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UMWA and USW demand action to elevate worker lives over profit

date: 
June 15, 2010
For immediate release?: 
 

Pittsburgh, PA – At an emergency meeting conducted this week to discuss disturbing rates of worker deaths, two labor international union leaders demanded compliance from corporations and rigorous enforcement of regulations from government.

 

Leo W. Gerard, United Steelworkers (USW) union international president, and Cecil E. Roberts, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) international president, discussed strategies to reduce the number of workers killed on the job, a statistic that is shockingly high thus far in 2010.

 

Both spoke to a gathering of USW oil workers in Pittsburgh about the horrifying death figures. These include 37 miners killed since Jan. 1, which is three more than the 34 who died in workplace incidents throughout all of 2009. The statistics also include the deaths of 19 oil and refinery workers in just April and May.

 

“A half century ago, UMWA President John L. Lewis said, ‘Coal has been splattered by the blood of too many miners, and that same coal has been washed by the tears of too many widows and their families,’” Roberts recounted, “Much has changed since then in the coalfields, but we are not yet rid of examples of coal corporations putting production and profit ahead of safety, as was so tragically evidenced by the explosion April 5 that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch, followed before April’s end by the deaths of four more miners.”

 

Gerard agreed, noting that in addition to the 11 workers killed in the April 20 explosion of the BP rig in the Gulf, seven Tesoro refinery workers died in an explosion April 2. “The deaths of workers, utter destruction of the environment and devastation to communities are caused by reckless corporations that revere profit above community, the natural world and human life,” Gerard said.

 

Gerard and Roberts said the federal government must intervene with tougher safety laws and regulations and stricter enforcement, since corporations have refused to conduct themselves honorably by voluntarily ending unnecessary endangerment of workers. In fact, Gary Beevers, USW international vice president in charge of the union's National Oil Bargaining program, noted, “The USW was negotiating with oil companies last year in an attempt to reduce workplace dangers but was forced to withdraw when it became clear the corporations had no intention of talking seriously about safety.”

 

Both Gerard and Roberts said the series of workplace disasters this year makes it absolutely clear that employers must stop fencing with regulators and commit themselves to the highest standards for safety.

 

“Oil companies spend more time and energy fighting citations and penalties than they do taking care of a dangerous situation,” said Beevers. “Under the system we have now, employers don’t have to abate hazards while they contest citations and penalties. This puts our workers and the community in harm’s way.”

 

 “It’s one thing for the federal government to require industrial safety and quite another for corporations to honestly internalize responsibility for it,” Gerard said.

 

Roberts added that all unions want their employers to make money and be successful. But, he said, “When Massey CEO Don Blankenship makes millions every year while more than an average of 5 workers per year are being killed on his company’s property over the last decade, it’s criminal.”

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