As American companies try to keep pace with lower-cost global competitors, they are reducing jobs and other costs, and labor leaders say employers are compromising worker safety.
"Workers today are coming under more and more pressure to do their jobs under conditions that are less and less safe," said Joe Rugola, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO.
Mr. Rugola was the key speaker yesterday evening at the Toledo area's annual Workers Memorial Day ceremony, which honors workers who have suffered and died on the job. The event, which will be observed nationally tomorrow, was held at UAW Local 12 headquarters and drew about 150 people.
On a positive note, no Toledo area workers died on the job in the past year, said George Tucker, chairman of the United
Labor Committee, sponsor of the event.
But those in attendance paid tribute to the 11 workers presumed killed in an April 20 explosion on an oil platform near New Orleans and the 29 coal miners killed April 5 in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
The coal miners' deaths were especially painful to Mr. Rugola, whose father and uncle were coal miners in western Pennsylvania. When he was a boy, an explosion left Mr. Rugola's uncle trapped in a mine.
His uncle and the other miners survived but were injured.
"They lived, but the 29 men at Upper Big Branch did not," Mr. Rugola said. Those men died, he said, because of the "crass indifference" of the mine owners who didn't properly ventilate the mine.
Union members must step up and fight harder to keep worker safety protections in place "so that those who died are not forgotten and their lives had meaning," Mr. Rugola added.
- Jon Chavez