Workers Memorial Day is April 28, and working people throughout the world are using the day to remember those who were hurt or killed on the job and renew our commitment to building safe workplaces for all workers.
It’s been nearly 50 years since the first federal job safety laws were enacted in this country, starting a wave of progress that improved working conditions and health and safety standards across the nation.
This progress didn’t just happen because laws were passed. It happened because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. It is working people, through their unions, who demanded and won stronger standards to protect workers from lead, benzene and other hazards. After years of struggle, we won new rules to protect workers from deadly silica dust, a stronger coal dust standard for miners and stronger measures to protect workers who report job injuries from retaliation.
All these hard-won gains are now being threatened. Since coming into office, the Trump administration has conducted an all-out assault on regulations—pushing to weaken, roll back or repeal the workplace safety rights and protections we fought so hard to win.
First, President Trump and the Republicans in Congress repealed a rule that required employers to keep accurate injury records, and another rule to hold government contractors accountable for obeying safety laws and labor laws. Next, the administration targeted job safety rules on toxic chemicals and mine safety. They even proposed to weaken child labor protections for young workers who help care for the sick and elderly. And every year since taking office, President Trump has tried to slash the budget for job safety research, cut the budget for coal mine enforcement and eliminate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s programs for training workers.
As a result of these attacks, OSHA enforcement has been weakened and the number of OSHA inspectors is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Federal OSHA now only has the capacity to inspect workplaces once every 165 years. The Trump administration has refused to take any action on critical safety and health problems like workplace violence, silica exposure in mining, and other serious hazards. The administration is totally ignoring the new toxic chemicals law, refusing to protect workers from asbestos, methylene chloride and other chemicals. Meanwhile, workers continue to be injured, infected with disease, and killed on the job.
In 2017, nearly 5,200 workers were killed on the job and millions more were injured. But that is only a part of the deadly toll.
Each year, 95,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by toxic chemical exposures and other health hazards.
Each day in this country, 275 working men and women die because of their work, never to return home to their families and loved ones.
These tragedies and deaths could have and should have been prevented. These workers did not have to die. Now more than ever, we need to stand up to protect our hard-won gains and fight to make jobs safer and save lives.
This year, one of the labor movement’s top safety and health priorities is winning a standard to protect workers from workplace violence. Workplace violence is a serious safety problem, particularly for women workers in health care and social service jobs. Tens of thousands of health care workers are assaulted each year, suffering severe injury and even death.
The Trump administration has refused to take action to protect workers against this growing threat, so Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) introduced HR 1309, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Workers Act. The Senate version of the bill, S. 851, was introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The bill, which has bipartisan support in the House, requires OSHA to issue a workplace violence standard that requires employers to create procedures for the reporting and investigation of workplace violence and providing medical assistance to victims. The bill would also increase employer accountability by requiring employers to keep a log of workplace incidents, perform quick investigations and prohibit retaliation against victims who report incidents.
As union members, we must press forward, fight for and win protections against workplace violence and other hazards while defending the health and safety victories we have already won over the past five decades. We must educate workers and union members about the threats to our health and safety standards, organize to preserve hard-won gains, and demand action to protect workers and improve their lives. We must demand that our elected officials support workers’ right to join a union, and the right to a safe job and fair pay for a day’s work.
On this Workers Memorial Day, we remember and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives on the job or who have been injured or made sick. We call for an end to the unnecessary deaths of our brothers and sisters – and action to prevent them. On this day, we pledge to fight for safe jobs, the freedom to have a union, economic security, opportunity and a better life for all.
What your local can do on Workers Memorial Day
The AFL-CIO has created a webpage with print and social media materials, a list of events, and instructions on how to host an event of your own. If your local is interested in hosting an event or joining in an already scheduled event, reach out to your state fed or central labor council for more information. Many events will require members to be in an off-duty status and need to be hosted off government property.