People’s Health

Workers Memorial Day is an international day of remembrance, held on April 28, the day the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970. That day, people gather in hundreds of communities across the U.S. and more than 29 countries worldwide to honor those who have lost their lives as a result of work-related injuries or illnesses.

In 2003, more than 4.3 million workers were injured and 5,559 were killed due to job hazards. Another 60,000 died due to occupational disease. Clearly defending job safety is defending life.

Please support the following life-defending activities by writing or calling your elected officials:

• Do not slash the job safety budget.

President Bush’s budgets have all moved to reduce the federal government’s commitment to protecting workers’ safety and health. The 2006 budget is no exception, reflecting the administration’s priorities and policies that favor employers over workers and voluntary compliance over enforcement. Taking into account inflation, this year’s proposed budget freezes OSHA’s and the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement programs.

• Do not dismantle worker safety and health training programs.

While expanding outreach to employers, the Bush administration has tried to gut the training and education programs for workers, previously proposing to slash the worker training budget by 75 percent and to eliminate funding for union-run programs. For Fiscal Year 2006, the president’s budget eliminates the worker training and education programs all together.

• Do not shut down new workplace safety and health rules.

The Bush administration killed dozens of worker protection measures under development at OSHA and MSHA, including rules on cancer-causing substances, reactive chemicals, and infectious diseases such as TB. They have even refused to issue a rule requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment, particularly important for immigrant and low-wage workers. The Bush administration has the worst record on safety rules in OSHA’s entire history, issuing no new significant rules during its first term.

• Do not favor employer voluntary programs over enforcement and do not exclude workers and unions.

The administration has made expanding voluntary programs and outreach to employers a top priority. Bush’s OSHA has set up partnerships and alliances with dozens of employers, largely excluding unions. Union representatives critical of the administration have been removed from all agency advisory committees in an attempt to silence opposition.

• Do not kill workplace ergonomic protections.

The Bush administration started its assault on worker safety soon after taking office, joining with anti-worker business groups to repeal OSHA’s ergonomics standard. The standard, 10 years in the making, would have required employers to protect workers from the nation’s biggest job safety problem — injuries caused by heavy lifting and repetitive work.

• Strengthen criminal penalties under OSHA.

Despite 170,000 workplace fatalities in the U.S. in the last 20 years, there were only 81 convictions and only 16 carried jail sentences. It is only a misdemeanor to kill a worker by willfully violating safety laws. The maximum sentence is six months in jail.

American workers need a strong workplace safety agency that puts workers, not employers, first and protects safety and health, not corporate interests. Please defend life by fighting for strong safety and health protection for all workers.

The author is a member of the Allegheny County (Pa.) Labor Council Workers Memorial Day Committee.