fbpx
Connect with us

Labor & Economy

Mourning for the Dead, Fighting for the Living

Avatar

Published

 

on

The virtual disappearance of work stoppages in America is hardly a sign of labor contentment but a reminder of how, in today’s hyper-stressed workplace, workers are afraid to protest when they believe their jobs hang in the balance. When a wildcat strike takes place, then, it’s safe to assume there must be powerful motivations behind it.

Baggage handlers working for Menzies Aviation at Los Angeles International Airport saw their 2012 walkout as a matter of life and death. At the time of their strike, three Menzies employees had been killed in California tarmac accidents, prompting workers to file complaints with Cal/OSHA about the workers’ lack of safety training and the company’s cavalier attitude towards faulty electrical equipment and the storage of fuel cylinders. The company took the bad PR and occasional fines in stride, however, and continued to conduct business as usual.

Then, this past February, a worker named Cesar Valenzuela was thrown from the luggage tug he had been driving and run over by the vehicle, becoming the fourth Menzies worker to die on the job in California within eight years. An inspection of the tug revealed its seatbelts had been removed, a violation of state law. The fate of Valenzuela and the estimated 500 other Californians who will die at their jobs in 2014 serves as another kind of reminder about the American workplace — that for all too many businesses, Safety Last is the rule when weighing the quest for profits against the protection of employees.  Some of the nation’s 5,000 annual labor fatalities, such as Valenzuela and camera assistant Sarah Jones, who was hit by a train during a Georgia film shoot in February, briefly make the news, but most never do.

That is why, in 2012, April 28 was established as Workers Memorial Day – a time to honor fallen workers and to fight to make workplaces safer. This year April 28 through May 1 has been designated as a week of action in Los Angeles. The idea, says UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH), is “to make visible the grief of their families and to inform the public about efforts by occupational safety and health advocates to prevent future workplace deaths.”

Among the calls for action is increased funding for Cal/OSHA inspections. According to LOSH, “Cal/OSHA staffs just one health and safety inspector for every 109,000 workers. Why are we not prioritizing the safety of our workers?”

Top Stories