This week on “State of the Unions” podcast, we had the opportunity to talk to National Nurses United (NNU) Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, about the “Medicare for All” campaign, nurses’ history of organizing and the impact of nurses in the community.
Nurses don’t turn away from a crisis. They go toward it. And what we need is for our elected leaders, our politicians to not get sidetracked, not go another way, but to go toward that crisis with a real systemic fix. So being in the industry 24/7, we are always pushing back on management’s attempts to shortchange our patients.
This past Sunday, April 28, was Workers Memorial Day. Unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew the fight for safe jobs.
Across Ohio, events were held to honor and remember those who lost their lives on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Act and Mine Safety and Health Act promise workers the right to a safe job. Unions and our allies have fought hard to make that promise a reality—winning protections that have made jobs safer, saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions of workplace injuries and illnesses.
“We must remain vigilant to ensure that the workplace safety gains that have been made over the last five decades are not eroded and to put in place new needed protections,” said Tim Burga, President of the Ohio AFL-CIO, speaking at the Dayton-Miami Valley Central Labor Council event. “The goal everyday for every family is to have their loved ones return home safely at the end of their work day and collective bargaining agreements are the best tool to achieve safe and secure workplaces.”
Each year, thousands of workers are killed and millions more suffer injury or illness because of their jobs.
“The Workers Day Memorial is a reminder that the best way to honor workers who lost their lives on the job is by pushing for stronger workplace safety and protection measures,” said Ohio AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Melissa Cropper to a crowd honoring fallen workers at the Cincinnati AFL-CIO event.
Recently, workers have won new rules to protect us from deadly silica dust and beryllium, a stronger coal dust standard for miners and stronger anti-retaliation protections for workers who report job injuries.
But these hard-won gains are threatened. The Trump administration has carried out an all-out assault on regulations, targeting job safety rules on beryllium, mine examinations, injury reporting and child labor protections. The labor movement and allies have fought back and blocked some of these attacks. However, this assault has taken a toll: Key protections have been repealed or rolled back and agency budgets and staff have been cut. There has been no action on critical safety and health problems like workplace violence, silica in mining and exposure to toxic chemicals.
As the health of working people continue to be threatened by extreme right-wing politicians, we will always continue in the words of labor activist Mother Jones and, “Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
In last Quarter’s article, I spoke to the many of the challenges to Labor organizing posed by today’s non-traditional workplace. Like everything else in today’s value-driven marketplace, Labor Unions must be increasingly aware of and invest in the value we bring to our membership. Everything we do must be about the education, safety, health and financial well-being of the rank and file members. By our own argument, their money is hard fought, and we must be the best possible stewards of how we manage it, invest it and bring value to those that provide it.
One of the most, if not the most, important influencing factor in organizing is worker safety. While worker safety has been a core value throughout our history, over recent years Labor Unions have become increasingly expert in workplace health and safety. More recently, we have become the dominant voice on the matter and the principal champions of worker safety. Our efforts to get the new silica standards in place are a good example of how we are working to ensure our members safety.
In recent years, we have increasingly invested in health and safety education and technical expertise. As a BAC member you have access to state of the art training through the International Masonry Institute and we offer classes at the local level held at one of the Regional Training Centers. We recognize that fighting for worker safety, health and well-being is beneficial to Labor’s safety, health and well-being. Safety is a real concern of unions.
As union membership has declined over the past thirty-years, it has been increasingly more difficult to make substantial gains in wage and benefits, but health and safety measures have been a genuine area of offset. And the facts are undeniable. Labor’s increased vigilance and attentiveness to worker safety have resulted in a much higher incidence of positive collaboration with employers that have reduces worker injuries, lowering costs for the employers and positively impacting profit through gains in productivity.
When there is an open dialogue, and close cooperation between a company and its’ workers, who can argue that it’s anything but a good thing for everyone. Worker satisfaction is improved, workplace injuries are decreased along with expensive down-time, productivity is increased, and profitability is positively impacted. That money goes directly to the bottom line. Can you say Win, Win?
Thanks to the diligence and activism of Labor, it is now not at all unusual to see job site managers and owners ramping up safety standards to well beyond those required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Labor and Management has even created a new paradigm in which Unions and Management collaborate to be more competitive and win contracts with their track-record of good safety practices being the differentiator.
It’s no secret that we making a significant investment in significant health, safety and environmental protections, because the challenges on many of today’s highly advanced and very technical work sites pose significant challenges and risk to the worker. This noteworthy investment is to make sure that (1) workers’ safety, health and well-being remains priority one and (2) workers’ safety is a winning position for Labor as they fight the organizing battle along new fronts.
