Greetings Brothers and Sisters,
Each year, April 28th marks the legislative anniversary of the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970. Since 1989 the AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and labor organizations have designated April 28 as Worker Memorial Day, also known as the day of mourning for workers who have tragically perished in the workplace. On this solemn day, we pause and reflect on workplace tragedies that have taken the lives of our sisters and brothers at worksites across the country and around the world.
In the 53 years since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it is estimated that over 700,000 lives have been saved through workplace safety standards and hard-won negotiated worker protections. In fact, through collective bargaining agreements, worker advocacy groups and established OSHA standards, workplace fatalities have been reduced from nearly 38 per day or 14,000 each year before OSHA was enacted. Workplace fatalities have been reduced to 14 per day or 5,000 per year in recent years. While a 62% reduction in fatalities is noteworthy, there are still an unacceptable number of deaths occurring at worksites every day. Tragically, five of our UAW family lost their lives in workplace accidents in 2022. Their deaths were unacceptable and preventable. We mourn their loss and grieve deeply for their loved ones left behind.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5,190 workplace fatalities in the past year, an additional 2.6 million workplace injuries and illnesses were also reported, an alarming number that is most certainly higher considering injuries and illnesses are historically under-reported. Further, it is estimated that 50,000 workers perish each year because of long-term chemical or environmental exposure. Most have either retired or left their place of employment only to succumb to a chronic long-term illness related to their work environment.
The UAW has a proud history of being at the forefront and in the fight for improved safety standards in not only our represented workplaces, but all worksites across the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and beyond. We have proven time and again that the fight for worker’s rights and safe jobs are best won through the collective bargaining and the legislative process. UAW negotiated health and safety contract language is often referred to as the industry-leading standard. Our legacy of winning significant protections for our members over many decades is recognized throughout the world.
While we are proud of our accomplishments of winning significant life-saving protections for our members through research, information, technology and education, we must remain vigilant in protecting what has been won, while demanding companies and government agencies expand common sense effective safety practices. Decades of gains in worker protections can be lost if they are not protected in the workplace and in the legislative halls of congress.
Many safety standards established and expanded during the Obama administration were subsequently repealed or rescinded via the Congressional Review Act, funding reductions or by executive order under the Trump administration. GOP-led congressional reviews and anti-worker Presidential executive orders were issued at an alarming rate. Under the previous administration in Washington, D.C., toxic substance protections, whistleblower protections, accurate record keeping, and environmental health and safety regulations were diminished or eliminated putting workers at risk of premature death, injury or illness from unnecessary exposures. Fortunately, the Biden administration has taken action to restore many of the worker protections that were eliminated and have restored or increased funding for worker training programs, compliance and enforcement agents, and health and safety regulations. President Biden has appointed and nominated strong pro-worker, pro-union candidates who advocate for worker safety to lead the Department of Labor’s worker protection programs such as outgoing Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and Deputy Secretary of Labor (and current nominee for Secretary of Labor) Julie Su.
As we take the time to honor those who have lost their lives in workplace tragedies or died pre-maturely from workplace exposures, let us all double our efforts to ensure every sister and brother returns home to their loved ones at the end of their workday. Whether you are a member working in higher education, manufacturing, gaming, health services, or one of the many other sectors of our increasingly diverse union, leaving our place of employment and returning home safely from work each day is a right and expectation we all demand. We must remain steadfast in protecting it. Speak up and speak out on unsafe conditions in your workplace. Our lives and the lives of our sisters and brothers in this great union depend on it.
UAW International Executive Board