No worker should have to sacrifice life or health on the job

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka On Workers Memorial Day. April 29, 2013

On Workers Memorial Day, we come together to recognize the inherent dignity and value of every person and to remember all those who have perished on the job. As a third-generation coal miner, I’ve known firsthand the uncertainty of whether my loved ones would return home at the end of the day safe and healthy, and my heart goes out to all the communities who have endured terrible losses.

Each day in this country, 150 workers die from job injuries and occupational diseases. Last year in the United States more than 3.8 million workers were reported injured on the job, but this number understates the problem. The true toll of job injuries is likely two to three times greater. Around the globe, the toll is vast, with 2.3 million workers dying and 317 million workers injured on the job each year.

This year our thoughts are particularly with the families of West, Texas, where two weeks ago a horrific explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people, injured hundreds more and caused widespread destruction. While the investigation is still under way, from all reports regulatory authorities had not inspected this dangerous facility in years.

We are outraged by the deaths of our sisters and brothers in Bangladesh, where over three hundred workers have perished, and hundreds have been injured, in the collapse of a building that housed garment factories.  Despite warnings by authorities that there were cracks in the building that made it unsafe, factory owners told the workers there was no danger and ordered them to work.  No worker should have to sacrifice life, limbs or health to earn an honest day’s pay – not here in the United States, not in Bangladesh or anywhere else. Yet, corporations continue the push for profits, seeking to avoid regulation and oversight.  They claim that stronger worker protections and enforcement kill profit, when the reality is that failure to act kills workers.

This is especially true for the millions of immigrant workers who live in the shadows and face even greater risks of death and injury on the job. Until all workers, regardless of where they were born or what country they live in, have the ability to come together on the job and speak out against dangerous conditions, we will continue to mourn needless deaths and preventable tragedies.

This Workers Memorial Day we must speak out against all those who value profit over life and wealth for the few over prosperity for all. Corporations that exploit workers and put them in danger must be held accountable.  We call on the Obama Administration to act without further delay to implement important regulations on silica, coal dust and other hazards.  And we must strengthen our job safety laws to give all workers the protection they need and deserve.

Photo: Seen through a hole in the roof a building that collapsed, Bangladeshi rescue workers search for survivors in Savar, Bangladesh, April 28. On Sunday, rescuers located nine people alive inside the rubble of the multi-story building. Authorities announced they will now use heavy equipment to drill a central hole from the top to look for survivors and the dead. Kevin Frayer/AP



Richard Trumka
Richard Trumka

Richard Trumka was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO from 2009 until his death on August 5, 2021.