I'll be attending the Wichita/Hutchinson Labor Federation Workers Memorial Day observance tonight.
The AFL-CIO reports that "Each year, nearly 6,000 people are killed at work and another 50,000 die from occupational diseases, according to government statistics. Millions more are injured on the job. Foreign-born workers, especially Latinos, are especially at risk and experience a disproportionate number of work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Workplace illness and injuries total $1 billion a week in direct costs and cost the nation between $198 billion and $298 billion per year in direct and indirect costs, according to the insurance company Liberty Mutual. The Bush administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget will make matters worse. It proposes to eliminate all funding for worker safety training programs—$10 million appropriated by Congress in FY 2005.
And read his fantastic commentary on Workers Memorial Day.
The political issues raging in this country – over court appointments, social security, terrorism and the war in Iraq – are important, but they tend to overshadow many of the concerns of the vast majority of people who are not politically engaged. But ask people if they think that workers injured on the job should suffer economically for the rest of their lives, ask people whether the jobs and chemicals should be considered safe until we manage to count the bodies or lungs of people who prove otherwise, ask people whether they think they have the power to make their workplaces safer or whether they think there is a role for laws and government enforcement – and you’ll probably get answers that don’t line up with those who are in power in Washington (or in most state capitals) today. The challenge is to organize them into a potent political force – not just in New York city and Boston, but in Wichita, Kansas, Houston Texas, Boise, Idaho and Atlanta, Georgia.
Unless and until those concerned about workplace safety make strong common cause with other progressive groups – environmentalists, womens rights groups, progressive churches, immigrant organizations and others, ours will be a difficult and ultimately futile struggle.
The American people are ready to listen. A recent poll showed that out of a variety of issues that Americans think Congress should be involved in (endangered species, gun control, gay marriage, steroids in baseball, "Schiavo" type family health cases), "Rules in the workplace that deal with health and safety issues" came out on top.
And I believe you'd get similar answers if you asked a few more questions:
- Do you think that the health effects of chemicals should be understood and the chemicals regulated before or after workers get sick and die from being exposed on the job?
- Do you think that 6 months in jail is an appropriate punishment for an employer who knowingly violates the law, putting a worker into a job where he is killed?
- Do you think that OSHA standards that protect employees from exposure to dangerous chemicals should be based on the most recent scientific information, or information that was gathered forty years ago?
- Do you think that public employees who fix your roads, work in your sewage treatment plants, care for the mentally ill, put out our fires and guard our most dangerous criminals should have the same guarantee of a safe workplace that private sector employees doing the same work have?