A Safe Job Is Every Worker’s Right

A safe job is a fundamental workers’ right. It doesn’t matter whether you work in a coal mine, a classroom, a construction site, a hospital or a garment factory in Bangladesh or China, every worker should be able to go to their job and return home safely at the end of the day.

“But in too many workplaces around the world, employers’ push for production and profits and disregard for workers’ safety puts workers’ lives in danger,” state AFL-CIO delegates in a convention resolution on worker safety. This is why the AFL-CIO, along with its allies—safety and health activists and advocates, family members, worker centers, public interest organizations—commit to seek stronger safety and health protections and rights for all workers.

This past April, the horrifying collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which housed five factories making garments for U.S. and European retailers, highlighted the urgent need to address workplace safety issues. Cracks in the building had been discovered, because of illegal and shoddy construction, making it unsafe. But workers were told to return to work or lose their month’s pay. Soon after, the building collapsed, killing 1,129 workers, mostly women, and injuring hundreds more. Just months earlier, 112 Bangladeshi workers were killed in a fire, trapped behind locked doors at the Tazreen garment factory, another producer for global retail chains.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and an advocate for garment factory workers, said at the convention:

In the USA, you had events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that happened over 100 years ago. You still have workplace disasters, but you have made it clear here that industry does not have to be that way. If workers organize unions and know their rights and laws, and government does its job, industry can be held accountable.  Workers can produce without risking health and life. The economy can grow and workers can share in this prosperity.

In the United States,  in recent years alone, the lack of safety protections is costing workers their lives. In 2010, 29 coal miners died in an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, a company with a history of serious mine violations and deaths. A few weeks later, an explosion at the BP Gulf Coast oil well killed 12 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. This past April, 15 people died in an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant that processed and stored highly dangerous chemicals. The plant was small and not covered by many chemical safety regulations and had never been inspected  by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And in June, 19 firefighters died in a massive wildfire in Arizona when they were trapped behind the fire line when the wind shifted; with no way to escape. This was the worst firefighter tragedy since the collapse of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Even though the union movement’s advocacy in workplace safety standards has made significant improvements for workers—since the passage of the landmark Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act, the job fatality rate has been cut by more than 80%—out of date workplace safety laws and underfunded enforcement, coupled with eight years of neglect and hostility under the Bush administration, has taken its toll.

Fortunately, under President Obama, we are starting to make progress on workplace safety issues.

Strong, committed advocates have been appointed to lead the job safety agencies. Both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have stepped up enforcement, particularly for employers who have a history of serious and repeated violations. The agencies have increased focus on protecting workers’ rights with enhanced whistle-blower protection programs and policies to protect workers who report job hazards or job injuries from retaliation. And education and outreach, particularly for vulnerable workers, has been expanded to help workers exercise their legal rights.

But there is still work to do.

The resolution states the union movement will:

  • Strengthen the OSHA and MSHA laws to cover all workers and all work arrangements, toughen enforcement and provide stronger workers’ rights and anti-retaliation protections, seeking improvements both federally and at the state level.
  • Continue to push the Obama administration to issue needed rules on silica, coal dust, combustible dust, infectious diseases and other hazards, taking legal action when necessary to protect workers’ safety on the job.
  • Continue to challenge employer policies and practices that discourage or retaliate against workers for reporting injuries or hazards and shift blame and responsibility to workers, and instead push employers to reduce exposures to workplace hazards.
  • Oppose the industry assault on regulations and corporate legislative efforts to dismantle our system of regulatory safeguards that protect our health, safety and environment and financial security.
  • Educate workers and union members about job hazards and safety and health rights, and support efforts to organize and take action to improve working conditions.
  • Fight efforts to use international trade agreements to lower safety and health standards and protections, and instead seek to use these agreements and their enforcement as means to raise standards and improve working conditions for all workers.

From the resolution:

And we must and will stop corporations’ endless worldwide drive for cheaper production, lower wages and resulting exploitation of workers. With the global trade union movement and our partners, we will seek strong laws that protect workers’ safety and health and workers’ rights no matter in which country they live or work. We will hold global corporations responsible for their actions and production on their behalf and demand binding enforceable industry agreements that provide workers fair wages, safe working conditions and the right to organize.

Read the full text of Safe Jobs—Every Worker’s Right.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , ,