Critical mission: workplace safety


More than 50 years ago on April 28 – what we now observe as Workers Memorial Day – the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect, promising every worker the right to a safe job. The law codified workplace safety as a fundamental right. It was won because of the tireless efforts of the labor movement. Together, we organized for safer working conditions and demanded government action to protect working people. Since then, unions and allies have fought hard to make the promise of a safe workplace a reality — winning protections under the law that have made jobs safer and saved lives. 

Each year, unions and worker advocates across the country come together to honor all who died on the job or as a result of injuries sustained at work. For Workers Memorial Day this year, we will be honoring the 56 Oregon workers who died in 2023. They were parents, neighbors, and community members from across the state and from many different sectors of the economy. Each of the names that will be read at Workers Memorial services in Portland and Salem represent an empty chair at the dining room table, a trauma for a family, and an avoidable tragedy that simply should not have happened. Last year’s total number of workplace deaths is over 19% higher than in 2022 — the starkest reminder possible that the mission to make work as safe as possible is far from over. 

As we prepare to honor the lives of these 56 workers, we must recommit ourselves to do more. Although we’ve achieved much-needed advances in worker protections, there is still so much left to do until no names must be read aloud on Workers Memorial Day. Thanks to advocacy from the labor movement and our partners, Oregon passed ground-breaking protections for workplace exposure to COVID, heat, and smoke in the past four years. In 2023, we fought to increase Oregon OSHA penalties for employers who jeopardize workers’ safety. And just last month, the Biden Administration finally banned the use of chrysotile asbestos. Yet as we continue to make progress towards a safer workplace, there are forces fighting these efforts at every level. 

For example, the Florida state legislature recently approved a bill that bans local governments from enacting heat protections for workers. Since 1979, over 11,000 Americans have died from heat-related causes. With temperatures rising annually, it’s unconscionable to do anything but provide greater protections to workers whose duties expose them to extreme heat. The same profit-driven motivation behind Florida’s law, which is being driven by the agricultural industry, is a factor in Oregon: Every time a new or improved worker protection is brought forward, it is fiercely fought by those who stand to profit at the expense of workers. This push against common sense safety measures on the job is yet another example of the importance of electing real champions for working people who will not be swayed when it comes to safety. 

Workers Memorial Day falls on a Sunday this year. The unions of the Oregon AFL-CIO, along with faith leaders and elected officials, will hold ceremonies on Friday, April 26 — in Portland and in Salem — to mourn the fallen workers from 2023 while we wholeheartedly recommit ourselves to making sure that every worker returns home after their shift safely. To learn more about attending an event and joining Oregon Labor on April 26, please visit our website at 


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