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UE POLICY 2009-2011

UE Convention Resolutions
For a Safe and Healthy
Workplace, Fix OSHA Now!

Most days UE members go home after the completion of our shift or workday. But far too often workers go home by way of the emergency room, doctor’s office, or not at all. The loss of a fellow worker on the job gives us all pause to consider the constant struggle to ensure that our workplaces are as safe and healthy as they can possibly be. Fifteen workers per day are killed on the job in the United States. Countless others are injured. In 2007 employers reported more than four million on-the-job injuries and illnesses. As working people we also know that untold numbers of accidents are never reported.

One of the most striking and tragic of these incidents is the story of UE Local 329 member Frank Wagner. Brother Wagner was killed on the job at the McWane Industries / Kennedy Valve foundry in Elmira, New York, on January 13, 1995. The company, in its contempt for the workers, left Wagner's body on the foundry floor pending full investigation. With a makeshift tarpaulin thrown over his body the grieving and shaken workforce was ordered to get back to work. In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, UE Local 329 officers and members worked hard to win some justice for Wagner’s widow and family, and to reverse Kennedy Valve’s terrible safety record. Tough new health and safety contract provisions and vigilant policing of the foundry by UE stewards and members forced management to spend several million dollars to clean up the plant and install safeguards.

It is the union's obligation to work as diligently as possible to encourage – if need be force – the boss into correcting dangerous situations. It’s also our obligation to see to it that safety is engineered into all machinery, equipment, and plant processes. Our elected lawmakers must shoulder a large measure of the burden of policing our workplaces. After eight years of the Bush administration the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is broken and underfunded, and needs to be fixed immediately. In recent years Congress has cut funding and offered employers the option of "voluntary compliance" to avoid OSHA inspection altogether. The "Voluntary Protection Program" (VPP) is no substitute for a vigorous, union-led safety program.

OSHA abandoned regular inspections of all workplaces under the Bush regime, another payoff to big business. When violations are discovered, the agency's fines are far too low, and usually lowered even further during the appeals process. Over the past 40 years OSHA fines increased just once, in 1990, when the maximum sanction for a single safety violation increased to $70,000 from $10,000. Shocking as it may seem, the penalties imposed on those convicted of animal cruelty far exceed those penalties and fines belatedly imposed on the few employers who are ever found guilty by OSHA. In 2008 the average penalty levied on an employer by OSHA for a "serious" workplace safety violation was a mere $921.

OSHA staffing levels remain abysmally low. At the current rate, the average workplace will see an inspection about once every 137 years. A small number might receive regular visits, but the vast majority never receive visits until a tragedy like Frank Wagner's death. Emergency inspections of workplaces must be replaced by frequent, active, unannounced inspections by certified OSHA staff committed to cleaning up our workplaces. For the price of several weeks of the Iraq occupation, thousands of additional workplace inspectors could be hired.

It is obvious that the Obama administration inherited a decimated OSHA, and it faces a tremendous task to restore the legitimacy and effectiveness of the agency. There are early signs that the new administration intends to restore OSHA to its original mission, and the early list of top appointed staffers is encouraging. Congress will also need to restore adequate funding for OSHA to properly do its job.

Speedup and new work technologies cause millions of workers to suffer repetitive stress injuries, like carpel tunnel syndrome. It has been estimated that 62 percent of all workplace injuries are the result of repetitive motion stress. The Bush administration killed OSHA's attempt to address this issue. The Obama administration needs to establish ergonomics standards and deal with this epidemic of repetitive stress injuries which is crippling American workers.

The corporate news media portray sick and injured working people as cranks, wimps, and money-hungry lawsuit artists, when they are the victims of corporate abuse and willful neglect. Workers are victimized twice: first when injured, and then when the government refuses to enforce the law and bring their employer to justice. All too often workers discover this situation only after they are sick or injured.

Every day when we report for work, we must remember that many of the jobs we perform, or the environments we work in, are dangerous. We could be exposed to substances that are toxic, and our jobs could turn deadly in an instant. We must recognize our obligation to look after the health and well-being of our fellow workers and ourselves through the collective action of our union. We must continually challenge unsafe working conditions.

Ultimately, we must be willing to confront lawmakers with this national disgrace of occupational injuries, illnesses, and all too often, death. We must force Congress and our state legislatures to once again take up the defense of working people through a strengthening of our nation’s health and safety laws.


  1. Calls on locals to make health and safety issues a top priority, both during and outside of contract negotiations, and calls on the Obama administration to immediately prioritize a restoration of the OSHA mission of protecting the health and safety of working people on a vigorous basis;
  2. Calls on locals to set up strong independent health and safety committees in each workplace and contact the national office before becoming involved with Voluntary Protection Programs;
  3. Calls on locals and regions to educate our members to deal with hazardous situations in the workplace by taking aggressive action to force the boss to correct them;
  4. Urges members to mobilize and contact their federal and state lawmakers to demand they dramatically expand funding to increase the number of OSHA inspectors and authorize them to carry out unannounced inspections, and to have no restrictions on the scope of any inspections at any time, under any circumstances;
  5. Encourages locals to support local labor-initiated Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups wherever practical;
  6. Demands that bosses be criminally prosecuted for creating or tolerating conditions that lead to severe injury or death on the job, and that OSHA dramatically increase the fines paid by employers who violate the law. Fines should be tripled for repeat OSHA violators and the worst violators should be barred from receiving government contracts;
  7. Opposes any attempts to further restrict the rights of workers to sue their employers over job-related injuries, unsafe conditions, and poisons;
  8. Demands that OSHA applies to all workplaces which do not have equal or better protections under other statutes.
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