COVID-19 Spotlights the Need to Continue the Fight for Safety and Health

March 1, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Every year on April 28, workers come together for Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have died, been injured, or contracted an occupational disease at work. The memorial day is on the anniversary of April 28, 1971, when the Occupational Safety and Health Act became effective and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed.

In a normal year, a worker is killed on the job every seven seconds. In particular, postal workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in government service. In the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented disaster for working people in the country, including postal workers.

Over 500,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. Recent studies show that essential workers outside health care are 20 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than other workers. Tens of thousands of postal workers have been forced to quarantine, and over 150 have died.

Other essential workers have also borne much of the brunt of the pandemic as they kept vital services running. Instead of protecting their workers, too many employers sacrificed their employees’ health and safety in the name of the economy. COVID-19 tore through meatpacking plants, long-term care facilities, kitchens, Amazon warehouses, and countless other workplaces across the country, while workers were left without proper PPE and the White House took a ‘hands off’ approach to worker safety.

As of January, At least 239 meatpacking workers died and 45,000 had contracted the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to a USA Today report. Some employers did not report these deaths to OSHA.

In New York City alone, 136 transit workers had died of COVID-19 by the end of January.

At Amazon, which has made record profits during the pandemic, nearly 20,000 workers were reported to have contracted COVID-19 by October 2020. When employees protested the company’s poor safety policies, Amazon cracked down, firing workers for speaking out and protesting for safe workplaces. New York Attorney General Letitia James brought a lawsuit against the company in February, suing Amazon for not properly conducting contact tracing and improving ventilation in its facilities in the state, as well as illegally firing a worker at its Staten Island warehouse for whistleblowing about its lack of safety.

OSHA Failed to Protect Workers During the Pandemic

President Trump’s OSHA failed workers during the pandemic, making many safety recommendations voluntary for employers and allowing them to determine whether a death from COVID-19 was workplace- related. Workers were forced to choose between putting food on the table and keeping themselves and their families safe during the pandemic. Fortunately, the Biden administration has made worker safety a priority, and important changes have been made on the federal level to protect workers across the country.

Though this progress is welcomed, we must continue to demand that OSHA aggressively enforce workplace health and safety regulations, and hold employers accountable for unsafe working conditions.

“The APWU’s top priority is keeping postal workers safe. Management’s priority must be the same,” said Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman. “As we honor the struggles of our fellow workers during this difficult year, we must continue to demand management honor their responsibility to us each and every day.”

On April 28, we will remember our fellow workers who have been hurt or died on the job, and recommit ourselves to the fight for safe jobs and workplaces through the pandemic and beyond. Mark your calendars and start speaking to your local representatives about what your local/state union or retiree chapter can do to mark the day.

“As essential workers, postal workers have deeply felt the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said President Dimondstein. “On every Workers Memorial Day, we ‘remember the dead, and fight like hell for the living.’ This year has shown just how important that fight still is.”


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