Labor’s Critical Role in Workplace Health and Safety in California and Beyond—As Labor Shifts Priorities, Where Will Health and Safety Sit?

Source: Marianne P. Brown, NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume 16 no. 3, 2006

Organized labor has been largely responsible for the health and safety protections many U.S. workers take for granted. This article provides a brief history of labor’s influence on California’s health and safety policies—sometimes with ripple effects beyond its borders. Six cases where various successful strategies were used are examined. These gains were achieved with strong support from international health and safety staff, and, on some issues, support from the state labor federation. But in most cases local union staff involvement was key. Now that labor mobilizes to build its shrinking membership—with only 1 out of 12 workers in the private sector organized—resources are being re-directed toward organizing. Understandably, health and safety advocates have expressed concern that worker protections may suffer. Time will tell, but there is evidence that health and safety demands are front and center in a number of current and upcoming organizing campaigns. Now more than ever, it is in health and safety professionals’ interest to tie their research and clinical work into these emerging campaigns.

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