Field Placement: Association of
Occupational and Environmental Clinics, Occupational Health Internship Program
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Preceptor: Linda Delp, Director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program
Student Name: Laura Podolsky
I participated in the
Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP), a project of the Association
of Occupational and Environmental Clinics. OHIP places undergraduate and graduate
students with labor unions and other non-profit worker organizations to learn
about occupational health issues. Interns work in two- or three-person interdisciplinary
teams to address specific occupational health and safety issues, such as the
implications of overhead drilling or assault experiences of hospital psychiatric
ward employees. OHIP emphasizes partnering with workers, believing that this
is the most effective means of investigating and improving occupational health
OHIP interns worked in sites in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Here in LA, there were two intern teams: Mona Lee (UCLA graduate student in Urban Planning) and Gabriel Rivera (UC-Irvine medical student) worked with a day laborers’ organization, IDEPSCA; Daniela Conde (UCLA undergraduate in Political Science and Chicano/a Studies) and I worked with the union UNITE!-HERE Local 11 to explore health and safety issues of hotel room cleaners. We began our work in late June and continued into late August. Both teams were supervised throughout by Linda Delp, Director of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program. As well, each team had a supervisor from their partner organization.
Our project with Local 11 coincided with UNITE!-HERE’s International Housekeepers’ Campaign. The campaign was initiated in June 2005 in response to the increase in work-related injuries among housekeepers and their active union involvement. Through surveys, workshops, and worker meetings, the campaign aims to learn more about types and causes of common work-related injuries and illnesses experienced by housekeepers. As well, the campaign seeks to educate workers about Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs). The campaign posits that such awareness-raising will galvanize workers to fight for decreased workloads in future contract negotiations.
In developing the campaign, UNITE!-HERE health and safety staff drew on a 1998 project with hotel housekeepers in the San Francisco-based HERE Local 2 as well as a 2000 study of Las Vegas hotel housekeepers. While identifying some issues surrounding the occupational safety and health of housekeepers, these studies also highlighted the need for additional investigation of these questions. Through our project, we aimed to supply some preliminary qualitative information for such research in Los Angeles, while also contributing to UNITE!-HERE’s International Housekeepers’ Campaign. To this end, we conducted interviews, hotel visits, and house visits with housekeepers from union and non-union hotels in Los Angeles to learn more about types and causes of their work-related injuries and illnesses. We also spoke with housekeepers about their reporting experiences: what factors motivated or discouraged reporting, and what happened after reports were filed. Additionally, we helped the union to collect and compile results from a health and safety survey of hotel room cleaners. Throughout, we worked closely with union organizers to identify potential interview participants and other key informants.
This internship proved an engaging and eye-opening opportunity to learn about Participatory Action Research. I learned a great deal from the workers and union organizers, about both hotel work and union-building. I feel I have a greater appreciation of the challenges of addressing occupational health and safety issues, as well as a strengthened belief in their importance.
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