It’s well documented that right-to-work laws lower pay and benefits. What they also do, according to a new study, is increase the chance of dying on the job.
Published in the medical journal BMJ, the study looked at the period from 1992 to 2016 and found that these laws “have led to a 14.2 percent increase in occupational mortality through decreased unionization.” That’s roughly an extra 7,300 deaths, study author Michael Zoorob told Salon.
“These findings illustrate and quantify the protective effect of unions on workers’ safety. Policymakers should consider the potentially deleterious effects of anti-union legislation on occupational health,” the report’s conclusion stated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rate of workplace fatalities is 54 percent higher in right-to-work states.
“The implication is that this results in changes in workplace policies that increase occupational mortality,” Zoorob said.
Right-to-work laws allow nonmembers in a union shop to access the same benefits as dues-paying members, including representation for any grievances and salary increases negotiated by the union, but without paying any fees. Such laws have been passed in 27 states, up from 21 in 2000.
“Unions give workers the freedom to speak up about hazards on the job without fear of retaliation,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Right-to-work laws weaken our voice on the job, and that leads to unreported safety hazards and higher accident and death rates.”
Unions also invest considerable resources in training their members on safety. It’s an integral part of the Code of Excellence.
“The Code is a commitment between our members, many of who work in inherently dangerous jobs, and their employers to work together to achieve the highest standards of work performance and that includes safety,” Stephenson said. “And it works.”
While the number of deaths on the job has generally declined over the years, there has been an uptick since 2013, reports Salon. Last year, 5,190 people were killed on the job, an increase from 4,836 the previous year, according to a report by the AFL-CIO.
President Trump’s budget for the 2018 fiscal year included major cuts to worker safety and health. It called for eliminating safety training by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as investigations into chemical accidents. The budget also proposed cutting research into improving job safety and coal mine inspections.
By underfunding OSHA, the AFL-CIO estimates that it would take 159 years for federal inspectors to inspect each workplace just once.
The Trump administration has also revoked a number of rules designed to protect working people. One required employers to maintain illness and injury records for at least five years. Now, it’s only six months. Another required federal contractors to comply with labor and civil rights laws and to report violations. The administration has also rolled back workplace exposure limits for 500 hazardous chemicals.
President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, has a record of siding with employers over employees when it comes to safety, including an incident at SeaWorld. A trainer was killed by an orca whale in front of a live audience, and when OSHA issued its fines and called for improved safety procedures, the theme park appealed. OSHA’s findings were upheld by a three-judge panel, with Kavanaugh dissenting.