, singling out three articles that made it look like the nation’s most important paper is bending backward to meet the president on his own terms, truth be damned. You can trace a connection between Trump’s ever-accelerating craziness and abuse and the Times’ growing trouble with its progressive readers. If you cared enough to do so, that is.

First came Michael S. Schmidt’s “impromptu” interview with the president at his Mar-a-Lago resort, also known as his faux-opulent Florida grift. It turned out Schmidt was lunching there with right-wing Trump pal Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax, and Ruddy told reporters that he helped broker the sit-down. It’s fair to call the Trump-Schmidt meeting impromptu as long as Ruddy’s role in making it happen was disclosed, but the Times was sketchy about that. Schmidt described squatting at the president’s side in a catcher’s position for 30 minutes, until his thighs began to ache. That might explain why so many balls got past him.

Trump made impossible and/or incoherent claims about taxes (“I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA.”), something he called “chainlike immigration,” health care, and his relationship with China’s leaders, who he claimed “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Schmidt challenged none of it, even telling Trump his China nonsense “makes a lot of sense” and agreeing that indicted campaign manager Paul Manafort worked for Trump “for a very short period of time.”

As social media went up in flames over the lies, grandiosity, and delusion that was evident (and unchallenged) in Schmidt’s piece, Times staffers circled the wagons around Schmidt, insisting he’d done a service in just letting Trump ramble on. (This Times-writer pushback has become an increasingly troubling practice at the Times in the Trump era. Defending colleagues is laudable; circling the wagons, and insulting your critics, is not.) The Washington Postquickly found that Trump told 24 lies in 30 minutes. Not only did the Times fail to fact-check the piece when it ran; a later fact-check counted only 10 lies.

Next up was Peter Baker’s “For Trump, A Year of Reinventing the Presidency.” The piece itself wasn’t horrible, although parts of it seemed a retread of something Baker co-wrote last month with Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, which concluded that Trump “had yet to bend the presidency to his will” but was “at least wrestling it to a draw.” Both pieces interviewed an impressive range of sources and reported shocking facts, but overall took a soothing tone that served to normalize Trump’s dangerous assaults on presidential norms.

What lit up social media was the extraordinary tweet the Times used to herald Baker’s new piece…. NYT: President Trump has brought a reality-show accessibility to a once-aloof presidency, invigorating voters who felt alienated by the establishment 

President Trump has cast aside the mythology of a magisterial presidency removed from the people in favor of a reality-show accessibility that strikes a chord in parts of the country alienated by the establishment.For Trump, a Year of Reinventing the Presidency. In ways that were once unimaginable, President Trump has discarded the conventions and norms established by his predecessors. Will that change the institution permanently?    nytimes.com

To hail the president’s “accessibility” on the very day that wealthy friends, cabinet members, and access-seekers paid $750 to attend his Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve party was tone-deaf at best. (Tickets cost $600 for dues-paying club members; last year they paid $525 while their guests paid $575. The club also doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 last year.) The tweet also seemed to borrow right-wing framing of President Obama as “aloof”—widely and correctly read as either a synonym for “outsider” or “uppity.” The best Twitter retorts featured former Obama photographer Pete Souza’s shots of the first black president playing with children and comforting the family members of mass-shooting victims.

Finally, on Monday the normally excellent economics reporters Binyamin Applebaum and Jim Tankersley endorsed Trump’s claim that business is booming thanks to him, in a piece headlined “The Trump Effect: Business, Anticipating Less Regulation, Loosens Purse Strings.” The piece reported that “across the business community, there is a perception that years of increased environmental, financial and other regulatory oversight by the Obama administration dampened investment and job creation—and that Mr. Trump’s more hands-off approach has unleashed the ‘animal spirits’ of companies that had hoarded cash after the recession of 2008.”

It’s possible that without the Times, there would be no need for the Times to examine the “missed” story of the Trump victory, because there would have been no victory in the first place.

Progressive economists pounced quickly, showing that the 6.2 percent annual investment growth the piece cited was not terribly impressive—under Obama, investment grew by 11.4 percent between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, and by 9.1 percent between the third quarter of 2013 and the third quarter of 2014; it had also averaged 8.9 percent over the eight years of the Clinton administration. And most of it could reasonably be attributed to rising energy prices spurring greater investment in that sector. Once economist Dean Baker subtracted investment in the mining and oil sectors of the economy, the growth rate only sat at 3.3 percent.

Why are these Times pieces particularly troubling, when the paper still produces great reporting? All seem part of an effort to normalize not only the president, but his most outlandish claims—even, in the last case, to supply “evidence” that those claims about the economy are correct. As progressive economist Jared Bernstein notes in that piece, there is certainly a connection between business-community “confidence” in a political climate and its willingness to invest. But linking that “purse-string opening” to the age-old project of lifting hard-won regulations that make Americans safer, without more evidence, is unwise and lamentable.

Maybe more disturbing, the paper appears newly insulated from criticism, since it dispatched its last public editor and did away with the position altogether. Its political reporters are now renowned, and not in a good way, for brooking little or no criticism on social media. Most important, the paper has yet to formally account for the role it may have played in electing Trump.

