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North Dakota unions remain committed to safe workplaces

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day.

JSSP Letter to Editor

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the Occupational Safety and Health Act that went into effect on that day in 1971, promising every worker the right to a safe job.

We remember this day because we, the labor movement, believe that every worker has the fundamental right to a safe job and the right to organize in their workplace. Organized workplaces, where workers have a voice on the job, are safer. A union gives a worker the confidence and a process to insist on their rights when it comes to safety: saving lives and preventing injuries to themselves and their co-workers.

For the past 50 years, unions and our allies have fought hard to make that promise a reality — winning protections that have made jobs safer and saved lives. But in the past few years, we’ve been sharply reminded that our fight must go on; as we make gains in some areas, new areas of concern arise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all how important it is for every worker to insist on their rights to a safe job and the right to organize. It has also shown us the weaknesses of our laws and workplace safety agencies that were designed to ensure workers are protected by their employers on the job.

In addition to the virus, workplace violence has also risen sharply in the last decade, spiking in the last few years. Workplace violence is a leading cause of death on the job in the country. One of every seven workplace deaths results from workplace violence — more than from toxic exposures or fires and explosions.

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The top priority for government and business should be protecting working people’s lives. Unfortunately, we see time and time again that for North Dakota's government and business leaders, that is not the case. We can, we must, and we will do better.

North Dakota unions remain committed to the idea that all working people deserve safe, family-sustaining jobs. Our thoughts are with those families who have lost loved ones due to a preventable workplace fatality. We promise to fight so other families won’t have to mourn.

Larson is president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO and resides in West Fargo.

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