Category Archives: Injured Workers

Private Agency Homecare Workers Win Workers’ Comp Clarification

In-home care is a dangerous profession for caregivers, requiring constant bending, twisting and lifting of consumers. NWJP has been partnering with SEIU 503 to reach private agency caregivers that are low-wage workers who are often isolated from other workers. There are more than 150 such agencies in Oregon, employing as many as 10,000 caregivers providing in-home support to seniors and people with disabilities to ensure they are able to live independently in their own homes. In an analysis of records provided by the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Division, SEIU 503 found more than 600 workers’ compensation claims from in-home caregivers. However, additional research revealed that nearly a dozen private homecare agencies did not appear to carry the workers’ compensation insurance required by the State of Oregon.

In response to a meeting with representatives from NWJP and SEIU Local 503, the Workers’ Compensation Division (WCD) clarified that private agencies employing homecare workers are not exempt from carrying workers’ compensation insurance. WCD issued both an Industry Notice and a Worker Fact Sheet about private agency caregiver rights.

“This is an important step forward for a workforce that’s largely women and people of color, who due to a legacy of racism and sexism have been left behind by our labor laws,” said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, Deputy Director of NWJP.

Previously the Ombudsman for Injured Workers told homecare workers they had to sue their employer in court if they wanted any remedies for a workplace injury. This resulted from an incorrect interpretation of a domestic worker exemption in the statutes and regulations governing workers comp. With the WCD clarification, private agency homecare workers who are injured on the job will be able to file a claim, the insurance company will pay their medical costs and they will receive compensation for time that they miss work because of the injury. They do not have to sue their employer in court.

NWJP Reaches out to Workers

While NWJP is mostly focused on legal and legislative strategies, we also do a good deal of outreach and education, to make sure that workers know their rights and have access to important resources.

In late 2017, NWJP received a grant to provide health and safety training for workers, especially hard-to-reach workers.  NWJP Attorney Kate Suisman created a Spanish-language training program focused on chemical safety, and traveled throughout the state training workers.  In partnership with the NW Forest Worker Center in Medford, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste in Woodburn, and the Voz Workers' Rights Education Project in Portland, over 60 workers were trained.  NWJP recently was awarded another grant for the coming year, and Kate will again provide health and safety training to workers, this time with an emphasis on ergonomics.

In addition to the health and safety training, this year we have done nine bilingual Know Your Rights workshops. We partnered with organizations including PCUN, Growing Gardens, Clackamas County Hispanic Interagency Network Team, Adelante Mujeres, Latino Connection, and the Santa Cecilia Church in Beaverton. We have participated in eight tabling events at the Mexican Consulate. In total, we have engaged over 700 low-wage immigrant workers and counting in the following cities: Hillsboro, Gresham, Hood River, Beaverton, Oregon City, Medford, Woodburn, Forest Grove, Canby, and Portland. One of our trainers-Laura Galindo Palomera- said “A lot of the workers I talked to are discriminated against on a daily basis and they feel overwhelmed with threats and harassment. Engaging workers and reminding them of their workplace rights is the best way to ensure that they become their own advocates.”

NWJP Launches Worker Safety Training Series

Working in collaboration with the National COSH Network, NWJP applied for and received a grant to provide safety trainings to employees of small businesses.  The grant is targeted to non-literate, low-literacy and limited English proficiency workers, workers in high-hazard industries, temporary workers, and other hard-to-reach workers.

We held our first training on worker safety and health in early June at PCUN, Oregon's farmworker union.  The focus was chemical safety- an issue that affects many low-wage workers.  Twenty five workers spent two hours with NWJP trainers Laura Galindo Palomera and Kate Suisman talking and learning about how to stay safe at work.  The group was very engaged, and many workers stressed the importance of knowing your rights around safety at work.  We talked about the short and long-term impacts of working with dangerous chemicals like cleaning products, pesticides and other substances commonly found at work.  We also talked about ways to bring up concerns about workplace safety, and retaliation protections for speaking up or invoking your rights.

This was the first in a series of trainings NWJP will lead in the coming months

Introducing Safe Jobs Oregon

We are excited to tell you about Safe Jobs Oregon, a new Coalition that will focus on workers' occupational safety and health, both for traditional workers, as well as contingent, temporary, and other low-wage workers.  Workplace injuries are increasing each year in industries like construction and agriculture, fields with high percentages of immigrant workers.  Though workplace fatalities and serious injuries are decreasing overall, both are increasing among Latino workers, especially those that are foreign-born.  At the same time, employers are moving away from offering full-time employment, instead relying on independent contractors, temporary workers and day laborers.  These workers are often not covered by protections like workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and paid sick leave, yet they are often doing the most dangerous jobs.

We are comprised of representatives from organized labor, community groups, legal organizations, and others from around the state.

The field of worker safety is broad, so we have chosen to focus on a few issues to start off.  One is retaliation when a worker uses the workers' compensation system.  We frequently hear from workers who have been injured at work, and are fired or otherwise retaliated against for pursuing a remedy through the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Another issue is the danger of working at high temperatures without proper protections.  California and Washington have both instituted “heat stress standards” which lay out conditions employers must meet such as providing additional water, access to shade, and sufficient rest breaks when temperatures are high.  Oregon has decided not to enact similar rules, which puts workers at serious risk.  We will work to have Oregon adopt a heat stress standard.

Safe Jobs Oregon will work to ensure that all workers have the right to safe workplaces and adequate remedies if they are hurt at work.  Please contact Kate Suisman at kate@nwjp.org for more information or if you would like to get involved.

