USW's Health, Safety & Environment History - Some Greatest Hits
The USW's 70th Anniversary Celebration featured one workshop about health and safety where we discussed some of the work that the unions that now make up the USW have done over the years to protect workers' health and safety. There are many important stories to be told. The USW HSE department has compiled a few of these struggles below in the form of videos from YouTube. If you have stories or videos to add, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
1936 Steel Industry Safety Video - This video gives a steel industry point of view of worker safety hazards in their mills in 1936, before the union was formed. The clip is from the 1936 industrial film, "Steel: Symphony of Industry," available at the Internet Archives.
Passage of Occupational Safety & Health Act and the Creation of NIOSH - Both the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) were created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 that was signed by President Richard Nixon. OSHA and NIOSH began operations on April 29, 1971. NIOSH is responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-releated injury and illness. This clip is from the 1996 video "The Unfinished Agenda: NIOSH's first 25 years and beyond" produced by filmmaker Abby Ginzberg for NIOSH.
Rubber Industry Cancer Investigation - Workers in the rubber industry have inhalation and skin absorption exposure to the hundreds of chemicals that are heated and pressurized during the rubber manufacturing process. Early studies of rubber workers showed that they may have increased incidence of cancer. In 1970 the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers of America (URW - now a part of USW) joined with six major rubber companies to establish a joint occupational health program. The program included a study of rubber workers that focused on cancer cases and mortality. This clip is from the 1980 OSHA film "Worker to Worker."
Sunshine Mine Disaster - In 1972 a fire broke out and killed 91 miners in the Sunshine Mine, one of the nation's premier silver mines located in Idaho. This was one of the worst mining disasters of the 20th century, and prompted the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) that amended the 1969 Coal Act to include all of the mining industry instead of just coal mines. The Mine Act strengthened and expanded rights and protections for miners. This disaster also resulted in a legal case that eventually was decided by the US Supreme Court and provided our current definition for the union's obligation to duty of fair representation as it pertains to our members' health & safety. This clip is from the 2004 video "We are MSHA," by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (The Right to Know) - Labor unions worked for nearly 15 years after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to gain a national right to know standard. The final rule, which was promulgated in 1983, expanded the scope of industries to cover all workers and gave them the right to know the names and hazards of the chemicals in their workplace. The rule was updated in 2012 to include the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling. This clip is from the 1987 video "The Right to Know: Making it Work" that was produced by the AFL-CIO's Department of Occupational Safety, Health and Social Security and the Labor Institute of Public Affairs.
Out of Control - The 1989 explosion at the Phillips Chemical Complex and other safety incidents in the petrochemical industry prompted the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW - now part of USW) to put out a video call "Out of Control." That explosion and advocacy from the labor movement led to the promulgation of OSHA's Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. The USW put out another video in 2011 called "Still Out of Control" that documents the corporate disregard for plant safety and public health that still exists in the petrochemical industry.
Our Children's World: The Environment - The United Steelworkers was the first union to see the important like between a clean environment and good public and occupational health and safety. Its first environmental conference was held in 1952. The 1990 USWA constitutional convention adopted the report "Our Children's World" that discussed environmental issues. It said that the destruction of the environment may be the greatest threat to our children's future, and that is why the environment must be an issue for the union. An updated report called "Securing Our Children's World" was issued in 2006 jointly with the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups started by the USW and the Sierra Club in 2005. This clip is from the BlueGreen Alliance.
Westray - In 1992 the Westray Mine in Nova Scotia exploded killing 26 miners in one of Canada's worst mining disasters. After years of work by the USW, the Westray Bill was passed. This law allows for criminal prosecution of managers and supervisors in the case of a workplace fatality. This clip is of Ken Neumann, the USW Canadian National Director, at a press conference for the 20th anniversary of the explosion. It was recorded by Samantha Bayard for Straight Good News.
Global Occupational Safety & Health (Bangladesh) - Over the years, the USW has supported workers around the world who are attempting to join unions and improve safety and health in their workplaces. We have worked with steelworkers in Romania, rubber workers in Liberia, and textile workers in Bangladesh, among others. This video, created by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, shows the striking similarities between the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 and a 2011 fire in Bangladesh. Many worker safety measures were passed for workers in the US after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, but those have yet to reach workers all around the world.