Fifty years ago today, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) went into effect, promising every worker the right to a safe job. The law was won in 1970 because of the tireless efforts of the labor movement and allies, who drew major attention to work-related deaths, disease and injuries, organized for safer working conditions and demanded action from their government. Since then, unions and our allies have fought hard to make that promise a reality—winning protections that have made jobs safer and saved lives. But there is much to be done before the promise to keep all workers safe on the job, during the pandemic and beyond, can be fulfilled.
Worker safety and worker voice go hand in hand. And as we grow our movement, we must use those voices to advocate for a strong workplace safety agenda. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weaknesses in the OSH Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Association’s capabilities to ensure workers are protected on the job and in structural failures that have prevented workers’ from organizing in our workplaces to demand safer working conditions.
The pandemic also highlighted the inextricable link between workplace safety and health and the safety and health of the community. Public health cannot begin to be addressed without attending to the needs and safety of workers on the job. The disproportionate impacts on people of color, widely represented in the essential workforce—health care, food supply, transit, grocery, corrections—has been devastating. Since the beginning of the pandemic, unions have won protections in states and held state and local leaders accountable. We demanded access to the ventilation, personal protective equipment and other measures to protect workers from inhaling the virus at work.
Today, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job, and to renew the fight for safe jobs. We come together this year to call for action to protect workers from COVID-19 at work and stronger job safety and health protections and enforcement. We will organize to pass the PRO Act, so workers have a right to form a union and have a voice on the job. We will fight for the right of every worker to a safe job until that promise is fulfilled.
As we grieve those we have lost from COVID-19 and other workplace hazards, we must fight and continue to push forward. We must:
- Pass the PRO Act to ensure workers have safe jobs and the right to freely form a union without employer interference or intimidation.
- Pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to provide OSHA protection to the millions of workers without it, stronger criminal and civil penalties for companies that seriously violate job safety laws and improved anti-retaliation protections.
- Ensure that all workers have the necessary protections from COVID-19 at work.
- Win new protections on workplace violence, silica exposure in mining, heat illness, exposure to asbestos and other toxic chemicals, and other hazards.
- Defend hard-won safety and health protections and workers’ rights from attacks.
- Increase the job safety budgets and improve job safety enforcement.
- Increase efforts to protect the safety and health of Black, Latino and immigrant workers who are disproportionately affected and especially targeted for speaking up against unsafe working conditions.
Call your senators today at 866-832-1560 and urge them to pass the PRO Act.