Dan Berman is a Davis, California-based author, researcher and teacher with a wry sense of humor and deep wisdom regarding labor union and social justice activism for healthy workplaces.
A couple of weeks ago I sat in on a meeting of the leadership of some local hotels. These were not the hotel managers, but the leaders among the workers who clean the rooms, clear the tables, chop the vegetables in the kitchen, vacuum the rugs in the lobby and perform all the other back-breaking tasks that make a hotel comfortable for guests.These people – all from hotels with union contracts – face tough negotiations going into the fall and their workplaces could face serious competition from several proposed downtown hotel projects.
Nearly all these men and women, many of whom arrived wearing the uniforms of their hotels, spoke Spanish. This put me at a serious disadvantage because despite my efforts to learn this beautiful language, I can’t seem to speak it and I can hardly understand the rapid sentences thrown back and forth between people who all know one another and have worked together for years.
A day laborer falls off an unsafe scaffold and dies. A custodian gets work-related asthma from cleaning products. A painter is tested and found to have lead poisoning. Every year, thousands of California workers are injured on the job or become ill as a result of health hazards at work.
Twelve workers tragically lose their lives on the job each day in the United States, with 409 workplace deaths in California in 2009. Latino workers are particularly at risk. In Los Angeles County, where nearly one quarter of the state’s fatalities occur, Latino workers have a 50 percent higher fatality rate than non-Latino workers.
Work-related injuries and illnesses result in substantial human and economic costs, and can be prevented. Having the data necessary to understand the problem is the first step.
A health indicator is a numerical value or statistic that helps us measure the state of health in a community or group.