Tag Archives: OSHA

A new federal thumb on the scale for COVID occupational disease claims?

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Last month the U.S. Department of Labor announced an emergency standard for COVID-19 safety for health care workers due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.  The regulation may make it easier for workers in states like Nebraska to bring workers’ compensation cases for COVID-19 exposure on the job.

Nebraska allows workers to recover for occupational diseases in addition to injuries or conditions caught directly arising out of and in the course of their work duties. An occupational disease is one that is particular to an occupation or line of work. The Department of Labor’s findings about COVID-19 exposure in health care, could be a thumb on the scale for workers, or their surviving dependents, trying to bring a workers’ compensation claim.

While the new rule is helpful, it may not be game changing. Workers compensation laws are state laws. A federal regulation wouldn’t bind a state court or agency deciding a workers’ compensation case. Additionally, many states have passed COVID-19 presumptions under their state’s workers compensation laws for health care workers. This means that if certain classes of workers catch COVID-19, it is presumed to be work-related. This forces employers to show some non-work-related exposure to avoid liability,

Nebraska has not passed any sort of COVID-19 presumption for any workers.

Some employee and public health advocates have criticized the new standard as not covering more workers. I sympathize with that view. I will not blindly cheer for a Democratic administration. The Obama administration left a lot to be desired when it came to workplace safety issues – a lot. But the new COVID-19 standard for health care workers is an improvement on no standard.

Earlier in the pandemic, when Eugene Scalia was Labor Secretary during the Trump administration, the Department of Labor implemented rules that it made it harder for employees to track workplace COVID exposure. I can’t argue that a thumb on the scale for workers/labor is better than a thumb on the scale for management/capital. But the federal government needs to be more aggressive in enforcing workplace safety rules.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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How the federal government, the State of Nebraska and the City of Lincoln fail convenience store clerks

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A clerk at the Kwik Shop at 14th and Adams Street in Lincoln was severely beaten during a robbery last weekend when a robber reached for cash in a cash register, pushed through a barrier and jumped over the counter to beat the clerk.

News reports about that store reveal a clerk was murdered in 2016, a clerk was assaulted in 2020 and the store was robbed in 2008. The Kwik Shop at 14th and Adams is the proverbial poster child for the failure of the federal government, the State of Nebraska and the City of Lincoln to effectively protect convenience store workers.

How the federal government fails in convenience store clerks

In the wake of the July 2016 murder of a clerk at the 14th and Adams Kwik Shop, I wrote about OSHA’s failure to implement safety standards for convenience stores. The Indiana Department of Labor did a study about convenience stores and showed barriers that prevented robbers from reaching into cash registers and jumping behind counters deterred robbers.

Despite the history of violence at the store, the Kwik Shop at 14th and Adams Street still lacks those protections.

An OSHA rule would let OSHA cite convenience stores specifically for failing to protect workers from violence.

How the state of Nebraska fails convenience store clerks

The state of Nebraska has failed to implement and statutory law or regulations that protect convenience store clerks. In theory workers compensation laws regulate working conditions by making employers pay for injuries to their employees. But retail workers are not compensated for solely mental injuries (known in workers compensation lingo as “mental-mental”). So for example, if a convenience store clerk has a gun pointed in their face, but not physically assaulted, that mental trauma is not covered by workers’ compensation.

But if convenience store owners did have to pay for mental trauma injuries to their employees, they would find ways to minimize the chance of those mental trauma injuries. Measures like bulletproof glass would make it harder for robbers to jump over counters and to threaten workers with guns.

The State of Nebraska has workers compensation for solely mental injuries for first responders.  Recent legislation has expanded the number of employees who are deemed first responders and has made it easier for some first responders to prove their cases for solely mental injuries. No legislation has been introduced that would allow retail workers or convenience store clerks from receiving mental-mental benefits.

