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We Remember the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living!

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Image: Richard Negri

Workers around the world commemorate April 28th as a day of remembrance honoring those who’ve died or been seriously injured on the job. The date for Workers Memorial Day coincides with Congress passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act forty-one years ago. Though the Act remains a promise that every worker deserves the right to a safe job, we all know that we have a lot of work ahead us.

The SEIU Nurse Alliance has taken the lead in focusing on workplace violence prevention with the union, as there have been a number of our healthcare members who were killed or severely injured due to violence from patients.

Donna Gross, Cynthia Palomata, Elenita Congco, and Stephanie Moulton, all healthcare providers, were killed on the job in the last twelve months. Countless others have been physically assaulted or verbally abused and bullied at work.

Unsafe and harmful working conditions are obviously not limited to healthcare providers. The insidiousness of unsafe and violent conditions crosses over into every trade and every sector. Thus, “an injury to one is an injury to all!”

A recent study estimates that the loss of workers’ lives and livelihoods costs the U.S. economy at least $250 billion a year. But how do you put a price tag on a worker’s life, their arm, leg, finger? How do you put a price on coming home from work with an infectious disease you didn’t wake up with?

While the official statistics on workplace safety shows some improvement, one unjust death of one worker in any trade or sector is simply too much. In addition, we only know the “how” about unsafe workplace environments from what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tells us. The problem there is that it is widely known that the BLS wildly underestimates the problem. In fact, the true toll of job injuries is known to be two to three times greater — about 8 million to 12 million job injuries and illnesses each year. That’s just too much.

How is it possible that the BLS reporting is so far off the mark? The BLS arrives at the specifics around workers’ injuries and deaths by way of logs OSHA receives from EMPLOYERS.

The reporting process is never accurate because so many workers, especially nurses, fail to file reports with their facilities. Many healthcare workers accept that injury and untimely death on the job comes with the territory — many healthcare providers would rather lift the weight of an American-made sedan each shift than file reports — or is that really the case?

It is a difficult question because our employers frequently persuade us to think that our injuries are not as bad as we think, or, in many cases, just not worth reporting. The culture of each facility may vary from house to house, but at the end of the day, if accurate reporting isn’t being done, accurate changes won’t come.

Still, there’s more we need to wrap our heads around. Some employers discourage reporting through the use of incentive programs, like Safety Bingo, that reward workers for not reporting injuries or threaten to fire workers for reporting injuries or illnesses. That’s not good. What do we do about that?

For one, we should make it our business to learn what our rights are in the workplace — which a great many of us already do. Second, we need to consider taking the time and effort to report injuries and illnesses whenever there is one. Let’s not forget that our employers are usually just fine handing in near-blank OSHA reports.

Can we pledge to do our best to eliminate all violence and other hazards on the job so that every SEIU member and all workers can go home safely to their families at the end of the day?

President Mary Kay Henry said it very succinctly, “The right to a safe, secure workplace should be as fundamental as the right to have a voice on the job. When nurses, home care workers, and other working people go to work every day, we should never have to worry about getting hurt or losing our lives. On this Workers Memorial Day, we honor all workers, including SEIU members, who were injured or killed while trying to support their families by simply doing their job. It is our duty to these workers and their families to fight to ensure that no one will have to endure that pain again.”

To ensure that our families will not have to endure the pain of losing us on the job, and to ensure that we continue to work safe and exercise our rights, we will need to remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.

About the author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.


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