Inspector General confirms Oregon forestry contractors improperly hired 254 foreign workers with stimulus funds; DeFazio demands Dept. of Labor address failings
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) released an Office of Inspector General (IG) report that found federal stimulus funds were awarded to contractors who underbid competition by using foreign laborers. DeFazio asked for the OIG review after the Bend Bulletin reported that several companies that were awarded Forest Service contracts, then filed H-2B applications to use foreign workers for the contracts rather than Oregon workers. “The goal of the stimulus bill was to put Americans back to work, not foreign nationals. It is obscene that U.S. companies were rewarded for abusing our American workers and immigration laws to undercut competition and squeeze more profits out of contracts,” said DeFazio. “Oregonians have been logging for over a century, our workforce is one of the best in the world, and these contracts should have been awarded to companies that hire Oregon loggers. This report confirms that federal and state agencies failed to properly oversee the contracts and the companies investigated exploited federal loopholes to avoid hiring American workers. The Department of Labor must address the failings identified in the IG’s report.”
The full report can be read here: http://www.oig.dol.gov/cgi-bin/oa_rpts.cgi?s=&y=fy92012&a=all
In 2010, the Bend Bulletin ran a series of articles highlighting possible H-2B Visa irregularities related to Forest Service contacts in central Oregon funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. Federal regulations require that employers who file H-2B petitions must include a certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) stating that qualified workers are not available in the U.S. and that the foreign worker’s employment will not adversely affect wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
DeFazio asked the DOL Inspector General (IG) to review DOL’s certification of these the H-2B applications in question for any improprieties.
Issues of concern included:
–How it was possible that federal contractors paying prevailing wages in rural Oregon – which has suffered from long-term double digit unemployment – cannot find Oregonians to take these forestry jobs?
–Given the ease that the Bend Bulletin found Oregonians ready to work in the woods, is the H-2B Visa program being used to undercut the competition?
-According to U.S. Forest Service, the four employers reviewed were awarded 14 Recovery Act contracts totaling $7,140,782 for forestry work in Oregon. The employers hired 254 foreign workers for jobs in Oregon through the H2B program.
Forestry Contractor Failures
- Only two Oregonians were listed on the employer recruitment reports, indicating that workers in Oregon were likely unaware these job opportunities were available.
-The OIG found that although 146 U.S. workers were contacted by the four employers regarding possible employment and 29 received job offers, none were hired. Instead, 254 foreign workers were brought into Oregon for these jobs.
-According to interviews with workers, the OIG found that the employers used discouraging language such as references to age and the ability to speak additional languages in their recruiting process. Neither reference was a job requirement of H-2B applications
-The OIG found that the employers used a loophole in the H2B process that allowed them to avoid hiring U.S. workers by submitting their H2B applications to other states. U.S. workers were deliberately dissuaded from taking these jobs because they were short term and far from home.
Dept of Labor Failures
-The OIG audit identified that current H2B regulations permit a four month gap between U.S. worker recruitment/job offer and the job start date. Unsurprisingly, U.S. workers are unlikely to wait four month to start a temporary job, either by rejecting the job offer or finding another job that starts sooner. Employers take advantage of this to claim they cannot hire U.S. workers. DOL has proposed to reduce this to three months and require employers to continue to accept U.S. worker applications up until the job start date.
-DOL regulations required employers to post a job order and newspaper advertisement in the state of initial employment only, regardless of where subsequent work would be performed. Six of nine H-2B applications OIG reviewed included work in Oregon, but because the work began in other states all the job ads for work in Oregon were posted in other states.
State Workforce Agency Failures
-The OIG found certain State Workforce Agencies (SWA) did not fulfill their responsibilities, and DOL could improve its oversight and monitoring to better protect the interests of U.S. workers under the regulations.
-OIG found that the five SWAs reviewed did not transmit posted job orders to Oregon or other states where work was occurring, and three SWAs were not making job referrals to employers — both H-2B requirements.
From cutting down trees to transporting tons of logs, forestry has become an big business involving the management, utilization, and development of woodlands as natural sources of timber. With the enormous amount of energy needed to complete such operations, the biggest team of woodsmen is no match to the efficiency and economy of using forestry trucks.