Instead, executive editor Dean Baquet has been quoted saying his paper and others “absolutely” missed the story of the white working-class voters who drove Trump’s victory, especially in swing states. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that Russian meddling could have driven those victories, along with James Comey’s unprecedented and policy-violating last-minute intervention. The Times famously minimized the former—Baquet was ripped about it by his own (former) public editor—and hyped the latter. It’s possible that without the Times, there would be no need for the Times to examine the “missed” story of the Trump victory, because there would have been no victory in the first place. If Baquet feels bad about not charting the story of Trump’s ascent, he should remember one thing: He will certainly feel worse if his paper misreports the story of the president’s unprecedented abuse of power and his caping for plutocrats, and the nation’s resulting decline.

Joan Walsh, The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent, is the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America.

Pennsylvania stops construction of Energy Transfer Partners pipeline for ‘egregious’ violations

ThinkProgress

Pennsylvania stops construction of Energy Transfer Partners pipeline for ‘egregious’ violations

Suspension of pipeline construction was the only option, DEP says.

Private homes surround construction right-of-way for Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary Sunoco’s Mariner East pipeline on October 5, 2017 in Marchwood, PA. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

By Mark Hand     January 3, 2018

Pennsylvania is known for a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to energy regulatory policy. Officials warmly welcomed companies that wanted to drill wells into the Marcellus Shale, for instance, even before health and environmental experts had a chance to examine the potential impacts of fracking across the state.

Pennsylvania lawmakers and regulators also created an industry-friendly regulatory environment for pipeline developers. Officials were forced to jettison that approach on Wednesday, however, when they ordered Energy Transfer Partners subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP to immediately cease construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline due to “egregious and willful violations” of safety and environmental laws.

Controversy had plagued the Mariner East 2 project every step of the way, from numerous construction mishaps, spills, and violations to hiring a private security firm to conduct surveillance of landowners opposed to the pipeline crossing their land. Energy Transfer Partners’ other projects, most notably the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, have drawn similar scrutiny from regulators and pipeline opponents.

Landowners challenge pipeline developer, saying taking property is unconstitutional

Attorneys contend federal regulators have ‘run wild’ in granting eminent domain.

In the order, DEP officials emphasized that Sunoco’s “unlawful conduct” demonstrates “a lack of ability or intention” by the company to comply with the Clean Streams Law, the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, and other conditions in its pipeline construction permit.

From the beginning of the project, local residents along the pipeline route warned that Mariner East 2 would damage their property, cause pollution, and impact private water supplies. “DEP’s decision to suspend the permits required for construction affirms that the concerns raised by these community members were valid, and that the pipeline should never have been approved in the first place,” Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director Joanne Kilgour said in a statement Wednesday.

The DEP had given Sunoco plenty of opportunities to clean up its act. But suspension of the pipeline permit was necessary because other enforcement procedures, penalties, or remedies “would not be adequate” to get Sunoco to follow the rules, given the company’s history of noncompliance with the law, the department said.

The pipeline, costing more than $2.5 billion, is designed to carry propane, ethane, and butane some 350 miles from the Marcellus Shale of southwest Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. In a controversial decision, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 2014 recognized Sunoco and its Mariner Pipeline as a public utility, with the right to use eminent domain to condemn properties of landowners in Pennsylvania.

During the just-announced halt in the construction process, residents and regulators should remain vigilant because Energy Transfer Partners “has worked in secret on unauthorized portions of the project,” Elise Gerhart, whose family owns property through which the pipeline travels, said in a statement in response to the DEP’s order. Gerhart is co-founder of Camp White Pine, a group started to prevent the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The criminalization of environmental protest in Trump’s America

Environmental protesters had a successful 2016. Then came the crackdown.

For years, the Gerhart family has been fighting the pipeline project. In September, the family filed a lawsuit against Sunoco, plus a private security firm and more than two dozen state and local police officers, for violating constitutional protections when members of the family and their supporters were arrested on the property owned by the Gerhart family in March 2016.

Energy Transfer Partners had hired TigerSwan, a private security firm, to conduct “surveillance, monitoring, social media engagement, and counter-intelligence” on the Mariner East 2 protesters, as it did with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in 2016.

Sunoco violated the conditions of its pipeline permit numerous times but was always allowed to proceed with construction — until now. In September, for example, the DEP said Sunoco violated a court-brokered agreement imposing new restrictions on drilling for the pipeline when it spilled drilling mud into at least three waterways. But the DEP did not tell the company to halt construction.

In October, three environmental groups — Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the Mountain Watershed Association — filed a motion for summary judgment with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board to revoke certain permits for the pipeline on the grounds that the pipeline would violate state law by crossing “exceptional value” wetlands unnecessarily, that Sunoco violated anti-degradation law for those wetlands, and that the DEP issued permits without receiving a storm water management plan from Sunoco.

Also in October, the Pennsylvania PUC halted Sunoco’s plans to build a valve and associated equipment on private land in Chester County on the basis that the construction breached a settlement agreement between West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania, and the company. Work on the rest of the pipeline, however, was allowed to continue.

