Every April 28, Steelworkers gather in communities across Canada to mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured on the job. It’s one of the most important events in the year as we remember those we’ve lost and recommit ourselves to fighting for the health and safety of every worker.
Once again, due to COVID-19, we are unable to gather, but it is important that we still connect. That’s why you are invited to mark the Day of Mourning by joining our Telephone Town Hall for Steelworkers on April 28.
Let’s come together on the phone to mourn for the dead and fight for the living.
Join our Day of Mourning Telephone Town Hall for District 3 members on Wednesday, April 28 at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.
If the union has your current phone number on file, you will receive a recorded notice one day before the telephone town hall. If you do not receive the call, please fill out the registration form below. On the day of the event, all you have to do is answer the phone when we call you on the evening of Wednesday, April 28. You simply stay on the line to join the telephone town hall.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevents us from gathering in person, but it won’t stop us from memorializing our Steelworker sisters and brothers who were injured or killed on the job on the last year.
Join us , April 28, at noon EST as we stream our 2020 Workers Memorial Day ceremony on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and our website.
We’ll take a few moments to reflect on those we’ve lost then do what we do: pivot into action to continue pushing for laws to make our workplaces safer.
Stay tuned for a series of educational webinars on our Facebook page kicking off this this week from our Health, Safety and Environment Department. Also look for information from Rapid Response about worker safety legislation we’re pushing. And watch for our Education Department’s video watch party series starting with the film, “Silkwood,” a drama based on health and safety concerns at a nuclear facility.
Just a few weeks before the 28th anniversary of the Westray Mine explosion that killed 26 workers in the early hours of May 9, 1992, the United Steelworkers union (USW) says calls for a criminal investigation into the death and infection of workers at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alta., are justified.
“The events leading up to the death of a worker who died at Cargill this month are eerily similar to those leading up to the explosion of the Westray mine 28 years ago,” said USW Western Canada Director Steve Hunt.
“An inspector, despite recommended social distancing and safety warnings in the COVID-19 pandemic, declared the workplace safe not long before one worker died and hundreds more tested positive. At the Westray Mine in 1992, inspectors declared the mine safe, despite clear violations of safety protocols and a buildup of methane-producing coal dust.”
Hunt said the Cargill situation is as predictable as the mine explosion, with workers working in close proximity and little or no protective gear.
At the Westray Coal Mine in Pictou County, N.S, in 1992 the USW was in the process of organizing workers, whose primary concern was the safety of the mine.
“Workers were signing union cards because they knew the company was negligent and they feared for their lives,” Hunt said.
Hunt testified at the subsequent inquiry undertaken by Justice Peter Richard, whose conclusion was that the disaster was the result “of incompetence, of mismanagement, of bureaucratic bungling, of deceit, of ruthlessness, of cover-up, of apathy, of expediency, and of cynical indifference.”
The Inquiry ultimately led to the 2003 unanimous passage in the House of Commons of amendments to the Criminal Code. Called the Westray Law, the amendments are intended to hold corporations and their directors and executives criminally accountable for workplace death and injury. The USW has campaigned for many years for better enforcement of the Westray Law.
“Too often employers plead guilty to negligence in workplace death or injury in exchange for a fine. Killing workers should never be just a cost of doing business. Cargill is no exception. This must be given a full investigation and, if warranted, result in criminal charges.”
Hunt said in 2020, deadly infection caused by COVID-19 is as much of a workplace hazard as any so-called “accident” involving heavy equipment, poor safety protocols or control.
“We are now living in an era with added risk to workers,” he said. “The Westray Law must apply in this case, and be investigated through a criminal lens.”
For further information:
Stephen Hunt, 604-816-2554, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashlee Fitch from the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment department joined The Leslie Marshall Show to talk about Workers’ Memorial Day, as well as the rolling back of many critical Obama-era worker protections and the risk that places on America’s work force.
“A lot of workers’ rights have been coming under the microscope and coming under attack, and health and safety is no different,” Fitch said regarding the Trump administration’s slashing of OSHA staff and regulations.
“We fought for almost 40 years to even get a beryllium standard pushed through,” she said, “and once we did, the [Trump] administration quickly rolled back those protections for workers who are in the construction industry and in the maritime industry.”
Each year, 11,500 shipyard and construction workers, including Steelworkers at Newport News, Va., are exposed to beryllium, a toxic element laced through the coal waste often used in abrasive blasting grits. Beryllium inhalation has long been known to cause lung cancer and berylliosis, a debilitating and often fatal respiratory illness.
Workplace violence is also a major health and safety issue for all working people, but particularly health care workers, and the union is currently working in Washington to urge Congress to pass the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The vital bill would issue an occupational safety and health standard that requires covered employers within the health care and social service industries to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.
