Labor Day report: ‘The worker justice movement is on a winning streak’

Earlier this week, we published our annual report, “The Year In U.S. Occupational Health & Safety: Fall 2015 – Summer 2016,” chronicling the victories, setbacks and struggles taking place in the American workplace. But it was just about impossible to piece together a report like this without thinking about the strange — and often scary — election before us and its implications for workers.

So, when we were crafting the report’s concluding thoughts — a section we call “The Year Ahead” — it seemed almost logical to go down that “scary” road, to talk about the presidential election as if workers were standing on a cliff waiting for a newly elected president to pull them back or shove them off. It’s easy to think in such doomsday terms when one of the candidates has such a clear record of repeatedly stiffing workers and breaking labor laws.

But after taking a few deep breaths, it became clear that putting the fate of workers’ health and safety in the hands of one man or woman didn’t make sense. Sure, the person who sits in the White House can have a significant impact on workers’ lives. But workers have never backed down from determining their own fates and shaping their own futures, no matter how difficult the struggle or how powerful the interests. And that won’t stop no matter who becomes president.

As such, we’d like to share with you our take on “The Year Ahead” taken directly from our new Labor Day report. We hope this small preview will inspire you to browse through the rest of the report and share it with others who believe that all workers deserve the dignity that comes with a fair, safe and healthy workplace.

From “The Year Ahead”:

Just a couple months after the publication of this report, Americans will have elected a new president — and the consequences for workers could be considerable. While enacting laws and regulations to protect worker health and safety has never been an easy task under any administration, the current presidential choice before us is unusually stark: one candidate talks about raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid family and medical leave, while the other candidate threatens to gut worker protections and his businesses have racked up at least two dozen violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act

Faced with such ideological divides as well as substantial declines in U.S. union membership, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the future. But in reality — and as the previous pages of this report illustrate — the worker justice movement is on a winning streak. After all, raising the federal minimum wage is now on the frontlines of national debate due, in no little part, to the actions of fast food and other low-wage workers who took to the streets to demand fair pay. In 2016 alone, New York, Washington, D.C., and California passed legislation to eventually raise the minimum wage to $15. After housecleaners, nannies, and home health workers spoke up about the abysmal conditions they faced on the job, Illinois joined a growing number of states to pass a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. And in upstate New York, brave farmworkers, along with worker center advocates, are on the cusp of finally gaining the legal right to organize. In all of these examples — and countless more — the stories and voices of workers and their families were critical to success. Today, across the country, workers are finding new and innovative ways to organize and fight for their rights — and they’re winning.

So while the rhetoric of political campaigns and the outcomes of elections certainly do impact workers’ health and lives, it’s hard to imagine that any president could derail the determination and passion of today’s growing worker justice movement. Sure, the fight may take years and the road forward is filled with obstacles and setbacks — as we saw with this year’s silica rule victory — but there will always be workers willing to speak up, tell their stories, and stand for justice.

To download and share a full copy of “The Year In U.S. Occupational Health & Safety: Fall 2015 – Summer 2016,” click here.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

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