Ohio sues developer behind Dakota Access Pipeline over pollution issues

Within 10 days of the January 3 order, Sunoco must backfill all areas of pipeline trench excavation, unless it can provide sufficient justification for an extension of time. In the same period, the company also must remove drill bit and other equipment from any unpermitted horizontal directional drilling activities unless it gets DEP approval to leave the equipment in place.

Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, also put in a dismal environmental performance in 2017. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued a violation notice against Energy Transfer Partners in October for dumping petroleum-contaminated water into a wetland during construction of the Rover Pipeline. In November, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against Rover Pipeline, operated and majority-owned by Energy Transfer Partners, for allegedly polluting state waterways as it constructed the 713-mile pipeline to transport natural gas from southwest Pennsylvania across Ohio and into Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

Gerhart said the DEP’s order does not hold Energy Transfer Partners accountable for the damage it has already done to private property and the environment during the construction of Mariner East 2. “It does not bring clean water to those who have already lost it. It does not bring justice to those whose rights have been violated, including our environment,” she said. “Now is not the time to sit back and bask in a false sense of relief. It’s a time to push back with everything we have left.”

A Sunoco spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement to The Inquirer, though, the company said it is confident it will soon be allowed to resume work on the project. The company also expressed its “dedication to preserving and protecting the environment in which we conduct our work.”

Coal mining deaths surge in 2017 after hitting record low

USA TODAY

Coal mining deaths surge in 2017 after hitting record low

John Raby, The Associated Press     January 2, 2018  

If Trump Loves Miners, Why Is He Putting Their Lives in Danger?

   (Photo: David Goldman, AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Coal mining deaths surged in the U.S. in 2017, one year after they hit a record low.

The nation’s coal mines recorded 15 deaths last year, including eight in West Virginia. Kentucky had two deaths, and there were one each in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In 2016 there were eight U.S. coal mine deaths.

West Virginia has led the nation in coal mining deaths in six of the past eight years. That includes 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.

In September, President Trump appointed retired coal company executive David Zatezalo as the new chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Most of the deaths this year occurred before his appointment. The Wheeling resident retired in 2014 as chairman of Rhino Resources.

Zatezalo was narrowly approved by the Senate in November. His appointment was opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said he was not convinced Zatezalo was suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.

Last month the Trump administration brought up for review standards implemented by Barack Obama’s administration that lowered the allowable limits for miners’ exposure to coal dust. MSHA indicated it is reconsidering rules meant to protect underground miners from breathing coal and rock dust — the cause of black lung — and diesel exhaust, which can cause cancer.

Eight coal mining deaths this year involved hauling vehicles and two others involved machinery. None were attributed to an explosion of gas or dust, which was to blame for the Upper Big Branch disaster.

More: Coal miner who survived Sago disaster dies in W.Va.

The number of coal mining fatalities was under 20 for the fourth straight year after reaching exactly 20 in 2011, 2012 and 2013. By comparison, in 1966, the mining industry counted 233 deaths. A century ago there were 2,226.

MSHA has attributed low numbers in previous years to far fewer coal mining jobs and tougher enforcement of mining safety rules. Zatezalo, who said in October that his first priority was preventing people from getting hurt, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment left with MSHA on Tuesday.

There have been 13 fatalities in 2017 in non-coal mines that produce gravel, sand, limestone and mineable metals. There also were 17 such deaths in 2015 and 30 in 2014.

Appalachia has been especially hit hard by the closing of dozens of mines in recent years, but there was a turnaround in production in 2017.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly estimates, U.S. coal production increased 8.9% in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 23, the latest available. Production in West Virginia increased 16%, including 25% in coal-rich southern West Virginia.

Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, saw a 10.7% increase and Pennsylvania had an 11.6% hike.

Rewire Appalachia is building a new training facility to bring even more former coal miners into the clean energy economy. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

There were about 92,000 working miners in the United States in 2011, compared with about 52,000 in 2016, the lowest figure since the Energy Information Administration began collecting data in 1978. The 2017 numbers are not yet available.

More: Coal towns struggle for good mental health care

President Trump lied almost TWO THOUSAND times in his first year as president

NowThis Politics 

January 2, 2018
President Trump lied almost TWO THOUSAND times in his first year as president

Trump Lied HOW MANY Times in His First Year as President?

President Trump lied almost TWO THOUSAND times in his first year as president

Posted by NowThis Politics on Tuesday, January 2, 2018

On Climate Change, Trump Offers an Example of Willful Ignorance

MSNBC

The Rachel Maddow Show / Maddow Blog

On Climate Change, Trump Offers an Example of Willful Ignorance

President Donald Trump speaks about the US role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo… Andrew Harnik

By Steve Benen     January 2, 2018

In 2012, Donald Trump said he believes that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly bonkers, but it didn’t stop him from dismissing climate change as a “hoax,” over and over again.

