Rotten Eggs, Drowsy Doctors, and Expensive Insurance

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club is pushing state regulators to investigate two factory farms and a feed mill linked to this summer’s massive recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. The Sierra Club sent a strongly-worded letter to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller urging him to investigate Wright County Egg, Hillandale Farms and the Quality Egg LLC feed mill. All three firms were linked to the salmonella outbreak that sickened an estimated 1200 people; and all three firms are linked to agro-baron Austin “Jack” DeCoster.

Tom Philpott of Grist calls DeCoster a “habitual” environmental offender and “one of the most reviled names in industrial agriculture.” In 1996, the Department of Labor fined DeCoster Eggs $3.6 million for what the then-Secretary of Labor described as “running an agricultural sweatshop” and “treating its employees like animals.” Over the years, DeCoster enterprises racked up additional fines in other states. A previous Attorney General of Iowa dubbed DeCoster a habitual offender for water pollution. In 2002, five female employees at the DeCoster’s Wright County egg operation alleged that their supervisors had raped them and threatened to kill them if they reported the crime. The company paid $1.5 million to settle the lawsuit.

Drowsy Doctors

A coalition of public health activists is pushing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate the work hours of doctors in training. New proposed guidelines would limit the shifts of first-year residents to 16 hours, but more senior trainees could be forced to work shifts up to 28 hours. The group, which includes the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare, the American Medical Student Association, and Public Citizen, says that’s not good enough to protect doctors or the public. As I explain in Working In These Times, research shows that sleep deprivation is a major preventable cause of medical errors, which is why the coalition wants to see shifts for all residents capped at 16 hours.

Insurance Premiums Soar

A new report from the Kaiser Foundation Family shows that health insurance premiums continued to climb with employers shifting an ever-greater share of the burden onto employees. A family health insurance policy costs about $14,000 a year, with employees shouldering 30% of that cost. Michelle Chen reports in ColorLines that families that manage to hang onto their health insurance can’t expect relief through health care reform any time soon. The major reforms don’t go into effect until 2014 and the biggest early beneficiaries will be those who are currently uninsured rather than those who are already paying through the nose for lousy coverage. The ultimate goal of comprehensive health care reform is to reshape the health care and health insurance systems to bring costs down across the board, but that’s small consolation to workers who are struggling to stay on top of their premiums right now.