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Low-wage workers face variety of health issues on the job

Upstate Medical University

Low-wage workers in Syracuse continue to face physical and mental health issues, according to the latest Upstate Medical University report on the issue.

Over the past three years, the Low-Wage Workers Health Project has talked to more than 500 workers in Syracuse making less than $15 an hour. Director Jeanette Zoeckler says their stories show the same kinds of physical issues are faced in all kinds of jobs -- from retail, to health care, to administrative support.

“In many cases, there can be physical problems, there can be biological exposures, there can be chemical problems, there can be safety issues, and these are pretty dependent on which industry we’re looking at. Becuase low wage work really extends across all industries,” Zoeckler said.

Zoeckler says low-income workers face more than physical impacts on their health. There are also psychosocial problems, like workplace violence and discrimination that blur the boundaries between work and non-work.

The answer? Zoeckler says beyond political changes in workforce policy and regulations, education is key. And not just of the employers, but employees as well.

“Educating workers themselves about the kind of things they can do. If they know their rights, and they can expand on how to use their rights in the workplace, then they can find out ways to solve issues that are in front of them.”

Zoeckler says her organization will continue working on the issue, expanding to the Albany area and the Southern Tier. One other focus starting this year is a study of the hazards of farming in the North Country. Zoeckler says her organization is working with organizations that have found serious hazards at some Dairy Farms. 

"We have people who are connected in the community and they are going in to train some of the farm workers about their rights and about what kind of safety and health hazards they might be facing, and how to find better and safer ways of doing the work.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.