Workers Memorial Day 2010: Ending Worker Deaths
OAKLAND – On April 28, 2010, worker health and safety advocates around the world observe Workers’ Memorial Day.
President Obama stated in his April 15 remarks addressing the victims of the Massey mine explosion, “We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone. They ought to know that behind them there is a company that’s doing what it takes to protect them, and a government that is looking out for their safety.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis noted, “Some argue that workplace health and safety inspections, enforcement, and regulations are ‘inconvenient and intrusive.’” My reply: No paycheck is worth a life, and no quest for profit should ever be allowed to circumvent our law. So wherever workers are in danger, the Department of Labor will act decisively.”
“California may once have stood at the vanguard of programs protecting workers, but overall the current administration has significantly weakened workplace protection. Something needs to be done,” noted Fran Schreiberg, pro bono attorney for Kazan McClain Satterley & Greenwood. “Profits should not be at the expense of workers’ lives and health.”
More than 80 years ago, a feisty old woman named Mary Harris “Mother” Jones rallied and raised hell on behalf of miners killed in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Her motto then is what we still believe today: Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.
“We need reform now so that at next year’s event, we will have fewer tragedies and more successes to share,” said Worksafe Executive Director Gail Bateson. With the passage of the health care reform bill, the next challenge for the U.S. will be the most neglected problem in public health – protecting the health and safety of workers, whose work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths amount to $290 billion a year and cost countless families their loved ones. “Improving the way we protect our workers is long past due. It is shameful that workers still face high rates of death and serious injury on the job when employers know how to prevent injuries, but fail to do so.”
In Oakland, participants at Worksafe’s Workers’ Memorial Day event are remembering and honoring the loss of California’s workers over the last year with a moment of silence. About 6,300 workers die each year in California: 400-500 from fatal injuries and the remainder from occupational disease, according to the latest federal statistics.
This year’s World Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job is all too relevant. In April alone the nation has witnessed three major incidents in the energy sector – coal, oil extraction, and refining – resulting in 35 workers killed, several severely injured, and 11 reported missing and presumed dead. The April 5th explosion in a West Virginia mine operated by Massey Energy was the worst US mining disaster since 1970.
These deaths – and the deaths of so many others in the workplace – are preventable. We need improved health and safety. Not only is it important to remember the dead, but also critical to unite around solutions to prevent the further loss of lives.
To improve worker health and safety, Oakland-based non-profit Worksafe is launching its 2011 Health and Safety Legislative Reform Agenda for California and building a worker health and safety movement in California.
Worksafe is a California-based organization dedicated to eliminating all types of workplace hazards. It advocates for protective worker health and safety laws and effective remedies for injured workers. It watchdogs government agencies to ensure they enforce these laws. Worksafe engages in campaigns in coalition with unions, workers, community, environmental and legal organizations, and scientists to eliminate hazards and toxic chemicals from the workplace. To protect the most vulnerable of California workers, Worksafe engages in impact litigation and provides legal training, technical assistance, and advocacy support to legal services programs who serve low wage and immigrant workers.