Meanwhile, other labor organizations spent Wednesday pausing to recognize Workers’ Memorial Day. April 28 is the date in 1971 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect in the United States. In New York City workers gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to honor construction accident victims and their families. Ronnie Richardson is Business Agent for Metallic Lathers Union Local 46.
[Richardson1]: You know we are under a lot of pressure to get the job done
right and one time so, and the most important thing for us is that we
The number on the brick in AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler’s hand was 5,214.
This afternoon, she told the union members, job safety advocates and others at the National Labor College (NLC), 5,214 represents the number of workers killed on the job in 2008. In short, said Shuler:
That’s 14 a day.
Today, the NLC dedicated the National Workers Memorial in Workers Memorial Day ceremonies. The recently completed memorial features granite benches and brick pavers engraved with the name of union members killed on the job. The ceremony paid special tribute to the workers killed in the most recent workplace tragedies:
- 29 coal miners killed at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia;
- Seven workers killed at the Tesoro refinery in Washington State;
- Six victims at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Connecticut; and
- 11 oil platform workers who are presumed dead following an explosion of the Transocean Ltd. rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pointing toward the bricks and benches that family members and co-workers have engraved with the names of those killed on the job, Shuler said:
Every brick represents not just a worker lost—but a family left behind, a wife without husband, a child without a mother, a mother without a son.
(Click here for information on sponsoring a brick or other remembrance at the National Workers Memorial.)
Shuler called on Congress to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067, S. 1580) and the S-Miner Act, both of which will strengthen workplace safety laws, toughen enforcement and increase penalties for employers who violate the law. She also called for “labor law reform to giver workers a voice on the job for safety.”
In a Workers Memorial Day op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka writes that the penalties employers face for violating workplace safety laws “are so weak and so ripe for manipulation that they hardly matter.”
You can get more jail time for harassing a burro on federal land than for killing a worker.
Tragic, but true. Willful violation of workplace safety laws that kills a worker carries a maximum jail term of six months for a first offender. It’s a year for burro harassment.
More than 360,000 workers have died on the job since the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970, but only 79 cases have been prosecuted and defendants have served just a total of 89 months behind for the workers’ deaths. The civil penalties employers face “are just as toothless,” says Trumka, an average of $5,000 per worker death after legal wrangling.
He writes that while “decades of struggle by workers and their unions have improved workplace safety significantly,”
eight years of neglect, inaction and outright hostility by the Bush administration eroded our protections. Focus shifted from protecting workers to protecting employers, claiming corporations could police themselves and actually allowing crackdowns on workers who had the nerve to get hurt on the job.
Trumka says the OSH Act has been tweaked over time, but after 40 years, “It’s time for a complete overhaul,” which could be accomplished by passage of the Protecting America’s Workers Act, the S-Miner act and labor law reform.
On this Workers Memorial Day, with loss of life at Upper Big Branch mine still fresh on our minds, the least we can do to honor fallen workers is to fight to pass these laws. We must never forget that a good job must be a safe job first and foremost.
In a Workers Memorial Day proclamation, President Obama said that on the 40th anniversary of the OSH Act it’s time to renew the nation’s “commitment to ensure the safety of American workers.”
The legal right to a safe workplace was won only after countless lives had been lost over decades in workplaces across America, and after a long and bitter fight waged by workers, unions and public health advocates. Much remains to be done, and my administration is dedicated to renewing our nation’s commitment to achieve safe working conditions for all American workers.
All week the Service Employees International Union has been rolling out rallies across the country calling for serious Wall Street reform. In San Francisco on Tuesday hundreds gathered outside of a Wells Fargo shareholders meeting. On Wednesday the target was a Bank of America shareholders meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With Workers Memorial Day and the recent deadly workplace tragedies that have claimed dozens of workers lives, two congressional committee hearings focused on job safety and strengthening worker protections.
This morning, the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee explored ways to protect workers who blow the whistle on unsafe and dangerous workplace conditions from retaliation, harassment and even dismissal by employers.
The hearing room was packed with workers who have been victims of on-the-job injuries and surviving family members of workers killed on the job, including many families of the 12 coal miners killed in the 2006 Sago (W.Va.) Mine explosion.