With this in mind, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord on June 1, Trump World faced a simple question: does Trump still think global warming is fake? In a curious development, no one in the president’s orbit – Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – was willing to answer the question. The president’s position on one of the world’s biggest issues was, to a very real extent, a White House secret.

I guess it’s not much of a secret anymore:

Frigid temperatures are expected to grip much of the upper Great Plains and Northeast through the New Year – a forecast that President Donald Trump used to cast doubt on global warming.

Trump tweeted Thursday night that parts of the eastern U.S. could see the coldest New Year’s Eve on record, adding, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against.”

Now, at this point, we could talk about the fact that cold weather in a small part of the planet in late December does not disprove climate change. Or we could talk about the fact that the Trump Organization is taking global warming seriously, even if Trump himself is not. Or maybe we could explain in great detail all of the evidence showing just how warm 2017 was.

And while all of this is important – indeed, the future of life on the planet may depend on it – this seems instead like a good time to talk about the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.

That the American president is basically trolling everyone, pointing to cold weather as proof against global warming, is insulting to the nation’s intelligence. We are, after all, supposed to be the world’s preeminent superpower. When there’s little practical difference between the leader of our executive branch and your weird uncle who watches Fox News all day, it undermines our capacity for international leadership and casts the United States in a deeply embarrassing light.

The difference, however, between your weird uncle and the American president is that the latter has almost limitless access to the best information in the world.

Donald Trump, however, doesn’t care about taking advantage of this unique epistemological opportunity.

It’s discouraging, of course, that the president doesn’t understand the most rudimentary basics of climate change. But it’s far worse, that the president doesn’t want to understand. Trump knows the information is there, but he’s simply too lazy to care.

What we’re left with is a president who is unnervingly comfortable with his ignorance. Trump seems convinced that his own baseless assumptions must be true, so he experiences no curiosity, asks no questions, and makes no effort to grow intellectually. He revels in his blissful obliviousness, using it as a punch-line in poorly written tweets.

A bill will come due. Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, the costs and consequences will be severe.

Image result for picture of Trump with his head in the sand

“Why the Koch machine is a threat to democracy”

Robert Reich added a new video.
January 2, 2018

Brace yourselves for more trickle-down lies. The Koch brothers are kicking their propaganda machine into high gear this year to defend the tax cuts for the rich and corporations that Trump and Republican leaders rammed through Congress last month. Their multimillion-dollar campaign will include television, radio, and online ads along with town hall events and workshops.

This is exactly how the vicious cycle of big money in politics erodes our democracy: The wealthy and corporations spend millions on campaign contributions and lobbying to secure massive tax breaks, which in turn only increases their spending power over our political system. We must stop the Koch machine and reclaim our democracy before it’s too late. What do you think?

The Koch Machine

Brace yourselves for more trickle-down lies. The Koch brothers are kicking their propaganda machine into high gear this year to defend the tax cuts for the rich and corporations that Trump and Republican leaders rammed through Congress last month. Their multimillion-dollar campaign will include television, radio, and online ads along with town hall events and workshops. This is exactly how the vicious cycle of big money in politics erodes our democracy: The wealthy and corporations spend millions on campaign contributions and lobbying to secure massive tax breaks, which in turn only increases their spending power over our political system. We must stop the Koch machine and reclaim our democracy before it's too late. What do you think?

Posted by Robert Reich on Tuesday, January 2, 2018

America’s Worst Graveyard Shift Is Grinding Up Workers

Bloomberg Business

America’s Worst Graveyard Shift Is Grinding Up Workers

Cleanup at the slaughterhouse is as dangerous as it is repulsive, and the immigrants who do the work are under pressure to complete it faster than ever.

A third-shift worker heads into Mar-Jac Poultry in Gainesville, Ga. Photographer: Johnathon Kelso for Bloomberg Businessweek

By Peter Waldman and Kartikay Mehrotra       December 29, 2017

No one knew her real name. At work she was Tiffany Sisneros, until her arm got crushed in a conveyor belt. She filed for workers’ comp as Martha Solorzano, born 1966. The doctor who evaluated her wrote down her last name as Torres. We’ll call her Martha, the name her lawyer uses. Like millions of undocumented immigrants, Martha lived in the shadows. She slept by day, worked at night, shifted names as circumstances demanded, and supported her family with scraps that fell her way from the U.S. labor market.

She worked as a cleaner on the graveyard shift at Tyson Foods Inc.’s cavernous meatpacking plant in Holcomb, Kan. Every day up to 6,000 cows clamber off 18-wheelers lined up at the facility, 200 miles west of Wichita. They’re watered, then ushered into the kill box, knocked unconscious by a bolt gun, hung upside down with their hearts still pounding, and bled to death by a slash to the jugular.

After the heads, hides, and hooves are removed, the carcasses are sawed in half, checked by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors, and sent down a network of conveyor belts to be butchered, boxed, and bar-coded by 3,800 workers in two shifts. The journey, from carcass to cargo ramp, takes about 40 minutes.

After 11 p.m. the procession halts, and the sanitation crews move in. The only slaughterhouse job worse than eviscerating animals is cleaning up afterward. The third-shift workers, as the cleaners are often called, wade through blood and grease and chunks of bone and flesh, racing all night to hose down the plant with disinfectants and scalding water. The stench is unbearable. Many workers retch.

