By Adam Kader
Today is Workers’ Memorial Day, a time to mourn the workers that have been killed or inured on the job. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Do Republicans want to kill workers? “Republicans earlier this year proposed huge cuts to OSHA’s budget that [OSHA Director David] Michaels said would ‘have a devastating effect on all of our activities.’ Republicans also blocked new regulations that would have allowed OSHA to crack down on businesses, like the Massey Energy owned Upper Big Branch Mine, that repeatedly violate workplace safety laws” (Wonk Room).
The Republicans claim that funding agencies like OSHA and passing further regulations on business is a “job-killer.” But let us be clear and sober: failure to fund OSHA is a worker-killer. If anyone doubts the need for the enforcement of health and safety standards, listen to the family members of victims on the job.
Last month, the public heard about the health and safety hazards faced by immigrant workers at Arise Chicago’s Public Forum on Worker Health and Safety. Representatives from OSHA were in attendance; an affirmation of their commitment to public outreach and education. They, along with 65 other members of the public, witnessed testimony from workers, including a construction worker who told the story of a co-worker who fell three stories and suffered back injuries. And a factory worker who described his hearing disability as the result of years of working with loud machinery. The Public Forum was the culmination of a survey of 208 workers. Among the findings:
21% had suffered an occupational injury or illness
41% never received on-the-job safety training
31% were not provided protective equipment
59% had no knowledge of OSHA
Forum participants spoke of the importance of education and training, like that provided by worker centers and unions. History shows us left to its own, businesses cannot be trusted to ensure healthy and safe workplaces. Through the labor movement, workers have struggled to improve the conditions of the American workplace. In a proclamation today, President Barack Obama acknowledged that:
“The protections working Americans enjoy today were not easily gained. They had to be won by generations of courageous men and women, fighting to secure decent working conditions, standing up for those most vulnerable, and sometimes risking their own economic security and lives.”
Today, an unacceptable number of workers are injured and killed each year. Workers must continue what they have always done: in the words of Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like Hell for the living.”
– Adam Kader is the Worker Center Director at Arise Chicago