Today, on Workers' Memorial Day, the United Steelworkers honors the 35 brothers and sisters who died at work in the last year.
USW International Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson said at ceremony honoring them at Steelworkers' headquarters in Pittsburgh that those lost were more than workers. They were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers and so much more.
A bell rang and a candle extinguished for every one of the iives we'll never forget.
Nationwide, more than 4,300 workers died on the job in the most recent year statistics are available, a sign that 40 years after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) that there is much more work to be done.
"The job safety laws must be strengthened," finds the 2011 AFL-CIO annual job safety report "Death on the Job," released this morning to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. (Click here for the full report.)
The safety report estimates that since the OSH Act become law 40 years ago tomorrow, it has saved an estimated 431,000 lives. The nation's two mining laws, the 42-year-old Coal Mine Health and Safety Act and the 34-year-old Mine Safety and Health Act, have saved thousands more.
House Republican are working to make deep cuts to OSHA to help fund tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Business groups and their Republican supporters on Capitol Hill are trying to block new job safety rules that could save workers' lives. At the state level, legislators in at least 10 states have launched attacks on workplace safety laws and workers' rights in general.
Consider what's at risk:
If proposed right to work legislation becomes law: One of the goals of this legislation is to harm a local's ability to support itself financially. As a result, locals could struggle to send members to safety trainings and to defend members who encounter safety and health concerns on the job. In those states with right to work laws, workplace deaths are 52.9 percent higher than in non-right to work states. A second recent study suggests that states that are working to reduce workplace injuries and fatalities should "consider encouraging trade union growth and repealing right to work laws."
If public sector workers are stripped of bargaining rights: A nurse at a county care facility loses a tool to fight for safer nurse-to-patient ratios. A road maintenance worker loses the ability to bargain for better safety equipment. Without a union to back them up, too many workers keep silent for fear of retaliation when safety and health risks are present. Eliminating bargaining rights eliminates our voice for safety on the job.
If policies are enacted to limit unions' ability to engage in the legislative and political process: Unions have always been at the forefront in demanding legislative changes to reduce exposure to safety and health hazards - hazards that too many employers would rather not address. We can't remove workers' voices from these debates.
Given that many Steelworkers go to work each day in some of the most dangerous industries, any threat to safety and health on the job can impact us even greater. Mourn for the dead, and let's keep fighting for the living.