April 29, 2011
By Joel Shufro
Today, April 28th is Worker Memorial Day, a day on which we remember the millions of brothers and sisters, here and throughout the world, who have died as a result of a job related injuries or illnesses and when we recommit ourselves to fight for the human right of every work to a safe and healthful job.
Substantial progress toward a safer workplace has been made in this country, particularly since the enactment of the OSHA law and mine safety laws Literally tens of thousands of workers are alive today because of regulations enacted and enforced by government agencies.
But despite the progress, too many workers die needless, unnecessary deaths.Last year we saw 29 miners die at the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia; an explosion at Kleen Energy in Connecticut and another at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State that cost the lives of 7 workers; and the BP/Transocean Oil rig explosion that killed 11. Those are just the tip of the iceberg; 146 workers die every day in the U.S. from job related illnesses and injuries.
Although under the Obama Administration, OSHA and MSHA have been issuing needed regulations, strengthening enforcement and expanding workers rights, the business community has redoubled their long standing attacks government regulations and on the public employees who enforce the safety and health laws. They argue falsely that government regulations kill jobs. But as OSHA Director David Michaels has said, “OSHA is not working to kill jobs; we’re here to stop jobs from killing workers.”
There has never been a major safety rule instituted by government which the business community did not oppose as a burden on commerce whether it was a limit on the hours of work, the regulation of child labor, requirements for workplace sprinklers, or paid sick leave. The attack on government regulations is part of an effort to take away gains fought for and won by labor.
Now, joining the attacks on safety in the workplace are attacks on the very legitimacy of collective bargaining in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and New Hampshire. We will only be able to push back these attacks with a united labor movement working with broad-based coalitions of community based and public interest organizations.
On this Workers Memorial Day, let’s remember our brothers and sisters who have died from an occupational disease or have been injured on the job. In the words of Mother Jones, let’s also unite to “fight for the living.” Make no mistake, our lives and health depend on it.
Joel Shufro is Executive Director of the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).