How the City of Lincoln fails convenience store clerks

Some cities have implemented safety standards for convenience store clerks. That list does not include Lincoln, Nebraska. I think public safety officials in Lincoln have also displayed a somewhat cavalier attitude about convenience store violence. After the murder of the clerk at the 14th and Adams, Kwik Shop, then Public Safety Director Tom Casady talked about how rare convenience store murders and shootings were. This despite the fact that same store was robbed in 2008. Lincoln’s then police chief, Tom Bliemeister stated that he was unsure about why Lincoln has above-average murders in 2016. Why that question may have some merit, research was clear about the risks to employees working late night retail. That store had previously been subject to a robbery. I think public safety officials in Lincoln don’t think about how public safety is often workplace safety.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Will the Biden administration create a federal heat standard?

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Nebraska and much of the western United States have been struck with sweltering temperatures this week. The hot weather serves to remind me that there is still no federal standard for workplace heat exposure.

NBC ran a story earlier this week that updated and explained efforts to create a national standard for heat exposure in the workplace. The Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, can implement such a rule. Some states, like California, have implemented rules about heat exposure in the workplace. The California rule seems like it codifies common sense about water breaks and shade.

Hopefully our new Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh a former union leader, implements a heat exposure rule. The Obama administration DOL rejected a heat exposure rule in the blazing hot summer of 2012.

Heat exposure and workers compensation

Nebraska does not have a heat exposure rule like California. However Nebraska workers compensation law covers heat-related injuries. At the very least, workers’ compensation provides some baseline level of regulation for employers when it comes to heat. But compensation in workers’ compensation cases is limited and no amount of money can replace the life of a family member. Additionally, some heat-related injuries like heart attacks have tougher causation standard which make it more difficult for workers or their dependent family members from recovering benefits.

The advantage of an OSHA rule for heat exposure is that means that OSHA can sanction and shame employers who violate the rule.

Workplace heat exposure and climate change

Climate change is expected to raise summer temperatures in Lincoln, Nebraska by 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and by 11 degrees by 2100. Heat will be an even larger occupational risk than it is today. Chicago experienced a heat wave in 1995 that killed 749 people. This little remembered natural disaster could be a precursor for more heat-related health problems and deaths in the future. One argument against a national heat standard is that it doesn’t account for “regional variations” in climate. But if climate scientists are correct, most if not all, areas of the United States will be at real risk for heat-related injuries and illnesses in the future. OSHA and Congress should take action to protect workers.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Whether marijuana is legal or not, post-injury drug tests are here to stay

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Thomas Robinson wrote a good post where he predicted the legalization of recreational marijuana could lead to less post-injury drug testing.

I live in Nebraska. For the present, legalized recreational marijuana is as a realistic prospect as Pete Ricketts with hair. But even if Nebraska legalized marijuana, I doubt it would decrease post-injury drug testing in this state. Here is why I believe so:

Drug testing, occupational medicine and doctor choice

In short, getting drug tested at an occupational medicine clinic is a way to prod employees to let employers control their medical care. After an injury, many major employers in Omaha or Lincoln send their injured workers to occupational medicine clinics for a drug test. Of course, once the employee is at a clinic for a drug test, it seems convenient to get treatment at that clinic.

I’ve stated before that employers like to use drug testing to reinforce their power in the employee-employer relationship. Drug testing is just one of the many ways that employers and insurers use their power to minimize what they need to pay out in workers’ compensation claims.

Drug testing and drugs besides marijuana

So even if marijuana is legal and it’s difficult to use testing to prove impairment, employers can still test for alcohol and other drugs whether legal or illegal. Sometimes doctors will order drug testing to ensure sobriety from certain substances before a surgery or other procedure. As invasive as such an order may be, if it’s in the context of a workers’ compensation claim, a judge will likely be inclined to let that testing proceed.

What about the OSHA drug testing rule?

OSHA implemented a rule 2016 and clarified in 2018 that could limit post-injury drug testing. But the OSHA rule has exceptions if the drug testing is used as a way to get a discount for workers’ compensation insurance or as investigation into an accident. I think the rule is fairly weak. But even if an employer is sanctioned by OSHA, fines are relatively small for major employers and employees lack a way to sue employers directly for a violation of OSHA rules.

