April 26, 2019

Worker Memorial Day 2019: Safe Jobs Are Every Worker’s Right

On April 28, 2019 the country will once again observe Worker Memorial Day. This day is set aside to remember those who lost their lives in workplace accidents over the previous year. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was signed into law on April 28, 1971, creating a day to remember our coworkers who have perished on the job.

Union contracts have health and safety at the core of the language. For years union contracts have included language that surpassed government regulation on health and safety. Historically, union work represented workplaces have lower accident and death rates due to policies and procedures that improve health and safety in the workplace and training that lowers the risk of potential accidents for workers. As a matter of fact, states that have a higher union density have overall lower workplace accident and death rates than states that have lower union density.

The lobbying work that unions do for health and safety has made workplaces safer for all workers. The United Mine Workers have pushed a number of safety measures that have become law, along with the AFL-CIO Building trades have improved construction work places. The UAW worked with OSHA to improve silica dust standards for workplaces that use any type of grinding wheel. These improvements have made our workplaces safer.

The work of each union has made workplaces safer for workers in each industry, whether they are covered by a union or not. However, as union density has reduced there has been a rise in workplace fatalities. A new study shows a 14.2% rise in workplace fatalities from 1992 to 2016 as union density declined. The study concluded there were an additional 7200 workplace deaths due to this decline. As union contracts diminish, workers rely on OSHA standards to protect them. Unions make workplaces safer for workers, and as the number of union workplaces decline, so do these protections.

On his first week on the job, President Trump signed an executive order that requires the elimination of two regulations for every one added. This means for OSHA to add a workplace safety regulation they must eliminate two current regulations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,147 workers died on the job in the past year. Another 50,000 workers die a year as a result of health issues related to exposure to workplace chemicals. America’s workers deserve a workplace that is safe to work in, without the worry of incidents that lead to injury or death. As a family watches their love one leave for work each day, it is their right to see that love one return. It is our first priority to see to it that workplaces have safeguards to keep workers healthy and safe.

In addition to reducing regulations, this administration has rolled back safety protections in mines, deep water drilling for oil, line speeds in meat packing houses, and several other worker protections. Also, important government department head positions have been filled with people known for anti-worker backgrounds. The current head of the Mine Safety Chief is former Coal CEO David Zatezalo. When he was the President and CEO of Rhino Resources in West Virginia, Zatezalo was often cited for failing to follow safety regulations by the same agency he now heads. At OSHA, reporting standards have been lowered to allow companies to hide injuries from data numbers. As the government allows companies to self-regulate, workplace injuries and deaths will increase.

In the past year there were two deaths in UAW represented facilities in the United States. While we feel every workplace death and particularly UAW deaths, one of those occurred in Region 8. Local 737 member Paul Edward Kaelin died in a workplace accident on October 11, 2018. Our hearts break for the family, the friends and coworkers of Brother Kaelin. While we always mourn the victims of workplace accidents, we in Region 8 will feel the loss greater this year. We should pray for the family involved and increase our efforts toward protecting workers to see that this doesn’t happen again.

This Worker Memorial Day we should realize that today more than ever our actions are needed to protect America’s workers. At this time we can’t depend on our government to assist in looking out for workers, so we must fight harder. Remember- safe jobs are every worker’s right and we cannot rest until every work returns safely home at the end of each work day.

Mitchell Smith
UAW Region 8 Director









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