On Tuesday union members across the country and right here in Michigan will observe Workers Memorial Day. This is an opportunity to remember the tens of thousands of working men and women who are killed, injured, and get sick on the job each year. It’s also an opportunity to renew our commitment to ensuring that everyone in America can enjoy a safe workplace.

The date itself, April 28, marks the 44th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). It seems hard to imagine in today’s hyper-partisan environment, but the final bill was passed by a Democratic Congress with support from the AFL-CIO, and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Since then, unions have fought hard to defend OSHA’s safety and health protections, resulting in significant improvements in workplace conditions.

During his time in office, President Barack Obama’s administration has made tougher safety enforcement a priority, and proposed new safeguards on silica and other workplace hazards. But this progress is under near-constant attack by politicians in Lansing and Washington, and the corporate special interests who fund them.

Many job hazards remain unregulated, and far too often workers who report hazards or injuries on the job are fired or disciplined by their employers. Without the protection of a collective bargaining agreement, workers are often too intimidated to speak up about dangerous working conditions.

Workplace violence is a growing threat — particularly for women who work in health care and service jobs — and there currently is no federal standard for violence in the workplace. Each year, tens of thousands of health care workers are assaulted on the job, suffering severe injuries and even death. And Latino workers experience some of the most dangerous working conditions, often with little or no protection.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan had 100,300 reported cases of workplace illness or injury in 2013, the seventh highest in the country. And yet, we rank 48th in terms of the penalties issued for workplace safety violations.

Those numbers should send a powerful message that our elected officials must make workplace safety a priority.

Lansing Republicans gutted workers compensation for employees who are injured on the job. New legislation introduced in the Michigan Senate would eliminate an important statute that requires employers to notify MIOSHA within eight hours of a workplace fatality, or any hospitalization of three or more employees suffering from a workplace-related accident, illness, or health hazard.

These attacks on working men and women need to stop. It’s time for our elected leaders to put workers first and do more to ensure OSHA regulations are strengthened and properly enforced.

Karla Swift is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.

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