Mourn For The Dead, Fight For The Living. A Contrasting View Of Safety In The Workplace

Workers-Memorial-Day-Banner_2013This is a cross-post from NH Labor News
By Bill Brickley,

With Workers Memorial Day approaching Sunday April 28 two high-profile safety situations this week have helped further illustrate the gulf  between a union and non-union workplace. Union leaders have called out the Postal Service for being slow in handling one situation while in Texas a completely different regulatory atmosphere turned into a catastrophe.

Postal employees were reminded of the risks in moving the mail.  Ricin tainted letters passed through mail plants in Tennessee, Maryland and Washington DC. The media reported the story before the USPS told its employees according to the  American Postal Workers Union (APWU). The hope is the Postal Service will communicate faster with employees if a similar problem occurs in the future.

The APWU was displeased with the Postal Service not telling his members sooner about the Ricin tainted letters sent to President Obama and Senator Wicker. Especially considering the deaths of Postal Workers during the Anthrax mailings in 2001 the APWU expected a quicker response.

“It is unacceptable that postal officials did not contact the union immediately to notify us of this potentially deadly hazard,” Union President Cliff Guffey said. “Postal workers have learned through bitter experience of the dangers we face when poisons are sent through the mail.”

“We intend to demand that this lapse be corrected,” Guffey said. “The safety of postal workers must be management’s first concern in an incident like this. Postal workers have a right to be informed immediately and to have the assistance of their union immediately to make sure that everything is being done that can be done to protect their safety!”

Seemingly the Postal Service was slow in handling this. In the big picture the Postal Service preaches safety constantly and OSHA inspectors frequently visit. It can be legitimately questioned if the Postal Service focus on safety is being done for the right reasons, but there is no doubt safety is emphasized. Lets contrast that to the travesty in Texas.

We are learning grim new details of the West Fertilizer Plant fire last week that killed at least 14 people and injured over 200. Astoundingly this plant was last inspected by OSHA in February 1985.

That is right a non-union fertilizer plant next to both a school and a nursing home went over 27 years without a OSHA inspection. The EPA found numerous safety violations 5 years ago but that was never followed up on. What could possibly go wrong in this situation?

OSHA inspectors have been reduced consistently over the past 30 years  and currently there are only 2,200 inspectors for the country’s 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers. So OSHA could be expected to visit each plant every 129 years. With no union voice workers are not really empowered to make a call on their own. The whole community in West, Texas is now paying the price.

Routinely government leaders side with industry profits  over public safety.  If you are a union worker and contact OSHA they will undoubtedly respond. Union officials called out the Postal Service for being 2 days late in notification. Contrast that to the 27 year delay in Texas. If you are a non-union worker and you report a violation most likely your next call will be to the State Unemployment Office.

With Workers Memorial Day being later this week its time for our Congress and Administration to address worker safety. People somehow have to be placed above profits.


About Bill Brickley
Bill is a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, serving on the NH Letter Carrier Executive Board as CD1 Legislative Liaison. Also serves on the NH AFL-CIO Executive Board. Former NH Area Coordinator Amnesty International and NH Labor News Blogger Follow him on twitter @BillBrickley


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