By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft
April was not a good month for worker safety. Over a two-week span, four separate events – an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a fire at an Exxon refinery in Texas, a building collapse in Bangladesh, and the death of a poultry plant inspector in New York– highlight the human cost of big business. It is estimated that every day in America, 13 workers go to their job and never come home.
This last Sunday, April 28, was Workers Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have suffered and died on the job from workplace injuries and diseases. Each death has left friends and family behind to pick up the pieces and move on with a new reality. These are lives that could have been saved. Lives that, if the necessary precautions had been made and basic safety standards implemented, could have been prevented.
Big business has consistently put its interests ahead of the interests of its employees. Either through lobbying to weaken regulations and government oversight, or simply gross negligence, industry has gambled with people’s lives. Unfortunately, it is the workers who pay when this gamble fails. Government is continuously lobbied by industry to either weaken existing regulations or prevent new proposed regulations from becoming law. Industry has lobbied to skewer government agency budgets to prevent proper funding to agencies tasked with inspecting duties.
American companies have a responsibility to protect their employees. Too often, big companies are deemed innocent of any wrongdoing in cases of preventable work-related injury. We must put pressure on these companies to raise safety standards throughout their supply chain to protect workers both at home and abroad. Stay tuned to nclnet.org for an in-depth piece on workplace disasters later this week.