Speech | Workplace Health and Safety

Trumka: Workplace Deaths a 'National Crisis'

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks on a press call discussing the federation's annual Death on the Job report: 

Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today to discuss something urgent and heartbreaking that’s happening in our country.

Each year on Workers Memorial Day—which we’ll recognize this Saturday—working people throughout the world remember those who were hurt or killed on the job and renew our struggle for safe workplaces.

We’ve made great progress since key job safety laws were passed more than four decades ago. That didn’t happen on its own. It happened because workers and our unions organized, fought and demanded action from our employers and our government. It was working people, through our unions, who demanded and won stronger standards to protect us from dangers in the workplace.

But now, that progress is under siege. And, this year’s Death on the Job report gives some alarming insight into what’s happening.

Not a day goes by in Washington where these isn’t a new controversy. Our divided politics tell us everything has two sides—and sometimes more.

But one thing that shouldn’t raise a fight: the health and safety of working people. The idea that we have a right to return safe and sound after a full day’s work. There’s no gray area there, no nuance.

Quite frankly, greed kills. And every day, decisions are being made in boardrooms and the halls of power—by CEOs and their handpicked politicians—to prioritize wealth and self-enrichment over the health and safety of the men and women who made that wealth possible.

Too often, our constitutional, God-given right to life is being tossed aside for a few extra bucks in the pockets of the richest and most powerful people in this country.

And, we’re seeing very real consequences in the workplace.

5,190 American workers died from injuries on the job in 2016, hundreds more than the year before. Another 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases. All together, that means about 150 workers died each day from preventable, hazardous workplace conditions.

Some of the most vulnerable working people are bearing the brunt of this travesty. Latino and immigrant workers continue to account for a disproportionate number of deaths on the job.

And here’s a scary reality: violence is now the second-leading cause of workplace death, accounting for 866 deaths in 2016—including 500 homicides. And, women are disproportionately the victims.

I wish we had time to tell the stories of every brother and sister we’ve lost this year. Because numbers alone do not do them justice. They lived and laughed and loved. And they deserved better from their country.

My point is this: we’re facing a national crisis. And, it’s time that folks in this town start acting like it.

But instead of launching a massive campaign to reduce workplace injuries and deaths, the Trump administration is gutting the protections already on the books.

Here’s just one case that really gets me. The administration is considering rolling back MSHA’s coal dust rule at the request of mining executives. Well, NIOSH just reported the largest cluster of black lung in coal miners that we’ve seen in years...My dad died of black lung in 1999. Since then, 9,000 miners have been taken away from their loved ones the same way. Even as we’re being warned that more miners are at risk today, as with so many things under this administration, corporate greed is taking the front seat.

It’s shameful. It’s unacceptable. And the labor movement is going to use our pro-worker, independent political voice to stop it.

Now, I’d like to pass things over to Peg Seminario, who directs the AFL-CIO’s work on occupational safety and health. Thank you.