Labor Voices: We need workplace protections

Dennis Williams

When we kiss our loved ones’ goodbye to head to work, we don’t expect tragedy. Saturday is Workers Memorial Day, a time for all of us to remember those who went to work but unfortunately never returned home because they lost their lives while on the job. It’s also a day to remember that we must keep fighting for safe workplaces and continue to fight short cuts that lawmakers are pursuing as they turn back the clock on health and safety regulations in Congress.

Just last year, Congress rolled back rules requiring employers to keep accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses and delayed beryllium and silica dust exposure rules that prevent toxic lung diseases. To make matters worse, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration budgets are expected to be cut in 2018, as well as resources to address workplace violence. Rolling back workplace protections for all Americans is a shameful stain on the record of this Congress.

At the UAW, we are proud that through collective bargaining in our contracts we stress the health and safety of UAW members. Unfortunately, there are still employers in 2018 who don’t take the health and safety of their workforce seriously. Some employers — and the organizations that lobby for them — vigorously oppose health and safety improvements or any new regulations. These are often, and not coincidentally, the same types of employers and organizations that fight unions and union organizing efforts. Unfortunately, it’s the working men and women, both in the union and outside of the union that bear the wounds of health and safety regulations that put profits before worker safety.

We can thank OSHA and many other regulatory agencies for creating health and safety regulations. Since OSHA passed in 1971 there has been a decrease in workplace injuries and fatalities. But there is still much to do and those of us in the workplace and in labor unions must remain vigilant in our focus on these agencies to ensure we continue to improve safety standards and identify safety issues before workers pay the ultimate price through death, injury or disease.

At the UAW and in other unions, we work to improve the health and safety practices of workplaces. Union members have a right to involve a union representative in injury and fatality investigations, giving working men and women a voice in their own safety. The UAW fights hard to make sure workers who report hazards or injuries are not fired or disciplined and we seek to build on the health and safety improvements that were made in previous contracts.

However, we still have not reached the ultimate goal. We can analyze data and numbers but that doesn’t change the horrific stories and the loss felt by loved ones and coworkers behind every single workplace fatality statistic.

We should never accept the notion that injury and disease are just part of a job. Labor and the UAW are committed to working with employers to avoid and eliminate health and safety dangers. On Workers Memorial Day, we grieve for those workers we’ve lost and recommit ourselves to the goal of having all of our brothers and sisters return home safely each and every day to their loved ones.

Dennis Williams is president of the UAW.

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 Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.