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GAO finds hazardous conditions in poultry, meatpacking continue

poultry workers.jpg

The General Accounting Office (GAO) publicly released a report yesterday on workplace health and safety conditions in the poultry industry.  While noting a decline in injury and illness rates from 2004 to 2013, the report highlights the problem of underreporting and inadequate data collection.  The GAO report includes 3 recommendations for Executive Action:

Recommendation: To strengthen DOL’s efforts to ensure employers protect the safety and health of workers at meat and poultry plants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, working together with the Commissioner of Labor Statistics as appropriate, to develop and implement a cost-effective method for gathering more complete data on musculoskeletal disorders.
Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health and the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to study how they could regularly gather data on injury and illness rates among sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry.

Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a study of the injuries and illnesses these workers experience, including their causes and how they are reported. Given the challenges to gaining access to this population, NIOSH may want to coordinate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop ways to initiate this study.

Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

The report follows a recent release from Oxfam America focusing on the poultry industry’s denial of bathroom breaks to workers.

News

UNC Board of Governors to hold public comment session tomorrow

The UNC Board of Governors will hold its first public comment session Friday in response to months of protests from students since Margaret Spellings assumed office as UNC President. Spellings introduced the idea, along with livestreaming board meetings, as an effort at transparency.

As the News and Observer reported on Monday:

After months of protests at its meetings, the UNC Board of Governors will host regular sessions for public comment starting this week.

Public comment periods will be held following board meetings for about an hour. As many as 15 speakers will be allowed to speak to the board on any relevant university matter for up to three minutes. A panel of Board of Governors members – about five – will attend.

The first session will be held Friday at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill. Anyone who wants to speak must sign up about 20 minutes before the session.

The opportunity for public input was suggested by UNC President Margaret Spellings, who has faced opposition from groups of student protesters since she started in March. Spellings also launched an effort to live streamboard meetings.

“Hosting these sessions will be an ongoing part of our effort to operate more transparently,” Spellings said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

[Read more here]

The public comment session will be held in Room 128 of the UNC Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Dirve, Chapel Hill, at 1:00 p.m. or 30 minutes after the meeting adjourns. In-person registration at the sign-in table prior to the public comment session is required to speak to the Board.

More information on the UNC Board of Governors meeting and the public comment session here.

Commentary

How come a right-wing group already has a copy of the Senate budget?

The conservative Pope-Civitas Institute sent out an action alert last night in which it informed the folks on their mailing list that “page 120 of the NC Senate budget” includes “two lines of legislation that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”

It reported that language as saying the following:

“Repeal Light Rail Funding Cap, Section 35.12. Subsection (e1) of G.S. 136-189.11 is repealed”

The alert then went on to complain about light rail and light rail funding.

In many ways, this is what you’d expect from Civitas, of course. There’s just one thing: the Senate budget isn’t out yet. The last publicly available version of the budget was distributed by the House last week.

All of which begs the question: How come a far right advocacy group has access to a document not yet available to the public?

Commentary

Higher education group: Proposed 2% pay hikes for university faculty won’t cut it

In case you missed it, the good folks at the advocacy group known as the Higher Education Works Foundation explained succinctly yesterday why the House budget’s proposal of a 2% pay raise for university faculty is woefully inadequate:

“The budget proposal adopted last week by the state House includes raises of 2% plus a $500 bonus for state employees, and raises for K-12 teachers that average 4.1%.1

A raise for University faculty is long overdue and welcome – they’ve had just one raise from the General Assembly in seven years.

But 2% is not enough.

The Board of Governors that oversees the University system asked legislators this year only for raises comparable to those of other state employees.

But if we expect our state’s public universities to hire and retain the best instructors for our children, we need to cast our sights beyond the state line.

North Carolina’s public universities aren’t competing with other state agencies for talent – they’re competing with institutions across the nation, and in some cases around the globe.

“Our chancellors have to be able to recruit and retain the very best in the country,” Harry Smith, chair of the Board of Governors’ Budget & Finance Committee, said in March.  “The competition level has ramped up so much.”

In addition to teaching, University faculty attract more than $1.35 billion a year in research dollars.2

Yet a survey done this spring revealed that average faculty salaries at 11 of North Carolina’s 16 public universities now fall below the 50th percentile compared with their peer institutions.3

The 50th percentile isn’t a particularly ambitious goal, but at UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University, the system’s flagships, it would take 6% raises just to reach the median among comparable institutions.

As faculty salaries stagnated in recent years, our public universities found themselves subject to serious poaching.  From 2012-14, 76% of UNC system faculty who received offers from competing institutions took those offers.  Of 320 professors who left, 93 took $91 million in grant dollars with them.4

Similarly, at just $47,400, the average faculty salary at North Carolina’s community colleges ranks 11th out of 16 Southeastern states.5

As a state, if we hope to attract and keep the best teachers for our children at every level, we need to do better than 2% raises.


1 http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Budget/2016/House_Committee_Report_2016-05-18.pdf, pp. F20, F4.
2https://www.northcarolina.edu/sites/default/files/documents/presidents_report_on_research_sponsored_programs_2015.pdf
3 http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/index.php?mode=browse_premeeting&mid=5630&code=bog, Committee on Budget & Finance, Item 2, p. 26.
4UNC General Administration, “Faculty Retention Efforts, July 2012-June 2014.”
5 http://www.nccommunitycolleges.edu/sites/default/files/state-board/finance/fc_04_2016_budget_priorities.pdf

News

BREAKING: House committee approves controversial achievement school district bill

Rep.-Bryan-Achievement-SchoA key state House committee gave its approval Wednesday night to legislation that would allow the creation of a so-called “achievement school district” that could turn over operation, including hiring and firing powers, of some low-performing schools to for-profit, charter operators.

The controversial measure, much criticized by many public school advocates, is expected to head to the state House floor in the coming days. Its chief proponent, Mecklenburg County Republican Rob Bryan, has argued that it will provide much-needed reforms in chronically struggling schools.

Yet Wednesday’s approval—passed 18-11—came despite rumblings that some influential Republicans were questioning the cost of the program and the lackluster results of a similar program in neighboring Tennessee.

It came two days after House Speaker Tim Moore approved a handful of last-minute appointments to the House Education Committee, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. John Bradford III, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, raising questions of whether the appointments were made to ensure the bill’s passage this week.

And its approval came shortly after a group of protesters chanted, “We are teachers, we say shame.” Committee Co-Chair Linda Johnson ordered the protesters removed.

Bryan’s bill would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing schools, regardless of geography, into one district for a pilot program. The district would have a superintendent chosen by the State Board of Education who could turn over management of the schools to charter operators for five-year contracts.

On Wednesday, Bryan acknowledged “mixed results” for the program in Tennessee, but argued that the district did report some gains in the third year of operations.

“We can compare it to other states, but we’re looking to create something unique for North Carolina with its own guard-rails and parameters where we’re learning from other states,” said Bryan.

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