It was about 3:30 a.m. on July 7, 2011, when Martha finished cleaning conveyor belt FC-3A on the main factory floor. After powering the machine back on, she realized she had forgotten to wipe down a spot where fat collects under the side rail. Such deposits, if neglected, can shut down a processing line, at considerable cost in lost output, if a USDA inspector discovers it during daily swab tests.

So Martha reached under the moving belt to get at the smudge and lost her balance, she testified in her workers’ comp case. As she tried to brace herself, her left hand got caught in the machine’s roller, which reeled her in past her elbow, twisting and cracking her forearm. A supervisor heard her scream and shut down the line. Maintenance workers had to dismantle the guards and rollers to get her out. The radius and ulna bones could be seen sticking out of her arm, in shards.

Most accidents at the Holcomb plant are covered by Tyson’s workers’ comp insurance. But Martha didn’t work for Tyson. The cleaning crew was employed by Packers Sanitation Services Inc., the nation’s largest cleaning contractor to the food industry. The meatpacking industry has a hard enough time filling daytime production jobs, so many bigger plants staff the night shift through contractors such as Packers. These companies pay their largely immigrant workforce up to a third less than what production employees earn during the day. Martha was getting $202 a week. Packers pays current employees an average of $11.86 an hour.

“Sanitation workers face some of the harshest and most dangerous conditions in American industry, and there’s no outcry because they’re largely low-paid immigrants hidden away on the graveyard shift”

Such is the genius of American outsourcing. In an era of heightened concern about food safety, meat and poultry producers are happy to pay sanitation companies for their expertise. The sanitation companies also assume the headaches and risk of staffing positions that only the destitute or desperate will take—very often undocumented immigrants. And they relieve the big producers, including household names such as Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., of responsibility for one of the most dangerous factory jobs in America.

The North American Meat Institute, an industry trade group, says OSHA data show that the injury rate is lower among sanitation workers than among meat production employees, and that total U.S. meatpacking injuries are at an all-time low. The industry has given “tens of thousands” of sanitation workers safety training with OSHA grants and made safety a “major focus,” the group says.

But no one knows how many sanitation workers get sick and injured on the job, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t require plants to report contractors’ injuries, and the highly fragmented sanitation industry uses multiple job codes, so cleaners fall through the data cracks, the GAO says.

Judging from Packers’s record, the nightly storm of high-­pressure hoses, chemical vapors, blood, grease, and frantic deadlines, all swirling in clouds of steam around pulsing belts, blades, and blenders, can be treacherous. From 2015 through September 2016, Packers had the 14th-highest number of severe injuries—defined as an amputation, hospitalization, or the loss of an eye—among the 14,000 companies tracked by OSHA in 29 states, according to data analyzed by the National Employment Law Project, or NELP. Even that statistic understates the risks. With about 17,000 workers, Packers is a fraction of the size of the 13 companies above it on NELP’s danger scorecard, including the U.S. Postal Service (No. 1), Tyson (No. 4), and Pilgrim’s Pride (No. 6). Adjusting for size, Packers topped the danger list by a wide margin, with a rate of 14 severe injuries for every 10,000 workers. Its amputation rate of 9.4 dismemberments per 10,000 workers was almost five times higher than for U.S. manufacturing workers as a whole in 2015.

“Sanitation workers face some of the harshest and most dangerous conditions in American industry, and there’s no outcry because they’re largely low-paid immigrants hidden away on the graveyard shift,” says Deborah Berkowitz, senior fellow at NELP and a former OSHA chief of staff. “That’s the cost of American consumers wanting cheap protein and the meat and poultry industry demanding huge profits.”

On the morning of Martha’s accident, Packers dispatched a technical-services manager, Salvador Diaz, to investigate. He drove north from Texas, arriving at the Holcomb plant at 6 a.m. to look around before going to interview Martha at the hospital. He caught her shortly after she woke up from three hours of surgery. She said the conveyor belt “grabbed” her as she was trying to clean beneath it, though she blamed herself for the accident, according to Diaz’s report. “I understand I have done wrong but never thought that it would catch my hand,” Diaz quoted Martha as telling him.

Packers fired her. The company and its insurer argued in workers’ comp court that Martha wasn’t entitled to compensation beyond medical expenses, because she had recklessly disregarded its safety rules about powering down machines. Martha said she had cleaned under moving conveyor belts many times in her 22 months on the job without Packers managers ever saying a word.

The doctor who evaluated Martha wrote that her left hand had suffered permanent nerve damage resulting in a “9% whole person impairment,” which could have ­entitled her to a maximum workers’ comp payout of $150,000. But the court sided with Packers, ruling the accident was entirely Martha’s fault. She got nothing. Martha vanished after that, melting away like many undocumented workers who are injured on the job. She could not be located for comment.

