Workers Memorial Day


May 2012


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Around the world on April 28, which is Workers Memorial Day, people remember those who were hurt or killed on the job, and those of us in the labor movement renew our struggle for safe workplaces. In town squares and union halls, at worksites and memorials, in community after community, we gather to remember our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives and those who fight for safe workplaces.


Perhaps more than most, SIU members have a deep appreciation for on-the-job safety. It’s a constant focal point for Seafarers because of the nature of the maritime industry. There is no ambulance available to drive up when someone is injured aboard a vessel. Individual wellbeing is the most important reason for that focus; realistically, potential liabilities are a factor, too


When it comes to workplace safety, the SIU has a lot to be proud of, including our cooperative efforts with Seafarers-contracted companies and, of course, with our affiliated Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Md. Check out this month’s LOG feature on recent Alaska Tanker Company safety training for just one example of these efforts. Our struggle for safer workplaces at sea goes back almost a century, to Andrew Furuseth and the Seamen’s Act of 1915.


Through our affiliation with the AFL-CIO, we are also part of a larger endeavor that involves all industries. It was the American labor movement four decades ago that secured enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act along with mine-safety laws that promised workers in this country a right to a safe job.


Since then, we’ve made great progress in improving safety and protecting workers. Workplace fatalities and injuries have significantly declined. Exposures to job hazards and toxic chemicals have been reduced.


This progress didn’t just happen because the OSHA law and mine safety laws were passed. It happened because workers and their unions organized and then demanded action from employers and their government. Just about every safety and health protection on the books today exists because of working men and women and their unions. Through this work, we’ve made jobs safer and saved lives – not just for union members, but for all workers.


Still, much more work remains to be done. We all remember – and still feel the consequences of – the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which claimed 11 lives. We all remember the horrific explosion at the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners – the worst coal mine disaster in four decades.


Those incidents made headlines around the world, but in that regard they were exceptions. Outside of local news coverage, how many of us hear about the thousands of workers who die in this country every year? The average for workplace fatalities is startling: 12 workers die on the job each day in the U.S. as a result of work-related injuries. Thousands more die each year from occupational diseases.


On Workers Memorial Day (still a few days away at press time), the SIU will remember all of the victims, and we will renew our commitment to help prevent more tragedies. Much of that commitment involves political action, because, just like we have to constantly fight to maintain the Jones Act and cargo-preference laws and other statutes that are vital to maritime, we also have to defend workplace protections and job-safety measures.


On that note, it’s only fair to credit the Obama administration for remaining committed to worker safety and health. Make no mistake, they have been our ally all the way, and that’s vitally important at a time when certain business groups and anti-worker legislators want to block new protections and roll back existing ones.


On this Workers Memorial Day, we remember and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives on the job or have been injured or made sick. And on this day, we commit to work together to fight the assault on workers’ rights to bargain for fairer workplaces, safer job sites, a better life and a brighter future.



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