Workers’ Memorial Day 2022: Mourn the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living. Our Proposals for Safer Workplaces in California

Workers’ Memorial Day is a solemn reminder of just how much working people sacrifice simply to earn a living. And sadly, some make the ultimate sacrifice on the job. According to the AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job report, released this week, 340 workers die every day on the job. Many more die as a result of exposure to toxins and illness like COVID-19, many of these deaths are preventable.

That’s why this Workers’ Memorial Day the California labor movement is focused not only on mourning those we’ve lost but holding employers accountable and strengthening worker health and safety laws so that we prevent death and injury. No worker should have to sacrifice her life just to support her family.

From the Death on the Job report:

Over the last 50 years, there has been significant progress toward improving working conditions and protecting workers from job injuries, illnesses and deaths. Federal job safety agencies have issued many important regulations on safety hazards and silica, coal dust and other health hazards, strengthened enforcement and expanded worker rights. These initiatives have undoubtedly made workplaces safer and saved lives. But much more progress is needed.

Over the years, the progress has become more challenging as employers’ opposition to workers’ rights and protections has grown, and attacks on unions have intensified. Big Business and many Republicans have launched an aggressive assault on worker protections. They are attempting to shift employers’ responsibilities to provide safe jobs to individual workers and undermine the core responsibilities of workplace safety agencies.

The nation must renew its commitment to protecting workers from job injury, disease and death, and make this a high priority. Employers must meet their responsibilities to protect workers and be held accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled. There is much more work to be done to ensure the fundamental right to a safe job is a reality for all.

While California has some of the strongest worker health and safety laws in the country, injuries on the job still exceed the national average. State leaders must take this challenge seriously. In short, we’re not doing nearly enough to protect workers.

Here are the three proposals the California Labor Federation has to make workers safer on the job:

  1. The highest priority is to ensure that Cal/OSHA has the resources necessary to meaningfully enforce the law. While the agency does the best it can with what it have, high vacancy rates persist and they desperately need more inspectors.
  2. We need to protect the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that was just approved last week. Employers continue to fight against even this weakened version and will doubtlessly apply maximum pressure to repeal this before its scheduled expiration date at the end of the year. We must also be sure that permanent standard is in place by the end of the year, so that workers aren’t forced to work with no clear protections against the virus, regardless of what case rates look like later this year.
  3. Workers need stronger protections against technologies such as productivity monitoring and algorithms that effectively force workers to either work too fast or directly ignore safety standards in order to stay employed. We must approve legislation this year that gives workers greater ability to know about–and fight back against–such abusive technology.

And most importantly, we know that workers who have a union on the job are much more protected than those who don’t. We must continue to support worker organizing so those workers can negotiate important health and safety protections into a union contract.

Today, we mourn the dead. But we also fight like hell for the living. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that it is past time for this nation to get serious about protecting workers on the job. In California, we’ll fight every single day to eliminate deaths on the job and to ensure workers are safe and healthy.