Packers fared better. On the same day in December 2014 that the Kansas judge rejected Martha’s workers’ comp claim, Packers announced it had been bought by Leonard Green & Partners LP of Los Angeles, its third private equity owner in seven years. The purchase was financed with more than $550 million of debt. This November—35 months and at least 19 amputations later—Packers refinanced its loans and paid its investors a dividend of $339 million.

The profit-taking was aggressive, wrote a debt analyst at Moody’s Investors Service; S&P Global lowered Packers’ credit rating. But the company’s outlook remains stable, they said, partly because of strong industry demand and rising labor productivity. Packers brings in more than $800 million a year in revenue from about 500 plants. To David Michaels, who ran OSHA during the Obama administration, big debt is a potential red flag. “Are they reducing costs to pay debt by pressuring workers to work faster?” he asks. “That’s a common danger with highly leveraged companies.”

A sanitation worker at Farm Fresh Foods in Guntersville, Ala. Photographer: Johnathon Kelso for Bloomberg Businessweek

Packers executives declined to discuss specific employee injuries, and rejected the notion that debt or dividends have any effect on work conditions. “We recognize the hazards are high in the sanitation industry,” wrote Todd Mitchell, Packers’ vice president for safety, in response to emailed questions. “Our sole concern is making sure our team members perform their job safely.”

Packers’ “aggressive approach” to minimizing areas of concern such as amputations has “greatly reduced” such incidents, Mitchell continued. Since 2015 cleaners have been instructed not to run blenders and augers while cleaning them, and supervisors increasingly power down all machines themselves. After reporting 14 amputations to OSHA in 2015, Packers reported only 3 in 2016. Mitchell called NELP’s analysis of OSHA’s severe-injury data “inflated and incomplete,” in part because the data included companies Packers had recently acquired and at which it was trying to improve safety practices.

In Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle, the protagonist is injured in a meat plant and, like Martha, summarily fired. Sinclair likened the “unspeakable” conditions for European immigrants in Chicago’s meatpacking plants to slavery, only “there was no difference in color between master and slave,” he wrote.

A century later, the racial component is back. Almost 30 percent of the nation’s half-million meat and poultry workers are foreign-born noncitizens, compared with 10 percent of manufacturing workers overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than a third of meatpacking workers are Hispanic. The proportion of sanitation employees who are immigrants isn’t tracked, but many workers and industry executives estimate it’s the vast majority in many places.

Meatpackers tend to be scrupulous these days about checking the papers of ­production-line hires. Landing a job on the third shift, however, is easy for undocumented workers, especially at smaller plants and with cleaning contractors, immigrants say. All workers in the U.S. must have proof of identity and employment authorization, which companies are not obligated to verify as authentic. Employers are responsible only for misrepresentations the government brings to their attention. Perhaps most important: All sides know the feds rarely raid at night.

Outsourcing sanitation is “driven purely by profit,” says Tim Cox, who runs a consulting firm in North Carolina that specializes in sanitation for meat and poultry producers. “It’s less costly to hire someone with no documentation who doesn’t understand his worker rights than to hire someone who does.”

Hugo Avalos-Chanon at the plant where he was killed in an accident in 2013. Courtesy Abraham Watkins Law Firm

They’re also more willing to do the work than U.S. citizens and holders of green cards, and, by some accounts, more able. “It’s sad to say, but it’s the gospel truth: Seven out of 10 Americans in the Deep South, whether black or white, will fail the drug test,” says Randy Hadley, local president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union in Birmingham, Ala., which represents about 6,000 poultry workers in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. “Immigrants pass the drug test. That’s what companies tell us.” Nationally, about a third of poultry workers and roughly two-thirds of beef and pork workers are unionized, but affiliation is much lower among undocumented workers. “They’re too scared to sign union cards,” Hadley says.

Gilberto Gonzalez, a 47-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who has been cleaning poultry plants in Alabama for 11 years, says smaller plants and sanitation contractors ask few questions of undocumented hires and accept virtually any supposed proof of employment eligibility. “They have a way of working it out to get people on,” he says. (“Gonzalez” is a pseudonym he provided for this article in order to speak openly about his experiences as an undocumented sanitation worker.)

He lives with three of his sons in a decaying mobile home just outside Albertville on northeastern Alabama’s Sand Mountain, famous for its snake-handling preachers. He sent for each son separately in recent years. Just teenagers when they came, the boys paid smugglers $10,000 apiece to spirit them along the 2,300-mile trek from Guatemala through Mexico, across the Rio Grande, and on to Alabama, the last leg in the back of 18-wheel trucks. They’re still mostly invisible. They work at night, stay inside during the day, use back roads to avoid police, and never open the door for anyone they don’t know. Once, the family huddled inside as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents snooped around the trailer park and knocked on their door for several minutes. “We just prayed to God, and they finally left,” Gonzalez says.

He works now at a Tyson plant, an employee of a large cleaning contractor called QSI, owned by the Vincit Group of Chattanooga, Tenn. (QSI and Packers say they use the federal E-Verify system to confirm employment authorization.) The work is good, as these things go. He’s still haunted, though, by his previous job. For about 15 months, he and his oldest son, who is 22 and identifies himself as Miguel, worked sanitation at a small processing plant called Farm Fresh Foods LLC in Guntersville, Ala. The facility is typical of the makeshift warehouses that dot the back roads of chicken country, picking up deboning work and other butchering jobs from the big poultry producers. Most operate on thin margins—bad news for workers, particularly the undocumented, who are always the most vulnerable to abuse.

