“Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
The AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health and other workplace safety advocates gathered April 26 to honor those who died on the job during the previous year.
For more than three decades, the labor leaders and community groups have commemorated employees who were killed or injured in the workplace and called for improved safety conditions on Workers Memorial Day.
275 Workers Die Daily
The coalition called attention to the fact that the number of workplace inspections performed by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was at an all-time low, despite the fact that each day, 275 workers die on the job across the country.
“It’s a shame that as we stand here highlighting the preventable nature of most workplace incidents, and to promote safety, OSHA is under attack by the Federal Government,” said Charlene Obernauer, NYCOSH’s Executive Director. The Trump Administration has attempted to slash the budgets at both OSHA and the Department of Labor.
“This administration is essentially saying they are doing all they can to protect [workers],” she said.
This year, the coalition read aloud the names of the 40 New Yorkers who died on the job at the corner of 23rd St. and 8th Ave., where Uber driver Bing Wan was killed in a hit-and-run car accident Oct. 28.
Henry Chen, who also drives for Uber and is a member of the Independent Drivers Guild, assisted Mr. Wan’s family with the process to obtain a death benefit for the relatives of drivers killed on the job.
‘Took Pride in Service’
“Wan was a man who took pride in professional service to his riders. So it came as no surprise to those who knew him that he was helping a customer get out of the car at the moment he was hit,” Mr. Chen said.
The most dangerous industry was construction: at least 16 deaths last year were on construction sites.
Ms. Obernauer pointed out that because many construction workers were undocumented immigrants, they were often vulnerable to exploitation and afraid to report unsafe conditions. The advocates pushed for local legislation to be passed such as Carlos’s Law, which would boost the maximum fine for developers who ignored safety protocols resulting in a construction worker being killed or injured on the job, from $10,000 to $500,000. The bill was named after Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant who died in 2015 after the unfortified trench in which he was working caved in.
Andrew Tilson, executive director of the Workers Unite Film Festival, said that a major reason advocates fought to keep the Hudson Yards construction project unionized was not just because of wages but because the “non-unionized construction industry has historically ignored safety issues.”
Equates Unions With Safety
“There’s a total connection between being in a union and living, basically,” he said.
In 2017, employers reported that about 3.5 million workers had on-the-job injuries and illnesses, according to a report by the AFL-CIO. But it was likely that injuries were underreported, and the actual number was estimated to be two to three times bigger.
Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said that it was important to not just remember those who died on the job but workers who have been injured as well. He noted that workplace violence was an issue that unions and elected officials needed to be more vigilant about.
“Those who work in the transportation industry, Bus Operators, have been victims of all kinds of workplace violence,” he said.
Such incidents disproportionately affected public-sector workers, the AFL-CIO report noted: the rate of injuries caused by workplace violence was 745 percent higher for state government employees and 535 percent higher for local government workers than the rate for those working in the private-sector.
Last month, a female subway Conductor and a female Bus Operator each had cups of urine thrown in their faces in the Bronx by the same man less than an hour apart. Mr. Alvarez cited concerns that such occupational hazards were faced by workers in many industries, including the uniformed services and the taxi industry.
“There’s far too many people contracting long-term illnesses and diseases in the workplace,” he said.
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