How unions are fighting for safer jobs

John is here. This is an important article by Tom Conway of the Steelworkers on the role of trade unions and trade unions in ensuring workplace safety standards are met. In light of Amazon’s grim history of creating an insecure work environment and their resistance to the current union peak, this is a clinching argument about the organization’s benefits to employees.

Tom Conway, International President United Union of Metallurgists (USW). Produced Independent Media Institute

In mid-June, a worker at the International Paper mill in Prattville, Alabama, while performing routine maintenance on a paper machine, found fluid where it shouldn’t be.

He stopped work and signaled the danger, calling for an inspection that found water leaking from a broken condensate line that was over 140 degrees and could burn a worker or other members of the United Steelworkers (USW). Rather than pose a major health and safety hazard, the leak was repaired without incident.

“We fixed the problem,” recalls Chad Baker, USW Local 1458 confidant and security spokesman. “It took about 30 minutes and we continued our work and no one was hurt.”

Unions empower workers to help create safer jobs and give them freedom of action without fear of reprisals.

No one knows the dangers of work better than the people who face them every day. That’s why USW’s contract with International Paper gives workers the “authority to stop work” – the right to stop work when they detect a threat and resume work after their concerns have been properly addressed.

“We often find small problems like this,” Baker said, referring to a leaking condensate line. “Most of the time they are handled very effectively.”

Workers organizing into trade unions Amazon as well as Starbucks, among other companies, for pay increases and benefits. But they are also fighting for the protection of jobs that union workers enjoy every day.

Amazon’s manufacturing quotas have led to a shocking 6.8 injury rate per 100 warehouse workers in 2021. This is more than double the overall rate of the warehouse industry. and 20 percent higher than Amazon’s 2020 record. data analysis The company provided the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Driving for Amazon is also dangerous. About 20 percent of drivers were injured last year, by 40 percent compared to 2020, many of these workers reported feeling pressured to take unnecessary risks, such as skipping seat belts and skipping breaksto meet the company’s relentless delivery schedules.

The unions are fighting against all this. They allow employees to hold employers accountable. That’s why Amazon and other companies use every possible stratagem to prevent the workers from organizing themselves.

“We talk. We find solutions,” Baker said of Local 1458 members. “It’s hard for the company to disagree with us when we’re all talking about the same thing. “It’s that we can’t be knocked down.”

Baker is one of seven full-time USW members as company-paid safety representatives at the mill, positions shared by 1458 Locals representing maintenance workers and 462 and 1978 Locals who represent workers in other jobs.

They walk around the complex every day to identify hazards, communicate with members and resolve security issues, said Local 1458 President Chad Manning.

“You can really solve a problem when you have the right people doing the work,” he explained.

For example, after workers raised concerns about shoulder injuries, the union convinced International Paper to replace the manually operated elevator doors with automatic doors.

Some workers wear heavy, insulated suits to protect them from fire, chemical exposure, and other hazards. After union members cited mobility limitations in the bulky suits assigned to them, they began working with the manufacturer, who sent representatives to the plant to develop an improved version, which International Paper eventually bought.

With the help of the union, workers have also successfully fought for handrails, better lighting and other measures to improve workplace and environmental safety.

When incidents occur, unions play an important role in investigations that uncover root causes and work to eliminate and control hazards.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota looked at data from more than 70,000 jobs and found that unions 30 percent more likely have experience with state or federal inspections for safety violations. This is because unions help members understand their rights and protect them from retribution.

“After all, it is a voice. You have one,” Manning said. “There is no such thing in non-union stores. You have a good opportunity to be fired if you speak your mind.”

Trade unions are constantly looking for new approaches to improve health, safety and the environment.

Later this year, USW will conduct a series of trainings to provide additional protection for the growing number of employees working in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

These sessions will focus on building solidarity around safety, as well as identifying hazards, investigating incidents and holding employers accountable. Then these workers will return to their jobs, defend their colleagues and encourage them to do the same.

“Everyone has something to offer,” explained Melissa Borgia, a member of USW Local 7600, which represents thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers in southern California.

Borgia, who works in membership management at Kaiser, volunteered to help run the program due to the pandemic, attacks on healthcare workers and other dangers her colleagues face.

“There is no better time than now,” she said. “That’s where the spotlight is.”

In Prathville, high summer temperatures in the last week of June exacerbated the threat of heat stress at the paper mill.

Baker partnered with the company to buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of cooling fans, and now union safety officials will continue to monitor conditions and keep workers safe.

“We’re trying to work together,” Baker said of the leadership. “Everyone wins when we’re safe.”