When Henry Miller started organizing electrical workers more than 125 years ago, he did so because of the egregiously poor working conditions. Workplace safety was practically nonexistent and the mortality rate was shamefully high.
Like many labor organizers, he realized that the status quo could no longer stand. This Workers Memorial Day, April 28, we honor the Henry Millers of the world, mourn those we have lost and continue the fight for better working standards and the freedom to collectively bargain for our health and safety.
“Today we take a moment to remember our fallen brothers and sisters who have died in the line of work,” said Director of Safety Dave Mullen. “Many of our members have dangerous jobs and it is our job to make them as safe as possible.”
This year is the 45th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which lead to the creation of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA. Since OSHA’s inception, more than 530,000 working men and women’s lives have been saved, the AFL-CIO estimates.
Of course, there is still much work to be done. In 2014, nearly 4,700 working people were killed on the job and some 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases. And there were more than 26,000 serious injuries due to workplace violence in 2014, says the federation.
Yet, this Workers Memorial Day we can also celebrate. The Department of Labor recently passed a new rule that will make hundreds of thousands of workplaces safer. The rule regulates silica, a ubiquitous mineral that is also a known carcinogen. The IBEW and other building trades pushed for the rule, which significantly lowers exposure levels and is expected to save more than 600 lives a year.
“Safety is never far from the minds of those of us in the building trades,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We’ve lost too many brothers and sisters over the years and we’re doing all we can to make our worksites safer for the next generation of electrical workers. And part of that is organizing more people so they have the protection of a union.”
As Mother Jones used to say, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."
For more information on Workers Memorial Day, go to the AFL-CIO website.