Every year, April 28th brings Workers’ Memorial Day here in the U.S. and the National Day of Mourning in Canada. On this day, we take time to honor all the working people who have lost their lives on the job and mourn along with their families and coworkers. With the U.S. and Canada beginning to emerge from the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, April 28th took on even greater significance this year. In 2020, essential workers – including members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) – were forced to add a deadly virus to the already long list of hazards they face on the job every day. The physical and emotional toll on working people has been staggering, and goes beyond those who lost their lives to include the families, friends and coworkers left behind as well. LIUNA and the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) will never forget those we lost, and will continue to fight every day to protect the safety and health of all LIUNA members.
Part of improving safety and health for today’s workers and future generations is ensuring that workers have a voice on the job. Fifty years ago, tireless efforts from the labor movement to organize and call for safer working conditions led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created OSHA. Now, LIUNA has thrown its full support behind the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strengthen workers’ fundamental civil rights and union rights on the job. The PRO Act would bring much-needed expansion to the National Labor Relations Act by protecting workers’ ability to organize and creating stiffer penalties for employers that break labor laws by retaliating against workers. Provisions of the PRO Act would also help stop workers from being misclassified as independent contractors, which is one of the most common methods used by low-road employers to avoid their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
Combined with the PRO Act, President Biden’s landmark infrastructure proposal and the proposed Clean Energy for America Act have the potential to create a new wave of innovation and investment in our highways, bridges, transit systems as well as our water and energy grids. Equally important is that these projects create quality jobs that pay family-supporting wages, offer strong benefits and provide a safe and healthy environment for workers. Improving our failing transportation and energy infrastructure is also critical for the health and safety of the general public. This winter, we saw how power outages to a neglected energy grid in Texas led millions of Americans to go days without power and be exposed to dangerous, and in some cases deadly, living conditions. The projects these bills would allow are not only an investment in our economy, but in our national security and public safety as well.
As we continue to examine and understand the tremendous impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on workers across the U.S. and Canada, let’s do all we can to keep LIUNA members, their families, their fellow workers and their communities safe. All LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions, health and welfare funds, signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates should continue to spread the critical message that there are both individual and community benefits to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Just as the strength of the labor movement is built on collective action for the benefit of all workers, our ability to stop widespread transmission of this virus will be built on mobilizing individuals to make a collective decision and act as one, for the benefit of everyone.