LIUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, observed Workers’ Memorial Day, a day of remembrance of those who have died or became sick or injured while on the job, on April 28th by calling on Congress to demonstrate its commitment to workplace safety by supporting the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA).
Reintroduced last month by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), PAWA legislation would modernize the 42-year-old Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in industries that have outpaced decades-old government regulation. The act clarifies an employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment; improves OSHA reporting, inspection and enforcement efforts; extends OSHA protections to 8.5 million American workers not currently covered; protects workers who blow the whistle on unsafe conditions; and increases penalties for those who break the law.
“More than four decades ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law, which promises every worker the right to a safe job. That promise has not been kept,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “PAWA legislation would help narrow the chasm between safe and healthy jobsites that OSHA laws were intended to provide and what workers actually experience on the job today.”
According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Department of Labor, on an average day, 150 workers lose their lives as a result of workplace injuries and diseases (13 die from injuries and 137 from diseases), and another 10,431 are injured or become ill. Construction, which accounts for about 5 percent of the U.S. workforce, had the second highest fatality rate in 2011 with 729 deaths. Among the construction trades, laborers had the most casualties with 190 workplace deaths.
“LIUNA members build America’s highways, bridges, tunnels and transit systems. They build our stadiums, dams, power plants and factories. They erect our office buildings, schools, malls, churches, hospitals and homes. They work hard for a living and deserve every protection we can give them,” O’Sullivan says. “This legislation would bring us a step closer to ensuring that the price of going to work is never life itself.”
LIUNA, through its Health and Safety Fund, has demonstrated that injuries and illnesses can be greatly reduced with proper training and employer commitment beyond OSHA’s minimum requirements but federal leadership is needed to establish industry-wide health and safety rules that raise the bar for all employers and minimize risk for employees.
Strengthening workers’ rights is the best way to protect American workers from injury, illness and death. When workers have the right to come together and collectively bargain, they have a say in safety and health conditions on the job and can demand employers protect them from harm without fear of retaliation.