Worker rights

Rock Springs workshop a success The Know Your Rights workshop in Rock Springs Jan. 21 attracted about 25 people who learned about worker rights and the protections Wyoming statutes and federal law provide to protect them.
Adrian Maldonado, a member of Western Energy Workers Local 1978, was on hand to interpret for Spanish speakers.

Adrian Maldonado, a member of Western Energy Workers Local 1978, was on hand to interpret for Spanish speakers.

There are not many legal protections, Mark Aronowitz, an attorney for the Spence Association for Employee Rights, said. He noted that Wyoming’s status as an “at-will” state – meaning employers can terminate a person’s job at any time for any reason – impinge on protections federal law extends to workers who report job hazards or even job injuries. He noted that a “whistleblower” who identifies hazards is protected from immediate retaliation. If a company chooses to wait a few weeks to end the whistleblower’s employment, proving retaliation can be very difficult, he said. Representatives from four Department of Workforce Services agencies outlined how their programs can help workers. Brian Jacobsen and Shelly Johnson explained how the Workers Comp program assists people  injured on the job. Jame Reed briefly explained Unemployment Insurance and how it protects workers who lose a job through no fault of their own. Cherie Doak discussed labor standards, wage protection, and the information employers are required to supply on pay stubs. Dan Bulkley of OSHA talked about a worker’s right to a safe workplace and state OSHA’s inspection programs. He noted that state compliance inspectors often see safety violations simply when driving around the state, a point he illustrated with a photo of worker standing on a ladder while working on an electrical wire and pole – but the ladder was lifted off the ground in a curved backhoe bucket. Bulkley urged reporting of hazards. He noted the courtesy inspection program can be engaged by employers to identify hazards in their work places without risk of a citation and fine if they address and abate any problems. Participants had many questions and comments about how they have been treated in the workplace. Some were broad, including one about the limits of OSHA’s ability to inspect all state work sites with a very small staff of inspectors. One young woman who had recently been laid off had a more detailed question about Unemployment Insurance benefits and how they are affected by any severance or vacation pay.
Cherie Doak of the Department of Workforce Services Labor Compliance program discussed how the state protects worker wages and enforces other standards, such as child labor law.

Cherie Doak of the Department of Workforce Services Labor Compliance program discussed how the state protects worker wages and enforces other standards, such as child labor law.

 
Unemployment insurance claimants must be available to work, noted James Reed, who works in the UI appeals office in Casper.

Unemployment insurance claimants must be available to work, noted James Reed, who works in the UI appeals office in Casper.

The workshop was arranged by the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. Thanks to the Holy Communion Episcopal Church for providing space in the church’s Parish Hall. Also thanks to Western Energy Workers Local 1978, which provided coffee and refreshments. Additions were made to this Jan. 27, 2014 post on Jan. 28.

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