January 7, 2009 The Pump Handle 3Comment

What do the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Migrant Clinicians Network, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and 65 other organizations have in common?  They’ve all endorsed the “Protecting Workers on the Job Agenda”, a collaborative product of the American Public Health Association’s Occupational Health and Safety Section and the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.  The platform, released just in time for Labor Secretary-Designee Hilda Solis’ confirmation hearing on Friday, outlines seven goals for improving our nation’s programs for preventing work-related illnesses, disabilities and death, and ensuring that workers who have been harmed on the job are cared for justly.  In a letter transmitting the platform to Ms. Solis, the groups wrote:

Safeguarding fundamental rights to fair wages, healthy and safe working conditions, freedom to form a union, and protection from retaliation for exercising these rights are crucial responsibilities of the Labor Department.  In difficult economic times, such as those faced now by workers, defending these rights is even more important.  We are confident you will work diligently to restore the Labor Department’s dedication to workers, ensuring that federal labor laws are enforced vigorously and are enhanced appropriately to meet the conditions faced by workers today. 

The platform was endorsed last week by dozens of organizations and their names appear on the final page of the document.  In the last 72 hours, another 21 groups have added their support.  (See list below)

This project began back in July 2008 when the APHA/OHS Section and COSH’es were working independently to craft issue briefs for the new Administration.   By late summer, the groups pooled their energy and knowledge, recognizing the value and potential power of a joint platform.  Although earlier versions of the document read like laundry list, the process was instructive: getting down on paper dozens and dozens in gaps in health and safety protection for our nation’s workers. 

Both groups took advantage of their annual meetings in November (APHA in San Diego, National COSH in Milwaukee) to reach consensus on the broad 7 goals, and in the best spirit of collaboration we agreed on the bullets under each goal.   It was not easy for me, for example, to give up a specific mention of “respirable coal mine dust” under Goal #2, or others to give up under Goal #7 a reference to “just transition protection” for workers affected by safer chemicals policies, and so on.  In the end, we were united in our effort to outline the 7 key priorities, offering just a few examples of issues that fall under each goal.   We’ll not lose the long list we developed of inequities and gaps in protection for and research on workers’ health and safety.   Our agenda is just the beginning of a new partnership between APHA OHS, the COSH Network, workers’ and families’ rights groups, and environmental health organizations.   

The following are organizations who have also endorsed the Protecting Workers on the Job agenda, but their names do not yet appear in the printed platform.  We’ll release a revised list of endorsing organizations in a few weeks.

  • Alaska Injured Workers Alliance
  • Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment
  • Appalachian Citizens Law Center
  • Breast Cancer Action
  • Breast Cancer Fund
  • Clean Water Action
  • Connecticut Public Health Association
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Environment Section, American Public Health Association
  • Farmworker Health and Safety Institute
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Global Community Monitor
  • Great Lakes Centers for Occupational and Environmental S&H, Univ of Illinois
  • Green Harvest Technologies
  • International Chemical Workers Union
  • Just Transition Alliance
  • Local 675 United Steelworkers
  • Natural Resources Council of Maine
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  • Oregon Center for Environmental Health
  • Young Workers Health and Safety Network

Also see the COSH Network news release  and APHA news release.

With a new Labor Secretary about to take over and a strong coalition of groups united behind common goals, we’re hopeful that workplace health and safety will finally start improving again.

Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH is with the Dept of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health.  She is the chair of the 700-person strong Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association.  She is also a proud member of PHILAPOSH, and would like to start a COSH group next year in the Washington, DC region.

3 thoughts on “Protecting Workers on the Job: an Agenda for 2009

  1. Thumbs up for “safe working conditions”. I hope the groups meant to include workplace bullying, or workplace emotional abuse. Often it occurs when the Target has little or no chance of going to another job so they stick it out until they are fired or are too sick to ever work again. Like the proverbial “boiled frog: it’s too late by the time they figured out it’s affecting their health.

    This problem effects 37% directly and something like 12% witness it. It disparately impacts women, certain minorities, and anybody who has suffered a previous trauma, like veterans.

    It is severely traumatizing and usually means other coworkers are traumatized into helping the bully and lying to investigators. This is a huge problem – no, a H*U*G*E problem in Washington State. It can be very subtle but we see even the grabbers and spitters getting away with it. Mostly it’s the immediate supervisor.

    We have been campaigning along with the Workplace Bullying Institute and others for legislation but we would love this to be handled at the Federal level. Please would everyone reading this consider sending a note or leaving a message to Hilda Solus.

    Also, please come to our extensive website and leave us some feedbackt http://stopthebullies.home.comcast.net a

    We don’t want to sue our employers but only want a healthy workplace.

    Thank you Celeste for keeping up with current worker issues.

    Martha Woods

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.