“We just work and sleep and stay off the street. What choice is there?”

Farm Fresh’s sanitation supervisor rode the cleaning crew without mercy, according to the Gonzalezes and other former colleagues, who filed a complaint with OSHA in 2016. They were forced to work at punishing speeds in ankle-deep water with floating fat and chicken guts. They were enclosed in poorly ventilated rooms with chlorinated cleaning products wafting in the air, severely limited in bathroom and water breaks. The chemical vapor caused heart-pounding insomnia, Miguel says. Several workers had to seek medical help. Workers who didn’t keep up the pace were moved to an extremely cold area of the plant as punishment.

After pushing the 20-man crew all night, the supervisor would make them play a devious game before going home, Gonzalez says. To prepare the facility for the morning shift, the cleaners had to distribute 80-pound crates of raw chicken on the cutting tables. There were more workers than crates, and anyone caught empty-handed faced possible suspension or firing. As a result, workers raced one another across the wet floor to get the heavy loads, causing injuries.

“When we complained, they only got meaner,” Gonzalez says. After the cleaners met with Farm Fresh’s management to discuss work conditions, the company suspended them and refused to issue their last paychecks. The Southern Poverty Law Center helped them file safety and whistleblower complaints with OSHA, which has an agreement with other federal agencies not to act against undocumented workers at job sites while complaints are pending. OSHA fined Farm Fresh $29,000 for having inadequate drains and failing to provide proper protective gear against contaminated water, chicken waste, and chemical solvents and vapors. The company settled with the workers separately. Farm Fresh did not respond to inquiries for comment for this story.

Gonzalez wants to stay in Alabama another year or two to finish paying off the family’s home in Guatemala, where his wife and youngest son still live. But he worries the decision won’t be his to make in an era of highly publicized ICE raids. “We just work and sleep and stay off the street,” he says. “What choice is there?”

OSHA’s power has always lain more in its capacity to shame than punish. The fines for serious safety violations seldom exceed $20,000, a trifle for most manufacturers. Now OSHA doesn’t shame much, either. In the past, the agency called out safety violators in press announcements, often resulting in embarrassing hometown headlines about injured workers. But this year, under President Trump, OSHA has issued 121 press releases, compared with 546 last year under President Obama.

The Trump administration has also stripped OSHA’s website of data on workplace fatalities, replacing it with highlights of the agency’s cooperative safety initiatives with industry. Among the Obama regulatory proposals that Trump’s OSHA has dropped this year is an updated standard for lockout/tagout, the crucial procedures workers should follow to shut down dangerous machines before working on them. And this fall, after the GAO reported that meat and poultry workers are suffering health problems from being denied bathroom breaks and fear punishment if they complain, OSHA rejected the GAO’s recommendation that its inspectors ask about bathroom access during plant visits. “OSHA does not routinely ask questions about any potential hazards that go beyond the scope of a complaint investigation, unless those hazards are in plain sight,” wrote the agency’s Loren Sweatt to the GAO in response to its findings.

Meat and poultry companies have operated without much fear of OSHA since well before Trump took office, particularly in the Southeast. In 2016, when three OSHA investigators showed up at Mar-Jac Poultry in Gainesville, Ga., to investigate an electrical explosion that injured a maintenance worker, Mar-Jac allowed them to examine the site of the incident but nothing else. OSHA discovered a rash of other injuries in the plant’s injury log and tried to expand the search, but the company’s lawyer sent them away.

When an OSHA inspector returned four days later to examine the blast victim’s tools, Mar-Jac’s attorney, Mark Waschack of Wimberly Lawson Steckel Schneider & Stine in Atlanta, said the inspector could walk through the plant to the locker room where the tools were located, but only if he agreed to wear a cardboard box over his head to blind him to any safety hazards. “Mr. Waschack stated that he had previously done this to two [inspectors] in two previous OSHA inspections,” wrote OSHA’s Robin Bennett in a court affidavit.

Bennett refused to wear the box. Instead, OSHA issued a search warrant, which, at Mar-Jac’s request, a Gainesville federal judge quashed, saying OSHA lacked probable cause. The agency fined Mar-Jac $20,000 for violations linked to the explosion and appealed the search-warrant ruling last March to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, arguing the injury logs and electrical blast provided a “reasonable suspicion” of safety violations. The appellate court has yet to rule.