Inside NWJP: NWJP Hires New Coordinator, Campaigns and Allies

kateNWJP is thrilled to welcome Kate Suisman, who will be joining us to support our coalition work, including the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft and the newly formed Injured Worker's Project. Kate comes to us from VOZ  Workers’  Rights Education Project, where she worked as a volunteer attorney in their wage theft program for two years. Originally from Connecticut, Kate first came to Portland to study at Reed College. She then headed back east to New York, where she worked for five years with the City Council. Her work there inspired her to go to law school; Kate earned her J.D. at CUNY School of Law in 2010.

Welcome Kate!

NWJP Launches Efforts to Improve Worker Safety

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Dr. Celeste Monforton speaks at NWJP Celebration. Photo by Doug Yarrow.

In an effort to improve workplace safety for Oregon’s low wage, immigrant workforce, NWJP kicked off a conversation about workplace injuries last month with the help of national expert, Dr. Celeste Monforton. Dr. Monforton, a faculty member at the George Washington University School of Public Health, was in Portland to speak at the NWJP 2016 Celebration of Worker Justice. She shared inspiring stories of successful organizing and action at workplaces across the country which led to safer working conditions.

Prior to her remarks, Dr. Monforton participated in a roundtable discussion with some of the top worker safety advocates in Oregon. Representatives from community organizations, labor unions, faith groups, government, and workers’ compensation law attended the meeting.

Lead by NWJP, the group discussed issues facing workers, the difficulty of preventing injuries in low wage industries, retaliation by employers, and limits of Oregon’s workers’ compensation system. The group met to begin a conversation about improving workers’ safety in Oregon through the establishment of a coalition of safety and health (COSH). COSH’s began forming across the U.S. in the late-1970’s as a unique way to raise attention to workers’ safety and make improvements. They exist in various forms and sizes throughout the country, but all share a similar focus: improving workplace safety. The discussion kicked off efforts by NWJP to begin establishing a COSH in Oregon.

Workers’ safety has been gaining more attention after a series of eye-opening articles detailing the dangerous working conditions for Oregon’s forestry workforce, which consists mostly of immigrant workers in the United States, many on H2B temporary foreign worker visas. Stories of their injuries, abuse, and exploitation prompted a legislative hearing last month in the Oregon Senate’s Interim Committee on Workforce.

In addition to workers’ testimony, the committee heard from advocates like Carl Wilmsen with the Northwest Forest Worker Center, and Joel Iboa of Beyond Toxics. Those advocates shared stories of workers being told by employers to lie after being injured on the job, a lack of access to clean drinking water and restrooms, and pesticide exposure. They urged the committee to adopt stronger inspection and enforcement standards, especially in the reforestation industry.

Despite the enormous challenges facing workers every day, Dr. Monforton ended her remarks on a hopeful note, citing efforts like COSHs’ and calling it “the most promising and exciting time to be part of the workers’ rights movement.”

Where does it hurt? If you’re one of Oregon’s injured workers, everywhere

by Violeta Rubiani, NWJP Program Administrator
Photo by Violeta Rubiani

If you got hurt at work today, would you know what your workers' comp rights are or what you’re supposed to do to file a claim?

If you answered no to that question, you’re not unlike the more than 20,000* Oregon workers who find themselves in that very spot each year. Hurt, scared and staring  at real and  long-term financial threats, many workers also face retaliation for reporting injuries, are shamed by employers and shunned by co-workers, or are steered to employer-friendly health practitioners who may not have the workers’ best interest at heart.

Even when a claim is accepted, an injury can disrupt a worker’s life in many ways: the worker may be required to attend time-consuming medical appointments and evaluations; she may not receive her full salary while on temporary partial or total disability (TPD or TTD in workers’ comp lingo); or a worker who is undocumented may face termination and may not be entitled to full compensation if his injury is permanently disabling.

For years now, NWJP has borne witness to the ways in which the workers’ compensation system fails the most vulnerable workers in Oregon – immigrants, non-English speakers, and contingent and low-wage workers.

That’s why this year, with $10,000 in seed funding from the Doug Swanson Memorial Fund (named after dedicated workers’ comp leader, Douglas A. Swanson), NWJP is launching the Injured Workers’ Project after many months of investigation, preparation and planning.

The project will be based in the Willamette Valley, and will have four key components:

  • In collaboration with the Oregon AFL-CIO, NWJP will organize a Coalition (or Committee) for Occupational Safety and Health (known as COSH) to advocate for enhanced occupational health and safety standards and procedures, particularly those affecting low-wage, immigrant and contingent workers;
  • NWJP will develop a pilot program to measure whether culturally appropriate job safety training conducted by low-wage, immigrant and contingent workers to their peers is effective in reducing on-the-job injuries among these workers. The pilot will likely start out in agriculture and construction.
  • NWJP will offer Know-Your-Rights training to workers in the areas of workers’ compensation benefits and procedures for accessing and navigating the system;
  • NWJP will conduct an in-depth assessment of Oregon’s workers’ compensation system and why it’s currently failing immigrant and contingent workers, and propose solutions that will ensure all workers have access to the system and receive the benefits they deserve and to which they are entitled.

At NWJP, we are beyond excited about this project and are looking forward to joining forces with community partners, unions, and workers to address the many inequities keeping low-wage, contingent, and immigrant workers in physical and financial pain.

* Source: Dept. of Consumer & Business Services