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For a Safe and Healthy Workplace, Fix OSHA Now!
Most days UE members go home after the completion of our shift or workday. But far too often workers go home by way of the emergency room, doctor’s office, or not at all. The loss of a fellow worker on the job gives us all pause to consider the constant struggle to ensure our workplaces are as safe and healthy as can be. Thirteen workers per day are killed on the job in the U.S. Countless others are injured.
It is the union’s obligation to work as diligently as possible to encourage – if need be force – the boss into correcting dangerous situations. It’s also our obligation to see that safety is engineered into all machinery, equipment, and processes. Our elected lawmakers must also shoulder a large measure of the burden of policing our workplaces. After eight years of the Bush administration the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) remains broken and underfunded, and needs to be fixed immediately. In recent years Congress has cut funding and offered employers the option of “voluntary compliance” to avoid OSHA inspection altogether. The “Voluntary Protection Program” (VPP) is no substitute for a vigorous, union-led safety program.
OSHA inspections remain abysmally infrequent. When violations are discovered, the agency’s fines are far too low, and usually lowered even further during the appeals process. Over the past 40 years OSHA fines increased only twice. Shocking as it may seem, the penalties imposed on those convicted of animal cruelty far exceed those penalties and fines belatedly imposed on the few employers who are ever found guilty by OSHA.
Emergency inspections of workplaces must be replaced by frequent, active, unannounced inspections by certified OSHA staff committed to cleaning up our workplaces. For the price of several weeks of the Afghanistan occupation, thousands of additional workplace inspectors could be hired.
The Obama administration inherited a decimated OSHA, and it faced a tremendous task in restoring the legitimacy and effectiveness of the agency. The administration has worked to restore OSHA to its original mission. But Congress also needs to restore adequate funding for the agency to do its proper job.
Speedup and new work technologies cause millions of workers to suffer repetitive stress injuries, like carpel tunnel syndrome. It has been estimated that 62 percent of all workplace injuries are the result of repetitive motion stress. The Obama administration needs to reestablish ergonomics standards and deal with this epidemic of repetitive stress injuries, which is crippling American workers.
Many of the jobs our members perform are dangerous. We could be exposed to substances that are toxic, and our jobs could turn deadly in an instant. Our obligation is to look after the health and well-being of our fellow workers and ourselves through the collective action of our union. We must continually challenge unsafe working conditions.
Ultimately, we must be willing to confront lawmakers with this national disgrace of occupational injuries, illnesses, and all too often, death. We must force Congress and our state legislatures to once again take up the defense of working people through a strengthening of our nation’s health and safety laws.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 72nd UE CONVENTION:
- Calls on locals to make health and safety issues a top priority, both during and outside of contract negotiations;
- Demands the Obama administration dramatically speed up the restoration of OSHA and its mission to protect workers;
- Calls on locals to set up strong independent health and safety committees in each workplace and contact the national union before becoming involved with Voluntary Protection Programs;
- Calls on locals and regions to educate our members that the proper way to deal with hazardous situations in the workplace is by taking aggressive action to force the boss to correct them;
- Urges members to mobilize and contact their federal and state lawmakers to demand they significantly expand OSHA funding to increase the number of inspectors and authorize them to carry out unannounced inspections, and to have no restrictions on the scope of any inspections at any time, under any circumstances;
- Encourages locals to support local labor-initiated Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups wherever practical;
- Demands that bosses be criminally prosecuted for creating or tolerating conditions that lead to severe injury or death on the job, and that OSHA sharply increase the fines paid by employers who violate the law. Fines should be tripled for repeat OSHA violators and the worst violators should be barred from receiving government contracts;
- Opposes any attempts to further restrict the rights of workers to sue their employers over job-related injuries, unsafe conditions, and poisons;
- Demands that OSHA applies to all workplaces which do not have equal or better protections under other statutes.