The Stand

Work safety is fundamental to labor’s mission

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Together, we will resist efforts to place profit over workers’ health and livelihoods

 

By APRIL SIMS


(April 30, 2019) — In commemorating Workers Memorial Day this past Sunday, we have remembered those who have been hurt or killed on the job, and rededicated ourselves to fighting for workplace safety.

The officers and staff of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO offer our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the tragic crane collapse in Seattle last weekend — including the two Union Ironworkers, Andrew Yoder and Travis Corbet, who were members of our labor family.

(To assist our Brothers’ families during this tragedy, donations can be made at Ironworkers USA Credit Union. Call 206-835-0150 or 1-877-769-4766 or make a donation online here. Thank you for your support of their families.)

 


Protecting worker safety is fundamental to organized labor’s stated mission; it’s about people’s lives, it’s about the dignity and respect that all working people are due. In 1970, after years of workers organizing and calling for safety and health standards, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This landmark legislation was designed to protect workers and hold employers accountable.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the health and safety of working people on the job is being threatened and put at risk as this current administration’s attacks on workers extends beyond just the economy to include safety on the job.

In the past two years, President Trump and corporate-backed congressional Republicans have repealed a rule that required employers to keep accurate injury records and blocked a rule that held government contractors accountable for obeying safety and labor laws. Additionally, they’ve proposed eliminating OSHA’s worker safety and health training program and the Chemical Safety Board and have even tried to weaken child labor protections.  The number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since the 1970s, due in part to chronic underfunding from the Republican Congress and its attempts to shore up profits for businesses at the expense of workers.

These attacks on safety regulation come at a time where workers are still not safe in many workplaces. In 2017, nearly 5,200 workers were killed on the job and millions more were injured. Annually, 95,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by toxic chemical exposures and other health hazards, deaths that OSHA’s Chemical Safety Board seeks to regulate, the same board that this administration has targeted for elimination. All told, each day in this country 275 working men and women die because of their work.

Moreover, we know that certain workers feel the impacts of this administration’s attack on safety regulations more often. Immigrant workers have a disproportionate rate of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the workplace, largely because they work in dangerous industries, may be particularly vulnerable due to their immigration status, and may be subject to employer exploitation.

In the agricultural, forestry, and fishing sector, in which many immigrants work, the fatality rate in 2017 was the same as it was in 1992; there has been no decrease in workers deaths in 25 years. Bill Fletcher reminds us that workers of color are the “canaries in the coalmine” for all workers, calling out mistreatment and exploitation that often impacts their lives before those of their white coworkers.

A major cause of workplace death or injury is workplace violence; home healthcare and service providers, healthcare and social service workers experience the highest rates of violence, and these workers are more likely to be women and people of color. This administration is attacking regulations that protect some of the most vulnerable workers, hoping that their fellow working Americans won’t hear their calls.

And that is why the WSLC is committed to doing the work to get our Congressional delegation to support HR 1309 — Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. (Thank you, U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Kim Schrier for co-sponsoring HR 1309. Click here to urge your member of Congress to support it.)

At the WSLC, we see the work we do developing worker trainings and growing apprenticeship in varied fields all over the state as central to protecting worker safety on the job. That’s why the Trump administration’s proposed Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program is a risk that we as organized labor cannot afford to take. Expanding the reach of Washington’s Apprenticeship Programs is vital to creating an economy that will work for all of us, but not at the risk of worker health and safety. Therefore, the WSLC will continue advocate for and advance policy that will provide high-quality training and education and protect the health and safety of workers.

As the first woman to represent labor on the Apprenticeship Council, I bring the voice of an evolving and expanding labor movement into these policy discussions, and I am committed to making sure all workers are safe on the job. Here in Washington state, where organized labor is a powerful force, we have fought to improve workplace safety and to maintain safety regulations. It’s no coincidence that Washington state is in the top 10 for fewest workplace fatalities in the nation.

As members of organized labor, we will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder with all workers of all colors and backgrounds against attacks on worker safety and worker dignity. Together, we will continue to resist any attempt to place employer profit over the health and livelihoods of all workers.


April Sims is Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, representing the interests of more than 600 union organizations with approximately 550,000 rank-and-file members.

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