Safety with Forestry Trucks
So imagine this: the painstaking task of tree trimming done with conventional ladders or ropes by dozens of workers would look too dangerous even to an untrained eye. The very act of balancing ladders against the trees—some of which may be unstable enough as they sway with strong winds—is indeed a very risky effort to do, not to mention the enormous amount of time consumed without the help of modern machines.
Just like bucket trucks are designed to operate in urban areas, forestry trucks are, in essence, bucket trucks specially designed to carry workers off the ground at more extended heights. The telescopic boom attached to the truck's platform is powered with either hydraulics or pneumatics mechanism, which allows the boom to extend to greater heights, providing workers easy access to the higher sections of the trees where dead branches and potentially dangerous parts have to be removed before the trees are cut down for transportation. Another type of forestry truck, the transportation truck, is mainly used to transport tons of logs from one area to another location.
To ensure safety and protection from potential dangers, the boom mounted on the back of the truck is designed to adjust to different heights, allowing workers to gain better access to different types of trees, which vary greatly in height and form. Plus, the entire structure of the truck alone is enhanced to withstand impacts possibly caused by falling trees or branches.
The greatest advantages you'll reap from investing on these forestry trucks are safety and economy of operations. With forestry trucks, labor costs are substantially reduced and a safer working environment is maintained. Thus, the amount of investment you spend on these forestry trucks is indeed worthwhile.
When purchasing forestry trucks, it is important to take note of the specifications that should function well with the amount of workload your business foresees. For example, a forestry truck with a longer boom would be ideal when it comes to working with taller trees.
Tree Trimming Safety
You may have used a chain saw without incident or protective equipment for many years, but consider this: If you get sawdust in your eyes on the ground you can set the saw down, walk away and use an eyewash. What will you do 30 feet in the air? The Boy Scouts of America have a good on-line self-study course for chain saw operation.
The following is from OSHA Chain Saw Operation Fact Sheet series 1 no. 1.
PPE must be inspected prior to use on each work shift to ensure it is in serviceable condition.
The following PPE must be used when hazards make it necessary [OSHA's; I say always]
Tree Trimming With Bucket Trucks
Employers involved in tree removal/logging are required to assure that their employees are able to safely perform their assigned tasks. When loggers are trained to work safely they should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from the job related hazards they may encounter. Training requirements include:
Specific work procedures, practices and requirements of the work site, including the recognition, prevention, and control of general safety and health hazards.
Requirements of the OSHA Logging standard, Blood borne Pathogens standard, First Aid, and CPR training.
How to safely perform assigned work tasks, including the specific hazards associated with each task and the measures and work practices which will be used to control those hazards.
How to safely use, operate, and maintain tools, machines and vehicles which the employee will be required to utilize in completing the assigned requirements.
Before Starting the Saw
While Running the Saw
Like first aid kits, fire extinguishers should be standard equipment in all vehicles and at every job site; so you have two reasons to carry a fire extinguisher or two on your truck.
There are three common classes of fire extinguishers. To summarize: class A is for wood, cloth and paper; class B is for liquids and gasses; class C is for live electrical equipment.
There are three main types of fire extinguishing agents: water for class A fires; CO2 for flammable liquids and dry chemical for class B and C fires.
A 5 or 10 pound dry chemical class BC is best for your bucket truck and personal vehicle; 1 or 2.5 pound extinguishers are not adequate for vehicle fires. Your garage and home should have one or more 10 pound ABC fire extinguishers at every level located near stairwells or likely sources of a fire. Extinguishers must be replaced or recertified according to the label on the fire extinguisher (typically 5 to 12 years).
Don't stow your fire extinguisher in a locked cabinet or under the hood of the truck.
Using a fire extinguisher
Just remember the word PASS
Pull the pin - to remove the safety mechanism
Aim - at the base of the fire where the fuel source is
Squeeze the handles - to discharge the dry agent
Sweep from side to side - until the fire is completely out
Start using the extinguisher from a safe distance away and slowly move forward. Once the fire is out, keep close watch on the area in case it reignites. Then buy a new one.