Renew the Fight for Safe Jobs

March 1, 2018

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(This article first appeared in the March-April 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

By Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman

We all know and enjoy our holiday – Labor Day. But did you know that there is another day that honors the workers of the world? It is celebrated on April 28 of each year, and it is Workers Memorial Day. This day honors and remembers those who have suffered from injuries, occupational illnesses and died while on the job. This day is also the day we renew the fight for safe jobs.

Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act more than 40 years ago. This law intended to guarantee workers safe jobs. Through this law and the efforts of various unions and allies in this country, workers in America did go to work in safer environments and countless lives have been saved.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by this law and has been the governmental agency that has enforced the regulations meant to keep workers safe. However, the fight is not over for safe jobs – it is more important today than ever.

Here are just a few statistics, as supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016 – the last year for which the data has been published – 2.9 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses were reported by private companies and 5,190 fatalities were reported. That is an injury rate of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers.

This of course does not include injuries not reported due to fear of retaliation, intimidation or other reasons workers may not report injuries. The federal government had 86,470 injuries in fiscal year 2017, an accident rate of 3.01 cases per FTE with 35 fatalities.

The Postal Service? Even worse. Of the 86,470 federal injuries, 42,594 of those were postal employees (not counting the ones people were afraid to report) for a rate of 6.67 cases per FTE. Twelve of the government’s 35 deaths were postal employees. Your job is dangerous!

We also are battling the Trump Administration, which is shrinking the number of government employees. According to a story in the Washington Post, OSHA has been crippled. They have lost 6 percent of their permanent workers. Manager and supervisor positions are not being filled. Without these supervisors, inspection reports and fines cannot be reviewed and finalized.

In essence, the Administration has crippled OSHA. The White House has delayed the implementation of new safety rules on injury reporting, chemical exposure and identification of safety hazards. The Administration has also ordered for every new regulation, two must be eliminated. For a new safety rule to take effect, two must be destroyed.

Philosopher and writer George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must remember our past where insufficient safety regulations led to tens of millions of injuries and tens of thousands of deaths annually.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. He was there participating in the historic Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike that began over unsafe working conditions.

On Feb. 1, 1968, two African-American city sanitation workers were crushed to death by their malfunction- ing garbage truck, when they took shelter from a heavy downpour inside the barrel of the truck.

These sanitation workers were not allowed to take shelter on the porches of those they served or they were required to go home without pay – unlike their white co-workers who could go home with pay. The deaths led the sanitation workers and their union to strike. They were demanding safe equipment, equal treatment and better pay.

Dr. King died supporting workers and their safety. So on the 50th anniversary of his death, we cannot forget how important safety is – or how easily we could go back to those days of no safety regulations, where going home ill, injured or dead was just part of the price one had to pay to have a job.

This is why we must remember those hurt and killed this April 28, 2018. We must fight for safe jobs and to keep the protections we have. To quote the AFL-CIO, Safe Jobs: Every Worker’s Right.

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