Bethlehem Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

Article By: Unknown author???

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Unknown author??? in Opinion

I would like to weigh in on the booming warehouse industry in the Lehigh Valley and how it affects warehouse workers. Although the Workers Compensation law is designed to protect the lives and well-being of Pennsylvania workers, employees at these warehouses are frequently abused and end up disabled, jobless, and in need of legal representation.

There are more brownfields in Bethlehem than anywhere else in the country. Brownfields are former industrial or commercial sites where future use was complicated by environmental concerns. Before I was elected to city council, I was a member of the Planning Commission. As I learned more about the reclamation and redevelopment of our local brownfields, I became more excited about the possibilities for our community’s future, especially for Bethlehem’s Southside.

Like my colleague on council, Dr. Paige Van Wirt, I was never a supporter of using our precious farmland to build warehouses. Therefore, I was energized by the fact that LVIP VII and Majestic chose this time to invest in our brownfields. I recognize their commitment not only as a good use of challenging brownfield acreage, but also as an opportunity to create new jobs. As a matter of fact, I have family members and many friends who work at various warehouses in the Lehigh Valley. But although people are grateful to have jobs, all is not wonderful. I get to see the other side of the story at work every day. I work for HGSK Lawyers, a personal injury and Worker’s Compensation law firm. With great pride and fulfillment, I serve as a community liaison and interpreter. But my professional responsibilities become emotionally taxing as I listen to the stories of injured warehouse workers who have been mistreated and discarded by their employers. We have evolved in so many ways as a country by enacting measures that support and protect blue collar workers, but there is still so much to do.

Historically, our unions have achieved many protections and advancements for workers. It is my sincere belief that through the hard work of the unions, many non-union employers have been forced to increase pay rates and ensure workers’ safety and implement appropriate regulations. The Workers’ Compensation laws are a good example but, despite these safeguards, our people are still suffering in ways they should not. When workers get injured while doing their job (due to excessively repetitive work, heavy lifting, working 12 hour shifts, etc.), they are required to alert their immediate supervisor. Unfortunately, these initial reports of injury are often disregarded. In most cases, the injured workers eventually are sent to the office/infirmary. They are given an ice pack, two Tylenol and sent back to the line. Frequently, the workers try and work through the pain and end up more injured. This process gets worse if the employee doesn’t speak English as is the case at most area warehouses.

In general, people are happy they have a decent paying job and welcome the opportunity to earn some overtime pay. This means more money for their family. But having a regular schedule of 12 hour shifts 4-5 days per week becomes physically burdensome even for the healthiest of workers. Typically, a worker’s half hour lunch break includes hustling across the warehouse from wherever their work station is, getting in line to ‘punch out’, and then walking to wherever the lunch room is located. Hopefully, what they bring in their lunch bag won’t require heating, so they can immediately sit down and eat as fast as they can because there will be another line to navigate in order to punch back in. Many of these jobs begin through a temporary agency which, of course, typically means the worker is on probation and receives no benefits of any kind. Workers are also on a rigorous point system for lateness, days missed and work performance. In the corporate world, this may be a great component to the measurement of an individual’s work performance. But consider that many of these employees are individuals who just moved to the area, don’t have a car and rely on unfamiliar public transportation to get to work. Mothers – many of them single mothers - must drop off their children at day care/schools, etc. and juggle their work responsibilities at the same time. Add the aches and pains of injury to the mix and, well, you get the picture.

The life of the warehouse worker is a very challenging one and, while we have made great progress, there remains room for improvement. We in the Lehigh Valley are grateful for the warehouses’ investment in our community but we must protect and ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. Perhaps we should encourage efforts to unionize warehouse workers. As we all continue the fight for further advances, I shall continue to spend as much time as I can with my law firm educating people about their legal rights at work and in the community.