The skywalks once served as an indoor mall in downtown Lincoln connecting stores, parking garages and hotels. (My mom worked at Miller and Paine in the 1970s and 1980s in a building that now houses Nelnet) The skywalks and buildings served by them mainly serve office workers in downtown Lincoln. I frequent the skywalks when I have work obligations downtown. Many major downtown employers, such as Nelnet, subsidize employee parking in various downtown garages. Employees can access those garages through the skywalks.
In theory, indoor walkways like the skywalk system would reduce the chances of slip and fall accidents. But from a recent observation, maintenance is lacking some parts of the Skywalk. I observed a leaky roof that lead to wet carpet on an internal walkway in the US Bank building in August.
I recently represented a downtown office worker who feared being assaulted walking to her parking spot late at night. Skywalks can help reduce the risk of employees being assaulted on the way to their cars.
My view is that downtown business owners and the city need to work together to maintain the skywalk system in the interest of worker safety.
Bus benches and shelters are a matter of basic human dignity. The fact that someone taking the bus to work as a housekeeper or nursing aide can’t sit down or get out of the elements while waiting for transportation makes me feel sad and angry. The lack of benches and shelters is quite visible along South 13th Street with groups of people stand along the street waiting for the bus.
The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on October 16th that would formally eliminate a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers pass a physical, background check and test about Lincoln that taxi cab drivers currently have to pass in order to drive a taxi in Lincoln.
The City of Lincoln doesn’t have a workers’ compensation ordinance. But allowing Uber competitive advantages over taxi cab companies indirectly impacts workers compensation because if Uber takes market share away from traditional taxi cabs fewer drivers will be covered under workers compensation.
Lincoln does a have a human rights ordinance that covers more employees than either state or federal anti-discrimination laws. By allowing Uber a competitive advantage over traditional taxi cab companies, Lincoln is potentially excluding workers from coverage of that ordinance since Uber denies it is an employer. Traditional taxi cab companies are subject to Lincoln’s human rights ordinance.
In a report chock full of statistics about safety and the workforce in Lincoln, there was no mention about the number of workplace injuries and/or deaths in Lincoln. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Court tracks workplace injuries and deaths statewide. In Fiscal Year 2016, the last year statistics were available, there were nearly 40,000 reported workplace injuries in Nebraska and 40 reported workplace deaths. By a rough estimate, nearly 6000 of those workplace injuries would have taken place in Lincoln and roughly six of those workplace deaths would have taken place in Lincoln.
There is an old adage that goes “Measure what counts and what counts is measured.” If workforce deaths and injuries aren’t measured in Propser Lincoln’s “Vital Signs” does that mean that workplace safety doesn’t count in Lincoln, Nebraska because it wasn’t measured?
It might be harsh to conclude that workplace safety doesn’t matter to groups like Prosper Lincoln, but if you look at who is behind Prosper Lincoln you can see why concerns about workplace safety may have been excluded. Propser Lincoln is heavy on voices from the business community, government, academia and the non-profit sector. There aren’t a lot of voices for employees who are part of Propser Lincoln. I believe that many of these people, some of who I am friends with, are for the most part well-meaning but live in such a white-collar world that the idea of getting hurt at work is almost far-fetched. Maybe this cloistered mindset explains why a supposedly comprehensive report about Lincoln’s economy excludes information about workplace safety. Maybe the same mindset explains ignoring fairly well-publicized links between work injuries and poverty.
City and local governments can take actions to promote workplace safety. Many cities have taken actions to protect convenience store clerks and and other retail workers who work overnight shifts. Sometimes occupational safety and public safety are thought of as separate topics, but protecting retail workers is something that comprises both public and occupational safety. Protecting retail workers from violence in Lincoln would be a good first step, counting workplace fatalities and injuries within the City of Lincoln would be another.
How do these judges end up on the bench? The workers’ compensation judges in Nebraska are not elected, unlike in some states. Instead, like all state-court judges in Nebraska, a pool of judicial candidates is screened and narrowed by a judicial nominating commission. These commissions are made up of both lawyers and laypersons from both political parties and also independents. After the narrowing process, the governor appoints a judge from that limited group. After the appointment, every six years, the judge will be up for a vote of the general public as to whether the judge should be retained on the bench. If the vote is to retain the judge, then that judge remains for another six-year term.
A system like this does a good job of narrowing the candidates for the governor to a group of the most qualified. Further, this process usually limits politics in the judiciary and it is greatly preferable to the states where judges are simply elected. Here is a good video explaining why.
The Indiana Department of Labor did a comprehensive study of measures taken by other states and cities on how they protect convenience store clerks from violence. Common practices included bulletproof glass and cages to protect clerks in high-risk areas, security cameras, clear views of cash registers, and having at least two clerks on dangerous overnight shifts. Barriers around cash registers in particular would be crucial in high-risk stores that are robbed regularly because robbers will often jump behind unprotected counters.
Though the city of Omaha has done some proactive policing to protect convenience stores in the recent past, neither Omaha, Lincoln nor the state of Nebraska has any legislation, regulations or ordinances in place to protect convenience store clerks from violence. I would encourage Nebraska’s state senators and city council members in Omaha, Lincoln and other Nebraska cities to put laws in place to protect convenience store workers. If you do not know who your state senator is, you can look that up here. Omaha residents can click here to find out how to contact their city council member, and Lincoln residents can click here to find out how to contact their city council member. Nebraska has legislative elections this fall, and Lincoln and Omaha have city elections next spring. I would urge voters in these races to pay attention to which candidates have a good record and ideas about workplace safety and which candidates value profits over safety.
Today, April 28, 2016, is Workers’ Memorial Day. Every year, Nebraska honors workers who lost their lives on the job and their families with a ceremony on the steps of the State Capitol building, 1445 K St., in Lincoln. The ceremony begins at 7 tonight.
When I am in town, I attend. I am always angered, saddened, moved and ultimately encouraged after each ceremony. All of the deaths were preventable with more attention to safety. The pain and distress of the families is hard to see. The words and musical performances are heartfelt and genuine. The crowd, regardless of the weather, seems to be growing, which shows more concern for worker safety and workers’ compensation.
Come to the Capitol this year. Honor the departed workers and their families. Keep caring about workers and the laws that protect and compensate them. We have to remain vigilant and involved. I hope to see more new faces this year.