No profit is worth the cost of our lives

Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO President

Every Workers Memorial Day we read the list of names of Oregonians who died on the job, at war, or in industrial accidents in the past year. Every year we say we hope next year’s list will be shorter.

Oregon’s list is not getting shorter.

We saw dramatic decreases in workplace deaths as our economy changed 20 and 30 years ago.

We saw decreases more recently as safety measures were stepped up.   But for the last few years, our numbers have not decreased dramatically.

On April 28, we will hear the names of 46 workers read. Last year we remembered 52. We have sent condolences to 40 to 50 families a year for quite some time now. That is too many families every year.

There are measures we can take to protect more of our fellow workers.  We know that good training, a culture that prioritizes safety, and ensuring workers have access to safety equipment, all help.

That’s where our unions come in.

The morning of Workers Memorial Day, I’ll be at a groundbreaking for a new apartment building in Portland that will be built with 100 percent  union labor. Our unions provide some of the best training programs around. We demand a culture of safety.  We bargain for the equipment that will keep our members — and in many cases the people we serve —safe.  And we try to make sure workers know that they can say something if working conditions aren’t safe.

Accidents still happen. We tragically lost a few of our members on the job this year. But we can, and we must, do more to lower Oregon’s number of names read.

I recently heard someone say that business owners may take on the financial risk of starting a company, but every single day workers take on the physical risk. Whatever your job, there is physical risk involved. You take on risk in exchange for a paycheck that may or may not fully compensate you for the physical toll of the work you do. Most days, we leave work intact. The risk paid off.

In 2013, though, the risk wasn’t worth it to 46 families.

We must recommit to making our workplaces safer — via the Legislature, through demanding the training we need, at the bargaining table, and every day when we show up to work by reminding our bosses that we are the ones who take on the physical risk of making a profit, and no profit is worth the cost of our lives.

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