AFL-CIO General Counsel Lynn Rhinehart told the panel that “workers see firsthand the hazards posed by their jobs and their workplaces.”
But in order for workers to feel secure in bringing hazards to their employer’s attention, they must have confidence that they will not lose their jobs or face other types of retaliation for doing so.
She said that that the current whistle-blower protections in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act “are exceedingly weak.”
As a consequence, workers who are fired or face other retaliatory action for filing an [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] complaint or raising concerns about workplace hazards are left with very little recourse, unless they are fortunate enough to be covered by a union contract, which provides far stronger protections and quicker remedies.
The Protecting America’s Workers Act would provide “more meaningful anti-retaliation protections to workers” and
will help encourage employees to speak out when they become aware of hazardous workplace conditions.
Click here for witness testimony.
Yesterday, at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing held to explore strengthening job safety laws, committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin put it this way:
Too many workers remain in harm’s way, and it is long past time to strengthen the critical laws that keep Americans safe on the job.
He particularly cited the need for stronger enforcement and penalties for “a population of employers that prioritize profits over safety, and knowingly and repeatedly violate the law.”
The deadly blast at the Upper Big Branch coal mine earlier this month was a tragic example of the dangers of this approach.
The problem of repeat offenders is certainly not limited to the world of mining….Unfortunately the penalties for breaking the law are often so minimal that employers can dismiss them as a minor cost of doing business.
Click here for video excerpts from the hearing and witness testimony, including the Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts and AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario.
While hundreds of ceremonies are taking place across the United States today, Workers Memorial Day is being observed in more than 140 countries around the globe. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Guy Ryder says that every day around the world, 1,000 workers are killed on the job and more than 900,000 are hurt.
On top of the already unsafe and precarious working conditions many workers face around the world, these times of economic crisis—and unscrupulous employers—mean less protection and more insecurity. Unions are key for ensuring that safe and sustainable work is not a privilege for the few, but a right for every worker. That is why the ITUC has chosen “Unions make work safer” as the motto for our actions on this 28th April 2010.
The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Union (ICEM) today published a special online newsletter that examines workplace deaths, injuries and job safety around the globe and the “major role that trade unions play to constantly monitor—and improve—occupational safety and health.” Says ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda:
Each year, Workers Memorial Day gains more significance and more recognition. It is only fitting that this year, with the vast number of workers and their trade unions who vigilantly monitor everyday workplace safety and health, the theme “Unions Make Work Safer” has been chosen.
Some 1,500 striking workers, including 1,000 nurses and 500 health care professionals, at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia are voting today on a new tentative agreement reached last night. If they ratify the new deal, the workers could be back at work as early as Friday.
Members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), have been on strike since March 31. They have been without a contract since September.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the new contract, which expires in October 2013, includes wage increases and provides some tuition reimbursement for dependents.
The key issues in the strike included wages, health benefits, a new clause forbidding employees from disparaging the hospital and the withdrawal of tuition reimbursement for dependents, a longtime benefit.
The hospital brought in more than 850 replacement workers from across the country, many of whom worked 12-hour shifts for several days. Nurses on the picket lines received complaints from patients and their families about the poor care they received with the replacement workers. A patient even walked out to the picket line to complain about her care.
The striking workers gained strong support from local unions and religious, civil rights and student groups. Unions throughout Philadelphia donated $10,000 to help strikers who might need financial help during the strike. In March, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President William George held a press conference to pledge the union movement’s support for the workers.
Filmmaker Michael Moore endorsed the strike, saying in a statement:
It is an embarrassment that an otherwise fine institution of higher learning would treat its own nurses and other health professionals with such contempt.
During a rally at the hospital last week, Kate Harkins, a member of the Temple University Student Labor Action Project told the strikers:
We cannot allow Temple to become another graveyard for workers’ rights.
Elected officials also gave the workers strong backing. Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) joined the negotiations for two days earlier this month and 11 state legislators signed a letter to hospital executives urging them to negotiate a fair contract. The Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the hospital to negotiate fairly. The city controller also wrote a letter to the hospital saying the replacement workers were responsible for paying city taxes on the money they earned during the strike.
For more on the strike and settlement, click here.