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Workers’ Memorial Day

By Al Henley

On April 28th, Alabama workers are encouraged to join the AFL-CIO is recognizing Workers’ Memorial Day.  Each year on Workers Memorial Day, working people throughout the world remember those who were hurt or killed on the job and renew our struggle for safe workplaces.

Each and every day in this country an average of 13 workers die on the job as a result of workplace injuries—women and men who go to work and never return home to their families and loved ones.

In 2011, the last year statistics were compiled for Alabama, 74 of our hardworking sisters and brothers in Alabama left for work one day and didn’t come home to their families.   That’s 74 people whose deaths could have been prevented if their employers followed job safety requirements and put needed safeguards and protections in place.

Working people are suffering on the job due to workplace injuries from combustible dust explosions or exposure to well-known hazards like asbestos and benzene.  These occurrences are all too common, leaving workers powerless and affecting thousands of families.

There are still debilitating lung conditions like silicosis, caused from exposure to silica dust.  Despite the fact we know how to prevent this and can easily implement straightforward
protections, a new OSHA standard to protect workers from this harmful chemical is being blocked by industry opponents and continues to languish.

Four decades ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) law and mine safety law were enacted, promising workers in this country the right to a safe job.  Since that
time, we’ve made great progress in making workplaces safer and protecting workers. Workplace fatalities and injuries have declined significantly.   Exposures to job hazards and toxic chemicals like asbestos and lead have been reduced.   Far fewer workers are dying from trench cave-ins or from being caught in unguarded machinery.

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This progress didn’t just happen because the OSHA law and mine safety law were passed. It happened because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. Virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because of working men and women who joined together in unions to win these protections.

When working people in Alabama come together through unions and collective bargaining, workers are given a voice and are able to have a say in safety and health on the job.  These efforts to make the workplace safer have come under widespread attack by the corporate community that wants to silence the workers who speak out against safety violations.

False claims from business groups and the far right say safety regulations kill jobs, and subsequently, enforcement has been weakened and budgets for safety measures have been slashed.  Sadly, our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in our communities here in Alabama continue to be at risk.

Corporations and their million-dollar lobbyists direct a laser-like focus at taking away workers’ rights and weakening the role of government in protecting the public and its workforce.

The Alabama AFL-CIO proudly recognizes Alabama’s workforce on Workers’ Memorial Day.  

Al Henley is the President of the Alabama AFL-CIO.

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