Source: Garrett Brown, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 1, January 2015
An underlying theme of California’s most prominent union organizing campaigns in recent years—among warehouse workers east of Los Angeles, carwasheros in Los Angeles proper, and recycling workers in Oakland and Southern California—has been worker concerns about unsafe and unhealthy conditions at work. As labor visionaries like Tony Mazzocchi predicted, workers are deeply concerned about and can be successfully organized around workplace health and safety issues. Rank-and-file concerns about health and safety, however, have not been taken up by union officials or lobbyists who view health and safety as a lower priority than labor legislation or gubernatorial appointees. ….
….What Cal/OSHA (along with the Fed OSHA and other state plans) needs is the political will on the part of politicians and their appointees to make worker health and safety a priority, ensure worker safety agencies have the staffing and resources they need to enforce the law, and withstand inevitable employer campaigns against effective worker protection regulations and their implementation. Creating this political will depends on the labor movement making workplace safety a “non-negotiable demand,” along with its other priorities in both contract talks and political campaigns. The labor movement needs to return to the campaigning of the 1960s and 1970s that made worker health and safety a cause célèbre—and established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration under Republican President Nixon—not only for unions but also for OHS professional organizations, for the environmental movement concerned that toxic exposures inside the plant will generate toxic exposures outside the plant, and for the working public as a whole.
Among the campaigns labor could lead, and win support from other working-class and community organizations, are efforts to ensure OSHA agencies have the staffing and resources needed to effectively protect workers on the job; to undertake special efforts to protect particularly vulnerable workers such as immigrants and Latino workers in general who suffer higher rates of injury, illness, and death; and to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals that poison workers, surrounding communities, and even consumers. ….