For centuries, unions have been at the forefront of fighting for and winning safer protections for working people. Horrific workplace tragedies such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the Hawks Nest Tunnel disasters are reminders of the need for unions.
Unions fought for the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Over the past 45 years, unions have won national and state safety and health protections for all working people, including key standards such as asbestos, benzene, lead, confined spaces and fall protection; and now more than 532,000 working people can say their lives have been saved through this law.
These protections benefit every worker on the job, not just union members.
Unions also win strong collective bargaining contracts in their workplaces, establishing key safety protections such as safety representatives and labor management committees, as well as other labor protections such as higher wages, retirement security, work autonomy, job security, paid time off and predictable scheduling.
Unions are still winning important protections for all people by advocating for and defending safety and health standards.
In March, OSHA issued the most important health rule in 30 years. These comprehensive silica standards will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 cases of silicosis (and other chronic diseases) each year, by using common sense controls like water and vacuums to reduce exposure in construction, maritime and general industries.
Just a few weeks ago, OSHA updated its injury and illness recordkeeping requirements, requiring companies to electronically submit their injury and illness logs to an online OSHA database regularly. Because of this record-keeping update, working people and employers can better identify workplace hazards causing injury and illness in their industries and at their worksites. Importantly, this rule increases anti-retaliation protections to help workers report injuries and illnesses without fear of employer repercussions.
While these protections are success stories for working people, we still have work to do. The new OSHA rules, as well as other new labor protections, are under attack from wealthy big business lobbyists and right-wing politicians. Additionally, more states have "right to work" laws, which weaken safety and health working conditions, than ever before. Workers in states with right to work laws are at a 49% greater risk of dying on the job, and states with greater union density also tend to have lower job fatality rates.
Unions are critical in the push for stronger safety and health protections and to keep the protections workers have—making sure that profits are not put ahead of working people’s right to provide for their families and return home alive, in one piece and not burdened with lifelong illness. Unions will keep winning for working people.