In theory, an employee fired for failing a post-injury drug test could have a retaliation case. After all, but for the employee claiming workers’ compensation they wouldn’t have been drug tested which lead to them being fired. In practice, some courts are finding that merely being injured isn’t enough to invoke the protections of anti-retaliation laws. Some courts could also find that failing a drug test to be a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to be fired.

Changing the power dynamics between employee and employer

The bottom line is that legalized marijuana will do little if anything to change the imbalance of power between employee and employer. Without laws that provide more protections to employees, employers will continue to test employees for drugs and employees will continue to face consequences for violating drug and alcohol policies – even those that have nothing to do with their employment.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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A double-standard on workplace violence?

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Employment laws in the United States are skewed extremely for the benefit of employers. Workplace violence is a prime example. Consider two examples about violence in the workplace

Take the convenience store clerk working overnight in a store that has been robbed before. There are risking their job by refusing to work at an unsafe job. In most places, there is no requirement for protective barriers. In most states, they can’t collect workers’ compensation for mental trauma without a physical injury.  In most states, their sole remedy for injuries from workplace violence is workers compensation, which may provide very limited compensation.

An employee who may be under stress and/or suffering from mental illness may make an off-hand remark or unserious remark about violence. That person can be fired for largely without repercussions in the name of safety.

So in many respects, the threat of violence, even if vague or taken out of context. in the workplace is taken more seriously than actual violence. It’s easy to square this seeming contradiction when you realize employment laws in this country are written to benefit employers. The concept of employment at-will, created by a legal academics in the mid-to-late 19th century, and implemented by judges is the root cause of the imbalance of labor-management relations in this country.

So what can be done to protect employees from actual workplace violence, aside from outright abolishing employment at-will?

OSHA standard on convenience stores

I think OSHA should implement nationwide safety standards for convenience stores. OSHA has been pondering this idea since the 1990s. I know from my informal discussions with local OSHA staff, that this idea is popular with OSHA staff. A rule would improve safety in convenience stores.

I also think a formal rule from OSHA would make any retaliation case stronger under Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1114. I believe that the OSHA general duty clause would give convenience store workers a way to bring a retaliation claim for reporting unsafe working conditions. But management often argues that vague references to OSHA regulations don’t comprise a protected activity. An OSHA rule would give convenience store and other retail workers a clear legal leg to stand on when reporting workplace violence.

Pass the PRO Act

The vast majority of the time, a union contract provides more on-the-job protections than any government regulation or anti-discrimination law. The House recently passed the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act, that it would make it easier to organize unions. This would be a boon for workplace safety for all workers.

The same troll army of freelance writers, literal neo-liberal shills, who whined about AB5 in California are now attacking the PRO Act. I support the PRO Act. My only concern about the PRO Act is that it gets used by Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, et al. to implement half-a— “portable benefits” schemes under the guise so-called “sectoral bargaining.”

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Don’t bet on workplace safety

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Decent people reacted with shock and disgust to news of allegations that managers at a Tyson meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa were making bets about the number of workers who would catch COVID-19.

The allegations were included in a wrongful death claim filed by the family of a worker who allegedly died from COVID exposure at the plant. Iowa allows workers to get around the limited compensation available under workers’ compensation if the employee can prove their injury was caused by the gross negligence of another employee.

If true, managers betting on employee COVID-19 exposure would likely be evidence of gross negligence. So besides another example of man’s inhumanity to man, what does the COVID-19 betting pool tell us about workers’ compensation and workplace safety?

Good alternatives to the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation

Iowa is fairly unique in allowing for negligence suits for work injuries. In Nebraska, and most other states, workers compensation is the only way that employees can be compensated for a work injury.  Lawyers and judges use the term the terms “exclusive remedy rule” or just “exclusive remedy” to describe workers’ compensation laws  The so-called grand bargain of workers’ compensation is that workers don’t need to prove negligence by their employer to be compensated for a work injury. In exchange they receive limited benefits.

