[This is the first guest post by my wife. ]
This year, many May Day celebrations in this country are being marked with outrage and protest at Arizona’s new immigration law. Fair enough—the Arizona law is a divisive and potentially dangerous response to a frustrating and complicated situation. But the immigration issue that is being debated is intertwined with work. Most immigrants—documented or not—are here to make a living, to support their families and improve their lives. The work that many undocumented workers do is often without the safety and legal protections that other Americans have. But for far too many Americans, the workplace is lethal.
The Occupational and Safety Heath Administration (OSHA) posts a weekly log of workplace fatalities around the country. The latest log is for the week ending March 27, 2010. Sixteen fatalities are posted. The following is a sample of the deaths:
- A worker for the Bottom Dollar Tree Service was trimming branches and cut himself with a chainsaw
- Workers in Texas, New Jersey and Massachusetts died of electrocution
- One worker was trampled by a bull in an auction yard
- A 7-11 employee in North Las Vegas, Nevada was shot and killed during a robbery
- Four workers in four separate incidents died from falls, one during the subsequent back surgery
- At the Hidden Mill Marina Center in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, a worker fixing a client’s boat died in an explosion.
OSHA’s website notes that 5,214 workers died on the job in this country in 2008. On the job. This does not include the health deterioration or death that may develop over longer periods such as illnesses from asbestos exposure, the cardiac conditions that result from stressful workplace situations, or the grinding down of joints from a lifetime of manual labor.
Going back to its non-pagan, more modern roots as an international day to honor workers’ struggles, this May Day should be a time to reflect, honor and consider how dangerous working is for many. The recent explosion at the Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed twenty-nine miners in early April and the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf two weeks ago that killed eleven are tragic and sobering reminders that many workers earn their living at substantial risk to their lives, not in rural China or in a Nigerian oil field but right here in the U.S.
But while these shocking events occupy the news, and journalists and reality television are intrigued by obviously dangerous jobs like those in energy extraction or truckers who drive ice roads, the reality is many more workers risk their health and lives in much less glamorous occupations. The recent workplace tragedies and the ones that occur every week in this country should be reminders that workplace safety and the rights of working people are not antiquated notions of the Industrial Age but struggles for today.