This week: toys, jewelry, lead, dollar stores, seafarers, malls, Walmart, Nordstrom, dogs, rats, and goats.
Another way the dollar store can be a toxic workplace
A coalition of environmental justice groups recently tested 200 toys, school supplies and other household items sold by dollar stores and found half of products contained high levels of at least two different toxins linked to cancer, diabetes, birth defects, and other serious health issues. Basically, when a chemical additive like BPA becomes notorious enough to be effectively eliminated from higher-income communities, it drops out of public debate but remains for sale at the 21,500 dollar stores across the country.
The report makes a persuasive case about the disproportionate impact of dollar store shopping on Black & Latino children, whose blood levels of toxic chemicals are twice as high as white children. But it has almost nothing to say about the impact on the people stocking the shelves and ringing up the orders, who handle the products every hour of every day — and who are also disproportionately people of color.
Low-wage retail has environmental justice implications too.
From wharf rats to mall rats
Every year, about 40,000 people from around the world who work on cruise ships and container ships get to spend a couple hours in Seattle when their workplaces are docked at terminals in the city.
The Seattle Times reports that with the help of an old Anglican charity that missions to seafarers, they are able to use their brief time onshore… to go the mall to buy shoes, clothing, and other brand-name items that are more available at a cheaper price in the US than at home. It's a very curious facet of global trade in goods and labor: brand-name products can be cheaper in the US then in the countries where they were actually made, and access to those goods can become a perk of leaving home to work on the very ships that ply the trade routes.
Maybe Walmart and Nordstrom aren’t so different after all
An exhaustive ProPublica investigation looks at what’s happened since Texas began allowing the nation’s largest companies to entirely opt-out of the workers compensation system, and instead write their own rule themselves. For starters: McDonald’s no longer covers carpal tunnel syndrome, a giant assisted living facility no longer covers bacterial infections, Taco Bell can accompany workers to their doctor appointments, and Costco by policy won’t cover any hearing aid that costs more than $600 — even though they don’t even sell a hearing aid for less than $900.
It’s obviously a terrible idea to put every decision about the medical care of a worker injured on the job entirely in the hands of the employer who injured them… but the terrible idea is catching on. Oklahoma now allows companies to opt out as well, there are serious moves afoot in Tennessee and South Carolina, and a coalition of giant retailers is pushing to expand the concept to a dozen more states in the next decade. That coalition is anchored by Walmart, Lowe’s… and Nordstrom.
Gets my goat
Tillie, a dog from Vashon Island, was named “Washingtonian of the Day” by Governor Jay Inslee after rescuing a friend named Phoebe (also a dog) from a cistern by barking for attention. They got a special grooming before receiving the award, which includes a certificate and a medal with an apple on it.
An Oregon Subway customer found a dead and unnamed rodent in an Italian sandwich, which sounds like a crypto-ethnic slur but apparently actually happened. A friend of the customer described it as both “the funniest” and the “most disgusting thing” he has ever seen, and the Subway franchisee refused to disclose its suppliers.
And the city of Niagara Falls unveiled Totes McGoats, an animal character meant to appeal to kids about a new recycling ordinance. The mayor describes it as “a cute animal mascot”, but also suggests a surprising complexity, noting that it’s “kind of scary actually.”