Photo: COEH Faculty Profile - Michael Bates

This past May, the Lela Morris Symposium brought together influential leaders from across the nation to address the most urgent occupational and safety impacts of the “gig economy,” a growing sector of employment characterized by temporary, contingent workers often lacking the safety net afforded by permanent positions. Director John Balmes kicked off the symposium sponsored by COEH, “The Changing World of Work,” before a sold-out auditorium at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

Featured speakers included Lenny Mendonca, senior fellow at the Presidio Institute and director emeritus of McKinsey & Company and John Howard, director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Mendoca’s keynote presentation addressed the effects of the new contingent workforce on the widening income inequality gap and the labor movement while Howard tackled important questions about the health impacts of alternative employment arrangements, including potential increases in morbidity and mortality as evidenced by recent studies.

Select the photos to view the 2016 Lela Morris COEH Symposium:

The size of the contingent workforce can range from less than 5 percent to more than 33 percent of total employed labor force, depending on varying definitions of “contingent” work, according to Howard, who noted that in 2010, 29 million US workers — or over 18 percent of adults — worked in non-standard arrangements according to the National Health Interview Survey.

The day’s focus progressed to the California experience. Juliann Sum offered the Cal OSHA perspective as chief of the Division of Occupational Health and Safety. OSHA launched the Temporary Worker Initiative in 2013 to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses among temporary workers by highlighting employers' responsibilities to ensure these workers are protected from workplace hazards.

Cynthia Rice from CA Rural Legal Assistance presented on “California Farm Workers as Contingent Workers,” and from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, Miranda Dietz highlighted trends in temporary help services employment by region, noting sharp increases in San Bernardino County, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation.

Temps and contract workers in some industries earn 20 percent less per hour in California, according to Dietz, with janitors and security officers among the underpaid. Work arrangements can be more dangerous due to poor training and equipment and the absence of protective gear, stressed Dietz, who noted how break-downs in health and safety accountability are common under dual employment structures.

A question and answer session moderated by Robin Baker, retired director of Research to Practice (r2p) with COEH, allowed participants to add their voice to the morning’s discussions on emergent health and safety issues in the gig economy.

A panel discussion, moderated by Suzanne Teran, associate director of the UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program, opened the afternoon session with invited speakers who shared their expertise on the impacts of a changing workforce. Panelist Scott Bicksler, safety manager for Aerotek, presented the staffing agency perspective; Gail Bateson, retired executive director of Worksafe, presented the union perspective; and Michael Foley from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries SHARP Program presented findings from the state’s occupational health and safety surveillance of temporary workers.

The takeaway message from Bicksler’s presentation echoed the outlook of others at the symposium, who maintained, “temporary workers are entitled to the same training and protections as any other worker, regardless of position, length of assignment, or cost of training,” and that staffing firms and host employers are jointly responsible for a healthy safety environment with adequate worker protections.

COEH symposium organizers would like to thank the presenters and participants for their contributions to a successful event, bringing attention to the most urgent issues related to the changing world of work and how the gig economy impacts occupational safety and health.

For more information on the topic, view OSHA’s website: https://www.osha.gov/temp_workers.

To view speaker presentations, visit the COEH Symposium website: http://coeh.berkeley.edu/symposium.

LOHP Outreach Helps Staffing Agencies Address Workplace Safety

In May 2016, LOHP launched a new initiative to tailor its training on Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPPs) for staffing agencies that hire temporary workers and place them in secondary workplaces. Co-sponsored by California Staffing Professionals, the training programs highlight why temporary workers are at an increased risk of work-related injuries; the various responsibilities staffing agencies and host employers have for keeping temp workers safe; and strategies for improving communication between all parties - the staffing agency, the host employer and the temp worker - to make sure workers are protected. Since May, LOHP has trained over sixty people from forty staffing agencies in California and from other states as well as a handful of host employers. These trainings are taught in partnership with Cal/OSHA Consultation Service consultants. The next training is scheduled for December 15, 2016 in Sacramento.

For more information, contact LOHP’s Public Education Specialist Robin Dewey at rdewey@berkeley.edu.

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