But workers’ compensation has proven largely inadequate to COVID-19 due to difficulties in linking COVID-19 exposure to the workplace. While some cases are being prosecuted by employees they are hard cases to win that are only feasible in cases of death or serious injury.  Benefits in death cases also rely on proving a formal marriage relationship and or evidence of supporting dependents. Not all injured workers fall into that category.

Worse, the exclusive remedy rule has largely ruled out legal workarounds to the exclusive remedy rule.

However, Iowa’s allowance of tort cases, with higher potential payouts in cases of work injuries and deaths from COVID seems like the best way for seriously injured workers and their families to hold employers accountable. And bluntly, it’s not that great of an option.

Some readers may ask, isn’t OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, supposed to regulate workplace safety? If workplaces were safe there wouldn’t be a need for lawsuits. But OSHA sidelined itself early in pandemic

How OSHA sidelined itself in the pandemic

In April, OSHA announced it would not enforce record keeping requirements for COVID-19 for employers such as packinghouses. I believe that this sent a signal that OSHA wouldn’t take the pandemic seriously. OSHA later reversed the policy and even issued a few citations. But OSHA’s slowness to respond to COVID-19 cost lives both on the job and in the communities around COVID-19 hotspot workplaces.

OSHA continues to refuse to specific rules about workplace safety and COVID. Sure, once the Biden administration finally takes over and gets going, OSHA might issue some standards. But even in a Democratic administration, the Department of Agriculture, who also regulates meatpacking plant may seek to weaken workplace safety measures implemented by the Department of Labor. For example, while the Department of Labor did some innovative enforcement of meat processing plants in the Obama administration, the Department of Agriculture allowed some packers to speed up processing lines. Faster lines correlate with more injuries.

Why local media is matters in covering workplace safety, part 2

The story about the COVID pool at Tyson was broke by a local journalism outlet in Iowa. This is the second straight week, I’m writing about a workers’ compensation issue first reported on by local reporters. Local reporters are essential in covering workers’ compensation because workers’ compensation is a state law. Also, many unsafe workplaces exist well outside journalist-rich cities like New York City and Washington DC. It’s important to have good reporters in places like Iowa and Nebraska to tell the stories of workers there.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Why local media matters to workers’ compensation and workplace safety

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A story in the Seattle Times about injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers shows how a state workers’ compensation agency and enterprising local reporters can focus attention on workers compensation.

Seattle Times reporter Benjamin Romano reported that injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers had increased nearly four-fold over 4 years from 4 per 100 to 15 per 100 employees. Romano’s reporting was based on a public report from the State of Washington’s Labor and Industry, L & I, department which administers and regulates workers’ compensation in Washington state. L& I sets workers compensation rates in Washington State.  Per the Seattle Times, Amazon warehouses will pay a higher rate for workers’ compensation than meatpacking plants in that state.

Workers’ compensation laws are state laws. Washington state is fairly unique in having a state-run workers’ compensation system. Nebraska allows employers to obtain private workers’ compensation coverage.

So, as Amazon expands in Nebraska, what leverage will the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court have over Amazon?

First of all, for now, First Reports of Injury, are public records. Any interested party can look at those reports. But of course those reports don’t always correlate with an injury and they are based on what an employer reports.

Major employers with high injury rates also like to self-insure. The Nebraska Workers Compensation Court must approve applications to self-insure on an annual basis. Amazon being denied the ability to self-insure or losing the ability to self-insure would be a newsworthy event. However many high-injury employers avoid the scrutiny of self-insurance by insuring with high deductible plans.

But if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound? I bring up this old question to discuss the gradual disappearance of local journalism. If news happens, but there are no reporters to cover it does news exist?.  Lee Enterprises has made Nebraska a one newspaper state. Lee has nearly halved the number of reporters at Omaha World-Herald in the last two years. Any long time readers of the Lincoln Journal-Star or Omaha World-Herald know from first-hand experience how the news content in those papers has thinned out over the years.

