By Katie Tracy, Center for Progressive Reform
On Saturday, April 28, CPR will observe Workers’ Memorial Day by remembering fallen workers whose lives were taken from this world too soon and by renewing our pledge to fight for all working people.
Every day in this country, 14 workers leave for work, never to return home. One worker is killed on the job every two hours in the United States. In 2016, 5,190 workers died earning a living, the highest number on record in eight years. That doesn’t account for the hundreds of lives lost daily to occupational diseases from exposures to toxic chemicals and substances. Nor does it include the thousands of hard-working Americans who incur severe injuries or contract illnesses on the job each day.
When I think about what each of these workers and their families endure, I struggle to see why politics so often stands in the way of obvious solutions that would save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses. I’ve discovered there’s just no good reason, which compels me to take action the best way I know how, by pressing our lawmakers to use their power for good, and as soon as possible.
Despite campaign promises to stand up for working Americans, President Trump and the current congressional majority have done nothing to improve workers’ health and safety. As the chart below illustrates, instead of boosting worker protections, Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill have and continue to systematically undercut numerous critical safeguards and pursue deep cuts to OSHA’s budget.
Last year ahead of Workers’ Memorial Day, I highlighted several worthy ideas to improve working conditions across the nation. Unfortunately, not one of those ideas has been adopted, even though they could easily be enacted if Congress would take up legislation such as the Protecting America’s Workers Act.
We won’t give up. We’re calling on Congress and the president to take action immediately to make the following improvements to our federal laws:
|Smart Solutions to Boost Worker Protections||Trump’s Actions to Roll Back Worker Protections|
|Enhance OSHA’s authority to protect workers from hazardous conditions, especially exposure to toxic chemicals and climate-related impacts like heat stress and extreme weather.||Delayed the rollout of OSHA’s silica standard in construction until Sept. 2017 and delayed full enforcement until Oct. 2017, while high exposures to deadly silica dust persisted.
Delayed the rollout of OSHA’s standard to protect workers from beryllium exposure and then proposed to weaken the protections it offers for workers in the construction and maritime industries.
Repealed a rule that would have required employers to maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
Delayed the compliance date of the Obama-era rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses and proposed to weaken provisions of the final rule.
Indefinitely stopped work on rules targeting critical health and safety hazards, including exposure to styrene and combustible dust, workplace violence, emergency preparedness, infectious diseases, and more. (See here and here).
|Boost the maximum civil and criminal penalties that OSHA can impose against violators to a level that deters bad actors from breaking the rules in the first place.||Proposed to expand OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program – a program that exempts certain employers from programmed inspections – without having assessed whether the program benefits or harms workers.|
|Provide workers who report health and safety hazards or refuse to perform dangerous work with better protections against retaliation.||Stalled and disbanded several critical OSHA advisory committees, including the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC).|
|Deny government contracts to companies with lengthy rap sheets.||Repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule that would have ensured that federal contractors protect workers from hazardous conditions, wage theft, and retaliation.|
|Increase OSHA’s budget so the agency has resources to bring on more safety and health inspectors.||Proposed cuts to the Department of Labor’s budget and proposed to eliminate key safety programs at the agency. (See here and here).|
On Workers’ Memorial Day, stand with workers in your community to remember those who have fallen and to fight for working people by calling on federal, state, and local lawmakers to take action now on behalf of their constituents and working people. To find resources and an event near you, check out National COSH’s event list or AFL-CIO’s WMD Toolkit.