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COMMEMORATING WORKERS’ MEMORIAL DAYBy Traci Young, Labor Liaison to United Way Bay Area; Community Services Director, Contra Costa Labor Council AFL-CIO
Fifty years ago, on April 28th the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) went into effect, promising every worker the right to a safe job. The law was won in 1970 because of the tireless efforts of the labor movement and allies, who drew major attention to work-related deaths, disease, and injuries by organizing for safer working conditions and demanding action from the government. On April 28th 1989, thanks to the AFL-CIO, Workers’ Memorial Day was recognized.
Workers’ Memorial Day was created to honor the lives of workers that were tragically lost in the workplace. In 2021, workers still face many risks on the job, making the need for workers’ advocacy just as important today as it was with the creation of OSHA.
Even after the passage of OSHA fifty years ago, thousands of workers are killed and millions more suffer injury or illness because of our jobs. Far too many workers die from preventable hazards and many more get sick from exposure to toxic chemicals.
Knowing that the only way to have a safe workplace was by coming together, workers organized for change. Decades of evidence shows that unionized workplaces are safer workplaces.
Labor and United Way Bay Area (UWBA) have worked together in winning protections that have made jobs safer and saved lives. There is much work to be done before the promise of keeping all workers safe on the job during the pandemic and beyond, can be fulfilled. Throughout the pandemic, union allies like UWBA have worked on direct relief work, tenant protections, hazard pay, along with PPE and vaccine distributions to make sure all workers had a level of security throughout the crisis.
While COVID-19 exposed basic inequities, we know these inequities existed for far too many, long before the virus. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the weaknesses in OSHA’s capabilities to ensure workers are protected on the job and in structural failures that have prevented workers from organizing in their workplaces to demand safer working conditions.
The pandemic also highlighted the inextricable link between workplace safety and health, and the safety and health of the community. Public health cannot begin to be addressed without attending to the needs and safety of workers on the job. The disproportionate impacts on people of color, widely represented in the essential workforce—health care, food supply, transit, grocery, corrections—has been devastating. Real public health reforms need to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic while dismantling the racism embedded within the system that exacerbates the loss of workers’ lives and safety.
Racial disparities are apparent in the impact of COVID‐19 in the United States and data has shown a correlation between the prevalence of COVID‐19 deaths and occupational differences across racial/ethnic groups and states. Although many states implemented stay‐at‐home orders to contain COVID‐19's rapid spread, many individuals employed by “essential” businesses were unable to remain at home, further highlighting the impacts of systemic and racial inequalities. Adding to the crisis, vaccine distribution and some hesitancy in communities of color as a result of historic mistreatment from the medical community, are further contributing to health inequities.
Throughout the country, working people of all backgrounds are organizing and winning. We will continue to mobilize to demand reforms that uplift our standards and our rights. Our nation’s working families cannot wait any longer.
This May Day, we renew our call for the administration to provide concrete protections to brave workers who take a stand to demand fair treatment at work. This can only happen with the passage of the PRO Act, which would give working people an opportunity to stand together for lasting change at their jobs. Unions can change lives and create the generational wealth that can lift communities out of poverty.
There is much more we need to do to ensure that all people can work safely and with dignity, which is why we are fighting today for our right to join together and demand changes to an inequitable system.
On April 28, 2021, the unions of the AFL-CIO will observe Workers’ Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job, and to renew the fight for safe jobs. We will come together to call for action to protect workers from COVID-19 at work, advocate for stronger job safety, health protections and enforcement, and to pass the PRO Act so that workers have the right to form a union and have a voice on the job.
We ask that you join us:
ENSURE THAT ALL WORKERS HAVE THE NECESSARY PROTECTIONS FROM COVID-19 AT WORK: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts
LEARN MORE ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES AND HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT VACCINE SAFETY: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts
HELP PASS THE (PRO) ACT to ensure workers have safe jobs and the right to freely form a union without employer interference or intimidation. Increase efforts to protect the safety and health of Black, Latino and immigrant workers who are disproportionately affected by unsafe working conditions. actionnetwork.org/letters/pro-act
Upcoming Bay Area Workers’ Memorial Day Events:
Workers' Memorial Day Live Stream
Wednesday, April 28th at 11am
On April 28th at 11am, the Contra Costa and Napa-Solano Labor Councils will host a Live-Stream memorial to recognize every worker that lost their lives at the workplace both past and present, paying special tribute to the 328 sailors that were lost at the Port Chicago Disaster in 1944; the 50 sailors that were subsequently and unjustly tried for mutiny at Mare Island for refusing to work in continued unsafe conditions; and every worker that succumbed to COVID-19. For More: Watch Live Stream
Contra Costa May Day 2021 - A Future Free of Debt
Friday, April 30th @ 11am
725 Court Street, Martinez, CA
On International Workers' Day, we lift up the struggles of workers and tenants during the pandemic. COVID-19 has hit low-income, working class families of color the hardest. Every month, families must choose whether to pay rent or feed their children in order to avoid eviction. Our political leaders may be beginning to resume to "normal", but the crisis continues. None of this is normal. Since March 2020, Contra Costa has had the second highest rates of eviction in the Bay Area. We demand a stop to evictions and rent debt forgiveness, so that people are not thrown out of their homes during an ongoing pandemic. For More: facebook.com/events/790179638270618
International Workers Day
Hosted by Bay Area Labor Councils
Saturday, May 1st @ 10am
Meet at Embarcadero in San Francisco
Bay Area Labor Councils are organizing a parade and rally for May Day on May 1, 2021. The event will celebrate the past, present, and future of Labor. We'll be commemorating those we've lost this past year, as well as, rallying for the PRO Act to secure a better future. For More: sflaborcouncil.org/
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