To give voice to 35 workers killed on the job over the past 35 years at a massive refinery in Texas City, hundreds of surviving family members, co-workers and friends gathered there last month to erect white crosses marked with their names.
Marathon Petroleum Corp., which bought the refinery from BP two years ago, did its best to shut the mourners up. Marathon uprooted the crosses and tossed them in a box like trash within hours of the commemoration.
For years during contract negotiations, the United Steelworkers (USW) union has pressed ungodly profitable oil companies to improve safety. This fell mostly on deaf ears. On Feb. 1, USW refinery workers began loudly voicing this demand by striking over unfair labor practices (ULP). Ultimately 7,000 struck 15 refineries. Within six weeks, all but five oil corporations settled. Marathon is a hold out. It wants to cut safety personnel. It does not want to hear about dead workers.
Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year, the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.
Here are 11 facts about worker safety and health you should know in honor of Workers Memorial Day:
1. In 2013, more than 4,400 workers were killed on the job and more than 50,000 more died from occupational diseases.
2. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 4 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported. Research indicates that the numbers may be underestimated and may actually be two or three times greater than what BLS reports.
3. Certain occupations have much greater risk than others. These include agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, transportation, warehousing, mining and construction.
Even the word "greed" is not negative enough to characterize the all-out assault on workers by today's corporate elite.
From offshoring jobs to busting unions, from slashing wages to looting pensions, corporate take-aways from America's used-to-be middle-class workforce certainly are driven by the avarice of top executives and wealthy investors. Plainly put, the more they can take from workers, the more they can put in their own pockets (or, most likely, in their offshore bank accounts). It adds up to a massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few.
In addition to greedy, though, these people are rank thieves. As Woody Guthrie succinctly put it: "Some'll rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen." We're now in a rapacious fountain-pen economy. Since the Wall Street crash of 2008 (itself a product of grand theft by financial elites), the productivity and creativity of all Americans have regenerated every bit of the wealth that was frittered away by bankers, and we created trillions of dollars in new income. What a phenomenal national achievement that is, produced in an astonishingly short time by the shared effort of our people!
If you weren’t concerned about the burgeoning swamp that is the so-called “campaign finance system” in the U.S. before, here’s a figure that should interest you: $600,000.
Doesn’t sound like so much? Wait till you hear the context.
The $600,000 is the campaign spending estimate we heard about for the aldermanic race between incumbent John Pope and challenger Susan Sadlowski Garza, daughter of famed Steelworkers local leader Ed Sadlowski, in Chicago’s 10th ward, on the far Southeast Side. After last week’s runoff, Garza leads by 30 votes, out of 12,000 cast, pending a recount.
$600,000 still doesn’t sound like a lot? You haven’t been on the Southeast Side lately.
January 18, 1943 marks the death of the first woman general organizer appointed by the American Federation of Labor. Mary Kenney O'Sullivan was born the only child of working-class Irish immigrants, in Hannibal, Missouri.