Pres. Glenn Brackett joined labor allies and worker safety advocates to remember those workers lost on the job and advocate for protections that will make every job site safe.
In the last year as COVID-19 has mercifully receded, we’ve heard a lot about how work is changing. We’ve all seen it, either in our own lives or in the careers of those close to us. Regrettably one thing has clearly not changed – too many people in this country are put in the position of having to risk their lives to make a living. Every Spring, we observe Workers’ Memorial Day to mourn and remember our fellow workers who have died on the job and pledge to continue our efforts to guarantee a safe workplace for everyone.
This observation is always very deeply felt within organized labor. As a movement, we not only demand safe jobsites for our members but advocate forcefully for safe workplaces for everyone. And as frontline workers ourselves, we know the risks – and the losses – firsthand.
In the last year, we’ve seen workplaces gradually getting more and more safe as the pandemic has died down, thank god. At the same time, throughout the crisis, workers in a number of businesses have realized just how vulnerable they are. Shamefully, too many employers were too slow or too apathetic to take workers’ health and safety concerns seriously during the pandemic.
The reaction from these employees has been both perfectly rational and somewhat surprising: They’ve increasingly turned to organizing themselves into union bargaining units. We’ve seen these efforts all over the country – from Washington State to Alabama, from Dartmouth here in New Hampshire to home healthcare workers in California. Workers in newsrooms, coffee shops, and warehouses have taken on some of the most anti-labor companies and tactics and hung together to win representation. While the economic uncertainty that accompanied the pandemic played an obvious role in their efforts, time and again organizers cited the need to feel safe on the job as the initial inspiration for considering joining a union.
There has never been a substitute for workers asserting their own power and this increase in unionization gives us both hope and a practical strategy for guaranteeing safer workplaces in the future. Working together and effectively advocating for comprehensive health and safety rules offers the tools necessary for workers in every sector and industry. Hopefully, this work will mean fewer names on the plaque we annually engrave with the names of our brothers and sisters lost on the job on Workers’ Memorial Day.
On this Workers’ Memorial Day, we can look back on the pandemic for lessons learned and a reaffirmation of the values of the labor movement. Every year, I urge that we vow to redoubel our efforts to guarantee safety at work so everyone can always come home from the jobsite safe and healthy. Everyone deserves nothing less.