April 29, 2015
New York, NY – Hard hats from all over the city poured into St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Tuesday afternoon to honor workers killed on the job this year, as well as draw strength and inspiration for the ongoing struggle for workplace safety.
Organized labor has made tremendous gains protecting the lives of workers since the Occupational Safety and Health Act became law 45 years ago.
Although the workplace remains a profoundly dangerously environment for for too many men and women, and Latino and immigrant workers continue to be at greater risk, the AFL-CIO says that hundreds of thousands of lives have actally been saved and millions of life-altering injuries have been prevented since 1970.
Sadly, nearly five decades later, many of those gains are now under threat by big business and their surrogates in government seeking so-called reform.
“Since the beginning of organized labor, big business has tried to take advantage by putting in the least amount of safety regulations they can on job sites,” third generation electrician Len Kopicotto told LaborPress outside St. Pat’s this week.
This year’s alarming number of construction-related deaths, including 40-year-old Trevor Loftus’ death at a non-union job site on East 44th Street only last Friday, demonstrates just how relevant the ongoing fight for workplace safety remains.
“Every day you want to make sure they [big business] put people over profits and that we guarantee that all workers, no matter what type of job they have, are in the safest environment that they can be in,” Kopicotto added.
Nationally, the AFL-CIO credits the Obama administration with strengthening worker safety and health protections through stronger enforcement and expanded worker rights.
Local 3 Electrician Mary-Jane Diamond told LaborPress that despite the many challenges, important improvements have, in fact, been made.
“I’m not in the business that long, but from what I’ve seen a lot of things have changed,” Diamond told LaborPress. “My brother is a fourth-generation sand hog. Years ago, they were losing guys left and right.”
By their nature, horrific accidents like the crane collapse that took Loftus’ life last week are especially visceral and therefore, high profile.
But working men and women across a wide section of industries continue to face all manner of hazards that have the potential of being just as deadly — everything from traffic accidents to Ebola.
To combat all of these ongoing ills and many others, organized labor has gotten behind a piece of legislation that, like the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed so many decades ago, is designed to give workers the protections they need.
Introduced in 2013, the Protecting America’s Workers Act aims to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 by increasing protections for whistleblowers. It remains in committee.