The Fieldale Farms plant in Gainesville, Ga. Photographer: Scott Rogers / Gainsville Times

Poultry producers across the Southeast, using Wimberly Lawson lawyers, have blocked at least 13 other OSHA searches. One, Fieldale Farms Corp., limited OSHA’s access in 2015 after a Burmese sanitation worker lost five toes in its Gainesville plant. Another, Gold Creek Foods LLC in Dawsonville, Ga., blocked OSHA from inspecting all but a single machine after one of its sanitation workers, just 18 at the time, lost an arm in a chicken cuber. OSHA fined Fieldale $9,800 for the shorn toes and Gold Creek $21,000 for the dismembered arm. Both plants had been fined before, but OSHA has still been denied access to do a full safety inspection. Fieldale did not respond to questions for this story. Gold Creek’s general counsel, Robert Weber Jr., said the company cooperated with OSHA, but he did not respond to questions about blocking the agency’s expanded inspection.

J. Larry Stine, the Wimberly Lawson partner in charge of the poultry litigation, says that in preventing OSHA from conducting broad inspections, his clients “are asserting their rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.” Putting boxes on the heads of inspectors, he says, is “a little hyperbole to illustrate the point.”

Hundreds of pages of OSHA reports and other investigative documents obtained by Bloomberg through public-records requests point to a dark place in U.S. industry. And a protein boom could make matters worse. U.S. production of red meat and poultry is expected to hit a record 103 billion pounds in 2018, up 3 percent from 2017, according to the USDA. Processors are straining to add capacity and workers in order to keep up. With their allies in Congress, the poultry industry is pushing the USDA to lift limits on factory line speeds, a move the Obama administration resisted as unsafe.

To meet output targets, production lines are operating later into the night, leaving fewer hours for sanitation workers to scrub down equipment before morning inspections, says David Greer, who’s managed chicken plants and sanitation crews for Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Gold Creek, and others since 1991. And the third shift is getting more complex and hazardous as meatpackers add automated blades, belts, and other gear to the nightly steam bath, with many not adding to crew sizes.

“The plant says if you were cleaning it with five people before, you’re cleaning it with five people now,” says Greer.  “These guys are so pressed for time, it creates a big temptation for shortcuts.”

Avalos-Chanon died in this hamburger blender. Courtesy Oregon OSHA

Brent Sherman, 37, couldn’t keep track of all the modifications at Tyson’s meatpacking plant in St. Joseph, Mo. Early one morning in 2015, he was hosing down a Cozzini meat blender, capable of grinding 8,000 pounds at a time, when it did something he didn’t expect. Before starting, Sherman had set the blender’s controls on sanitation mode, ensuring it wouldn’t power up for 60 minutes; safety sensors on the machine were meant to keep it powered off until he reinstalled all the pieces, even if it took him more than an hour.

What he didn’t realize was that someone had disarmed the sensors so it would automatically restart after the sanitation cycle, making it easier—but infinitely more dangerous—to hose down, according to OSHA’s investigation. When the hour was up, the blender suddenly jerked back to life, snagging Sherman’s hose and snapping off both his arms below the elbow.

OSHA’s investigation found a sanitation culture of wanton bravado at the plant. Many sensors had been similarly disabled for faster cleaning, the agency discovered. A night-shift worker was a plant legend for his speed and daring, based on his refusal to power down a single machine during sanitation. Cleaning workers told OSHA that the only time they felt any pressure from Tyson managers to properly lock out machines was when a government inspector was expected at the plant.

OSHA fined Tyson $35,000 in the Sherman case. Sherman is suing the company and Cozzini for negligence in state court, and both defendants deny wrongdoing. Tyson spokeswoman Caroline Ahn declined to comment on the case or Tyson’s injury rate. “We don’t want to see anyone hurt on the job and work hard to keep our team members healthy and safe,” she wrote in an email. Tyson promptly investigates accidents to avert recurrences and monitors sanitation contractors to ensure they abide by all training, health, and safety standards, Ahn wrote.

Mel McCrary, a former OSHA inspector in Kansas City who worked the case, says Tyson has tried to improve its safety systems since Sherman’s injury. But a long history with the industry suggests to him that safety will never be a significant priority. “People are getting cut up, but if the company is performing, life is good,” says McCrary, who retired this year after a 21-year career investigating meatpacking injuries. “Sanitation workers are treated, at best, with apathy.”

And at worst? In 2013, Hugo Avalos-Chanon, 41, was cleaning a hamburger blender at Interstate Meat Distributors Inc. in Clackamas, Ore., when, investigators believe, his hose got caught in the machine’s paddles and pulled him in. His widow in Mexico is suing Interstate for negligence and wrongful death, claiming the night shift was a veritable death trap. There were no safety guards on dangerous machines, and workers were required to clean the equipment while it was running, according to court filings. Based on pretrial testimony, a Clackamas County judge is letting the widow seek punitive damages at trial.

Interstate did not respond to questions for this story. In legal filings, the company acknowledges safety problems but says Avalos-Chanon’s employer, and hence the company responsible for his safety, was the sanitation contractor DCS Sanitation Management Inc. Interstate claims it paid DCS, which has since been purchased by Packers, a flat fee to assume full responsibility for the night shift. Oregon OSHA fined DCS $6,300 after Avalos-Chanon’s death.

“DCS managers knew it was possible to clean the machines without turning them on,” Interstate argues in a court filing, in a rare burst of industry candor, “but they believed doing so would not make financial sense.” —With Shruti Singh