Why does the decline of local media effect workplace safety.  In the Obama administration, OSHA began a policy known as “regulation by shaming” or publicizing fines against companies who violated workplace safety rules. A study by an economist at Duke University found one press release by OSHA had the same effect as 210 inspections. But if there isn’t a strong local media to report on and amplify these stories, then the regulation by shaming strategy loses effectiveness.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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“Wildcat strikes”, workplace safety and public sector workers

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The Lincoln Education Association (LEA), the union that represents teachers at Lincoln Public Schools, moved quickly and clearly to discourage a rumored mass sick out by teachers in Lincoln late last month. The sick out was meant to protest working conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking off-the-job in mass or mass call-ins without union approval or without a union period is sometimes known as a “wildcat strike.” But while the LEA was correct in stating a coordinated sick out by teachers is illegal in Nebraska, most private sector employees have the right to walk off the job due to safety conditions under certain circumstances.

When are wildcat strikes permissible?

Wildcat strikes are permissible under the National Labor Relations Act, the Labor Management Relations Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act. While the standards for what is permissible vary by law, a worker contemplating organizing a mass walkout should be able to show a serious and imminent harm from working conditions. Employees in unionized workplaces actually may have less ability to organize wildcat strikes as labor law discourages that practice in unionized workplaces.

Individual refusal to do an unsafe job

The Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act could protect an individual employee from retaliation for refusing unsafe work or opposing unsafe working conditions. Arguably, the act would also protect organizers of wildcat strikes. In some cases, reporting a workers’ compensation injury can also fall within the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act. While workers also common law protections against workers’ compensation retaliation, bringing the case under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act can entitle workers to awards of attorney fees and front pay not available in common law cases

The spread of strikes and sickouts

Mike Elk of Payday Report has written extensively about strikes and other work stoppages related to COVID-19. One of these labor actions includes a sick out by teachers in Boise, Idaho. Unfortunately, workers don’t have a lot of good options to protect themselves from unsafe conditions related to COVID-19. OSHA has been criticized for lax enforcement. Workers’ compensation laws aren’t designed to compensate workers for infectious diseases, even assuming those laws cover infectious disease at all. Finally, even though workers’ compensation is an inadequate remedy for COVID-19, the so-called exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation usually prevents workers from bringing cases directly against their employers about working conditions.

If you have a union, get involved in your union

Some workers are still fortunate enough to enjoy union representation. If you are one of those workers, join your union and get involved in your union. Unions make the workplace more democratic and allow for employee input, but unions work best when workers get involved. One of my pet peeves is listening to clients or potential clients telling me “the union doesn’t do anything.” Some unions are better than others, but even a weak union gives most employees better benefits and more job protections than they would be entitled to otherwise as an at-will employee.

Public sector labor law reform in Nebraska?

Public sector employees cannot strike in Nebraska. Nebraska law is clear on that issue unlike more ambiguous laws in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona that had teacher strikes in 2018.  Nebraska law also holds teachers and other employees can’t engage in work slow downs or sickouts. In fact it is a crime to even advocate or advise public sector employees on workplace strikes and slowdowns and to support strike funds. While Nebraska laws on public sector strikes may be vulnerable to some First Amendment challenges, public sector strikes and work slowdowns remain a very risky proposition for participants.

So will Nebraska reform public sector labor law to harmonize with federal law or to make it less punitive towards public sector workers protesting unsafe working conditions? I think that’s a doubtful proposition. The rules of the Nebraska Unicameral require broad support for legislation. For example, expanded protections for essential workers were killed by what amounts to a filibuster by a bloc of right-wing senators.

Nebraska is also one of the few states that hasn’t adopted charter schools which are opposed by teachers’ unions. I’m not sure that the Nebraska State Education Association, the union representing teachers in Nebraska, would want to risk alienating support for public schools with proposals that could seem radical to many Nebraskans, including teachers.

But ultimately increased labor militancy among teachers and other public sector workers could help preserve the role of bargaining for public sector employees. In 2011, some in the business community sought to weaken public sector unions. That effort ultimately failed. I think a newly energized labor movement among teachers makes it more likely that future efforts to weaken public sector unions in Nebraska will fail as well.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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