The hope for improving safety on jobs is that management and the workers are aware of the importance their roles in this new paradigm where labor-management cooperation benefits everyone. Employers obtain better workers by providing a safer, more attractive work environment… Workers are more satisfied and more productive due to the satisfaction a safe and healthy work-place brings… Labor is empowered by the cooperation between management and worker… and Productivity and profitability are positively impacted by reduced downtime.
Whenever the workforce, the business owners and Labor are pulling together on issues such as worker safety, there are going to get better outcomes. Thanks in no small part to Labor putting its money where its mouth is and investing heavily in education, training and awareness programs, Safety is now a principal tenet of any good organizing effort. Owners of large construction projects are increasingly inclined to use contractors with a strong safety record and history of injury losses below the national average. They are also increasingly inclined to require contractors to show they have a favorable insurance rating.
Increasingly, owners, foreman and project managers believe that a safe working environment is important. It is only by the diligence and steadfast advocacy of the BAC and other Labor Organizations that these trends are forming. However, this fight is far from over. Worker Safety remains a paramount issue to us and is but one area we can use when looking at a holistic organizing strategy. If Labor is not first and foremost the principal advocate for workers’ safety, health and well-being, then what are we?
As a union member, I am asking you, what is the message that you are sharing? Below is a response to a Facebook post about Kentucky Senator Rand Paul introducing a National Right to Work Bill. Mitch Kittinger a Local 55 Apprentice expressed his thoughts so well that I thought I should share them with you.
“ As a union apprentice… I’m more than happy to be where I am at. Due to my skill level I have been fortunate to travel and see parts of the world I otherwise may not have been able to. I have worked non-stop since I started in 2015 with no debt and regardless of where I go I will be paid a livable wage with benefits. If my company runs out of work, I have the option of working for another contractor instead of sitting on the couch. If I’m not happy with what is going on… my dues pays to make sure there is somebody with some pull to handle it. My dues keep me working. My dues pay to make sure we maintain jobs in our workforce. Even if some aspects of our situations don’t meet expectations those dues ensure that I can and will always be able to find a way to not only survive, but to thrive as long as people don’t selfishly find a way to abolish it. Unions pave the way for higher wages and safety expectations. If that is what paying my dues enables me to have, I will be more than happy to pay them! “
Some 31,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are on strike at Stop & Shop supermarkets across New England, walking off the job to fight back against slashed health care benefits. Stand with our brothers and sisters today and sign UFCW’s petition demanding that executives agree to a fair contract that reflects the true value of their workers.
Message of the Day—Support Stop & Shop Workers
Thanks to the tireless labor of tens of thousands of working people, Stop & Shop is thriving. Its parent company, Ahold Delhaize, recorded profits of more than $2 billion last year. Over the past three years, its shareholders have pocketed $4 billion in stock buybacks.
Yet, Stop & Shop executives want even more—and they’re targeting the same workers who built that immense wealth. Going nearly two months without a contract, UFCW members have faced threats to their wages, health care, retirement and overall livelihoods.
Walking out of more than 240 stores throughout New England, working people are standing up for their most fundamental rights and dignities in the country’s largest private-sector work stoppage in years.
31,000 workers at Stop & Shop supermarkets across Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have gone on strike.
Management at Stop & Shop presented its “final offer” to workers, which included significant cuts to health care, massive increases (more than 100% in some cases) to workers’ health care premiums and replacing wage increases with so-called bonuses. This represents a massive step backward, with many workers facing reduced weekly earnings if they agree to this final offer.
On top of this, Stop & Shop’s parent company reported more than $2 billion in profits last year. This is not the time to ask for concessions. Rather, this is a time to invest in the workers who have made Stop & Shop so successful and profitable. They deserve and have earned a better life.
The workers, who are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, need your help to win a fair contract. Here is how you can help:
Continue to shop union. UFCW members work at a number of other supermarkets across the region. If you can’t shop at a union store, please shop elsewhere, but do not cross the picket line at Stop & Shop.
Thank you for your support as these 31,000 workers go out on strike for fair wages, decent benefits and a secure retirement. I will continue to update you as the strike progresses.
On January 9, a bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives took action to help combat the proposal to privatize the Postal Service by introducing House Resolution 33. It was followed on March 7 by a similar bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate, which introduced Senate Resolution 99. Rallies will take place ain every major city throughout the United States Monday, April 15 for the APWU’s Tax Day of Action. Join with our Sisters and Brothers of the APWU, 2:00 – 4:00 PM, at the Main Post Office, Downtown Cincinnati, Ohio at 1623 Dalton Avenue, and remember, The US Mail IS Not For Sale!