Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

I-News is the public service journalism arm of Rocky Mountain PBS and works in collaboration with news media throughout Colorado.

You can learn more about I-News at www.inewsnetwork.org.

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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Sand is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing, but breathing in too much of it can lead to silicosis, an incurable but entirely preventable disease caused by sand particles or respirable crystalline silica.

A 2012 alert and study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health raised an alarm that workers at fracking sites in Colorado and four other states were exposed to silica dust at levels that exceeded occupational exposure limits.

Many companies in the industry have responded by changing the way they handle frack sand. New innovation and investment suggests a technological fix can protect workers while boosting efficiency. The changes are as much a way to improve operations as strengthen worker's protections.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

From Moffat to Alamosa counties, Colorado is a big player in the nation's sheep industry.

The animals thrive in the state's high, dry mountains. Colorado ranked third in the value of sales of sheep and goats at $87 million in 2012, the latest data available, according to a 2014 USDA fact sheet.

Sheepherders – mostly immigrant guest workers from South America on H2-A visas – are responsible for the health of the flocks, day to day. The workers aren't subject to minimum wage like other farm workers. Instead their wages are set specially by the federal government at $750 a month in Colorado, a wage that has increased by only $50 in the past 20 years for most states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now the sheep industry is girding itself for what it sees as a storm.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

How much money do you need in Colorado to survive without outside help?

On average, Coloradans needed to earn 53 percent more money to get by without public assistance in 2015, as compared to 2001, according to the "Self-Sufficiency Standard" released June 11 by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Self-sufficiency is defined as the amount an individual or family needs to earn to meet their basic needs without public assistance, such as Medicaid or public housing, or private help, such as donations from a food bank or free baby-sitting from a relative. The calculations are meant to be a more accurate measure of the cost of basic needs than the federal poverty level.

charenton / Flickr - Creative Commons

Most Coloradans probably know that 4-20 – April 20 – has become the day for celebrating marijuana. Although the origin is still debated, 420 is probably the most popular numeric reference to pot. Here's 10 more numbers about cannabis in Colorado.

courtesty of I-News

It is illegal for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose the name of an employer who has violated wage laws, no matter how egregious or benign the employer's actions are. All complaints and investigations of employers, even after they've been resolved, are confidential under the state's interpretation of a 100-year-old law.

In 1915, the Colorado legislature wrote the confidentiality into the first law on workers' compensation. The statute specifies that information employers provided "shall be for the exclusive use and information of said commission in the discharge of its official duties and shall not be open to the public."

The law now specifies that labor authorities "may" treat information containing "trade secrets" as confidential. The state's lawyers, however, have interpreted the law to extend blanket confidentiality to cover all information on investigations of unpaid wages.

Mary MacCarthy / Special to Rocky Mountain PBS

New and experimental drugs are extending the lives of people with the deadliest forms of cancer. At the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Aurora, Dr. Ross Camidge leads clinical trials for lung cancer, which kills more people each year than breast cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer combined.

Camidge calls them "niche-busters" – targeted therapies that dig deep into the profiles of each individual cancer. Researchers have discovered that just as individual patients have different genetic make-ups, so do their tumors.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

In the 2015 State of the Union, President Barack Obama identified two years of free community college education as a means to help the middle class. It's not only the students who could use a leg up.

Adjunct professors scraping by on assistance from family, charities, and safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps continue to push for fair compensation and work conditions. Higher education institutions across Colorado employ part-time faculty, but adjuncts in community colleges say their situation is particularly dire.

Adjuncts currently represent 4,060 employees, or 78 percent of instructors at the 13 colleges in the Colorado Community College System, and are paid per class, largely without benefits, sick leave or job security.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-NEWS

Christy Lodwick – who has also been known as Christy Kemper, Christy Messer, Christy Hosey and Christy Workman over the years – has a long history of forgery, fraud and failing to pay workers according to court records, as she serially entrepreneurs health and aesthetics related enterprises, which serially go kaput.

What wasn't included in the criminal case was the $67,273 in wages eight former workers say they are owed. Her case demonstrates how impotent state labor authorities have been when faced with employers who cheat workers and business partners as a matter of course.

Under the Colorado Wage Act, illegally withholding wages is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $300 fine, penalties that are more lenient than the punishment for careless driving and have remained the same since 1941.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Ward Boydstun misses his teeth. The 27-year-old left his dentures at the Bradley Petroleum gas station when he was escorted out in handcuffs. The company had paid for the new set of teeth for the former "manager of the month" when years of poor dental care left him with none.

Then, $4,534 and change was missing.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

From telemarketers to tortilla manufacturers, workers in myriad industries have suffered from employers failing to pay them wages they are owed, a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News investigation has found.

While blue-collar workers are most frequently cheated, workers across pay-scales in Colorado are vulnerable to wage theft – a term for employers illegally withholding wages – an analysis of federal enforcement data shows.

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