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Published: August, 2019; Vol 16, Num 3

 

Message from the Co-Chairmen:

A Summer of Challenges and Victories for Worker Safety and Health

Just as construction laborers and signatory contractors face challenges every day in the field, the last several months have brought new challenges for the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Chief among them is the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposal to allow a new form of apprenticeship called Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). LIUNA and the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) strongly oppose this proposal, which would create an inferior version of the critical training and skills development that forms the backbone of union apprenticeship programs. Union apprenticeship programs have been directly linked to better safety outcomes on construction jobsites. The proposed IRAPs would allow for lower training standards than union apprenticeship programs and would only serve to diminish what it means to enter and graduate from an apprenticeship program. We strongly urge all LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, members, family and friends, signatory contractors and other affiliates to take the opportunity to send comments to the U.S. Department of Labor about the strong positive effect that union apprenticeship programs have on safety and health in the workplace.

While IRAPs pose a serious threat, the last several months have also brought several positive developments. First, it’s time to commend lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate for their bipartisan support of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF). Thousands of emergency workers and first responders, many of them LIUNA members, put their safety and health on the line during the response and recovery efforts that followed the attacks on September 11th. They were exposed to toxic dusts and other hazardous substances that left many of them with cancers, respiratory diseases and other lasting health problems. Dr. James Melius, who served LIUNA for almost 25 years, was an integral part of the passage of the James Zadrago 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that established medical monitoring and health care services for those affected. Due to the long-term nature of these diseases, the list of recovery workers affected continued to grow, putting the solvency of the VCF in jeopardy. Now, with the passage of the VCF Permanent Authorization Act, these heroes will no longer have to worry about being able to access the treatment and care they need and deserve.

The Fund is also pleased to report that after years of delays, the House has voted overwhelmingly to fully repeal the “Cadillac Tax” provision of the Affordable Care Act. This is a welcome victory not just for the stability of union health and welfare funds, but for all workers. Health care experts have said for years that implementing this tax on high-value plans would raise the price of health insurance for everyone in the employer market and lower the total number of people who have health insurance overall. At a time when access to quality health care is more important than ever, we should not be jeopardizing the health care of millions of union workers and potentially raising costs for millions more. We are hopeful that the Senate will follow suit and strongly support repealing this harmful tax for good.

As we move into August, we want to encourage LIUNA signatory contractors to participate in OSHA’s Safe & Sound week, which will be held the week of August 12-18. This national event celebrates the successes of workplace safety and health programs and helps raise awareness about their value and effectiveness. In particular, the event seeks to shine a light on those companies that involve management at all levels, encourage worker participation and use a systematic approach to finding and fixing workplace hazards. For more information about how you can participate and be recognized, visit www.osha.gov/safeandsoundweek/.

On behalf of LIUNA and the LHSFNA, we hope that the rest of your summer is safe, enjoyable and productive. When temperatures climb, remember that taking steps to stop heat stress helps members stay cool and stay safe.