“When you look at the rates of violence against health care workers, the rates are 12 times higher than the overall work force,” Fitch said. “We saw this and recognized that we have a lot of things going on in our workplaces that don’t align with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
One of the hopes for the bill is that it will strengthen workers’ ability to report acts of violence they experience on the job, especially immigrant workers, who often fear punishment via harassment and even deportation.
Listen to the full Leslie Marshall interview on Soundcloud
Workers in the pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors, represented globally by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI, are using this 2019 Workers Memorial Day to kick off a yearlong campaign around the three fundamental worker rights needed to make work safe: (1) The Right to Know – workers must know the hazards and risks in their workplace; (2) The Right to Act (commonly known as the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work Without Punishment); and (3) the Right to Participate in the programs and structures that manage safety in the workplace. Each of these Rights will be highlighted with action by workers across the global pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors.
May and June 2019 will focus on a Worker’s Right to Know. Right-to-Know laws typically focus on a worker’s right to know the hazardous substances and dangerous chemicals they work with, but workers require information on so much more that could endanger them at work. Workers require:
- Information on all workplace hazard information, including dangerous chemicals and materials but also hazardous tools, equipment, work processes and the way work is organized;
- An accurate evaluation of hazards. Where gaps in knowledge exist they should be filled;
- Hazard and risk assessment done with workers participation. The only people with the moral authority to assess a risk are those who must face it;
- This means industrial hygiene surveys belong to workers. Toxicology studies belong to workers. Ergonomic surveys belong to workers.
“We invite the global pulp, paper and packaging sectors to work with workers and their representatives to fully facilitate the right to know and, by doing so, build safer and healthier workplaces, “ said Joaquina Rodriguez, president of UNI Graphical and Packaging.
“All health and safety standards exist because of trade union action and we invite the pulp, paper, graphical and packaging industries to share information, build safety programs and provide a safeguarding course for their workers, “ said Leeann Foster, IndustriALL Pulp and Paper Working Group Co-Chair and Assistant to the International President at the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW).
Similar international mobilizations will be conducted in September/October 2019 around the Right to Act and focusing March/April 2020 on the Right to Participate, culminating with Workers Memorial Day 2020.
Workers Memorial Day, observed by unions across the globe on April 28 of each year, is dedicated to remembering those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew the struggle for safe jobs. Worldwide, more than 380,000 workers die tragically at work each year, and another 2.4 million die from work-related illness.
The pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors are extremely dangerous, with a number of fatalities and even more life-altering injuries occurring across the globe annually. Transparency with workers on information relating to their health and safety and employer engagement with workers and their unions is fundamental to address loss of life and limb in the industry.
The two international unions, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI, bring together unions on all continents across these four industries. See more on the two global union websites: www.industriall-union.org and www.uniglobalunion.org.
Message from Director Steve Hunt
APRIL 28TH Day of Mourning
Close to 1,000 workers in Canada die on the job every year.
Case after case shows that many of these deaths are preventable yet they still resulted in no Criminal Code charges, sometimes barely mustering a slap on the wrist or a fine that employers dismiss as the cost of doing business.
The law has been on the books since the United Steelworkers successfully lobbied to make the Westray Law a reality by making employer negligence contributing to a worker’s death or serious injury be treated as a criminal offence. But we have more work to do to make police, prosecutors and health and safety regulators aware and equipped to enforce it.
That is why we need to keep asking questions. Why are some police agencies willing to use the law while others are not? Why are health and safety agencies reluctant to work with police? Why are Crown attorneys avoiding prosecutions? When asked if we are “looking to put every CEO in jail?” – the answer is no. However, just like other criminal laws, we know the power of deterrence is critical to see the societal change necessary to keep our members and other workers alive.
We are starting to see progress being made with police protocols in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland- Labrador. Today we have witnessed the successful prosecution of criminal charges filed under the Westray Law. The work of USW activists and allies are making change a reality.
More charges are being laid across the country. More regulators and police are co-operating. Employers’ lawyers are warning them they too could face prosecution for failing to respect workers’ health and safety.
In British Columbia Premier John Horgan has pledged to ensure police and prosecutors have the resources they need to enforce the Westray Law. We are making change. But, as long as too many employers are still getting away with fines, the fight has to continue.
Without pressure from USW members across Canada, we know that workplace deaths will not get the law enforcement attention they deserve and Crown prosecutors will continue to treat this as a regulatory issue and not a criminal one.
It’s far from perfect, and more work remains to be done, but Steelworkers can be proud that they have improved and saved the lives of working Canadians, union and non-union alike. Equally important, we have trained hundreds of health and safety activists who work every day to keep our members safe. We’ve trained even more to lobby and be politically active to ensure workers’ voices are heard by politicians of every stripe. Because if we don’t fight, who will?
We know every day that the laws that protect workers’ health and safety are meaningless unless they are enforced. That is why we keep fighting. So this April 28th yes we mourn for the dead, but we will rededicate ourselves to continue to fight for the living and keep our members safe on the job.