Newsletter June 23, 2016
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From the Executive Director's Desk

As many of you may have read, there was yet another train disaster in June, this time out in Oregon. Luckily, no one was killed, but we don't know yet, and probably will not for quite some time, the total cost of clean-up, the lost revenue due to decreased property value and the irreversible damage to the environment.

According to the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the estimated damages for an oil train derailment causing a "higher consequence event" in an area of average population density along a train route would be $1 billion for lives lost, property ruined and the clean-up. It's worth nothing though, New Jersey's population density is more than 12 times higher than the average population density of the nation.

Senator Weinberg has introduced a bill, S806, which would require that train owner/operators provide evidence of financial responsibility for cleaning up and removing a discharge or release of a hazardous substance, and for the removal of any damaged or disabled train. The alternative is the state and our local governments will be on the hook for the clean-up and recovery costs. If companies can make massive profits shipping oil, they can also afford to properly insure those shipments and prove they have coverage.  

As noted on the NJTV coverage of our press event this week, we believe this bill will provide needed transparency about hazardous materials moving through our communities, but it will also enable better emergency preparedness. Of course, we hope that such a disaster never comes to pass, but trains are passing through densely populated towns, near schools, hospitals and near our homes on a regular basis. Another important piece of the legislation is that train owners/operators will be required to offer training to the emergency services personnel of every local unit having jurisdiction along the travel route

We know many of our allies will be in the statehouse today, supporting the minimum wage and open space bills, and many other worthy bills, but please also encourage your representatives to vote YES on S806, the oil train safety bill. If you are not in the statehouse, please call, email, or tweet your support of this common sense legislation. 

In Solidarity,
Healthy Schools Now 
Campaign Organizer

WEC welcomes our new Healthy Schools Now Campaign Organizer, Jerell Blakeley. Blakeley most recently taught civics and history at his alma mater, Trenton Central High School-West, and served as an organizational development consultant with the New Jersey Education Association. 

"We are pleased to have someone of Jerell Blakeley's stature join our team," said Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council. "His insights will be valuable as we continue the important work of making sure the state meets it constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education to all children, by ensuring that all kids in New Jersey are able to attend school in a healthy and safe environment."

Another oil train derailment
points to continued concern

An oil train derailment and fire in Oregon led to an evacuation of residents and an elementary school on June 2. The fire continued to burn until the next day. No one was injured, but a wastewater treatment plant and the sewer system were not functioning until two days after the derailment. Authorities believe the derailment was due to a track failure. 
WEC Congratulates Verizon Workers
Verizon workers were on strike for more than six weeks, but returned to their jobs victorious, winning standard of living improvements and demonstrating what workers can achieve when they stand up and stand together. 
Toxic Substances Control Act Reform

This week, President Obama signed the long-awaited Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform. The legislation gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new tools to require chemical testing and restrict dangerous chemicals.

The New Jersey Work Environment Council applauds this reform, but remains concerned that it does not go far enough. Pre-emption of states being able to take action on dangerous chemicals remains a major concern.

"It is a step in the right direction that TSCA has been amended," said Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, "But there are still far too many chemicals in use with ingredients that can harm us."

Safer Chemicals, Safer Families has a great piece highlighting takeaways of the reform for several key constituencies. 
NJ WEC testified on the Wage Theft Bill
Employers who hire workers and don't pay for all hours worked, or fail to pay overtime or tips are committing wage theft. A national study notes that some 20 percent of those impacted never file a complaint because they feel they might be fired or face retaliation. 

New wage enforcement legislation would increase the statute of limitations to file claims from two to six years and increase penalties. "This bill sends a message to low road employers who prey on vulnerable workers. Stealing from your employees won't be tolerated in New Jersey," said Debra Coyle McFadden, WEC's assistant director, who was among those who testified before the Senate Labor Committee in support of Senate bill 1396. The bill, sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, would not only give workers more time to recover unpaid wages, but would allow wage theft victims to have their cases heard in municipal and superior court. 
Need a speaker for an upcoming event, meeting, or training conference on workplace, environmental, or school safety issues? WEC staff would love to help. Contact Cecelia Gilligan Leto for more information.
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