Workers at risk of coronavirus infection and harm in the workplace received neither adequate protection from their employers nor compensation for their added risks during the pandemic. This can only be understood as a consequence of unequal workplace power.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the law that created it have also failed workers. Willful inaction in deference to employers and the weaknesses in the law have proven that these basic protections—as essential as they are—are inadequate for many of the hazards in workplaces of the 21st century.
The pandemic laid bare two major worker-safety misconceptions that jeopardized workers’ health and economic well-being, especially for low-income and Black and brown workers.
We learned that:
- Businesses do not inevitably do the right thing to keep workers safe or compensate them for health risks.
- Current OSHA protections, actions, and tools were not adequate to protect workers.
Unequal power in the workplace deprives workers of the ability to protect themselves from injury, illness, and death on the job. Similarly, lopsided employer power prevents most workers from obtaining adequate compensation for the inherent health risks they face at work.
These truths have only been clarified by the experiences during this pandemic, where workers have been neither safe nor compensated for risk: many workers have been disciplined for protesting lack of protections from COVID-19 and have been subjected to unsafe conditions while extra pay for risk-taking has been irregular, short-lived, and inadequate.
The most dangerous jobs in this economy are disproportionately held by some of the most vulnerable and lowest-paid workers, frequently Black and Hispanic workers. Workers are at the mercy of potentially dictatorial employers when it comes to decide when—or whether—to use the bathroom, to protect themselves from toxic substances, refuse to perform particularly hazardous tasks, learn about the hazards at their workplaces, or obtain appropriate medical care for occupational injuries.
It is not only that market forces—the supposed power to quit their jobs and find another—fail workers in enabling them to protect themselves on the job. The basic protections under OSHA have often been too weakly enforced to provide workers with an effective right to control their exposures to hazards that threaten their lives and health.
This webinar will delve into the overhaul needed to bolster OSHA and increase worker bargaining power, so workers across the country can obtain good health and safety on the job.
Peter Dorman, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, Evergreen State College.
Leslie I. Boden, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University
Ann Rosenthal, former Associate Solicitor, Occupational Safety and Health
Randy Rabinowitz, Executive Director, OSH Law Project
Moderated by Bernice Yeung, reporter, ProPublica
What: A webinar that will delve into the overhaul needed to bolster OSHA and increase worker bargaining power.
When: Tuesday, April 20
4 p.m.—5:30 p.m. ET / 1 p.m.— 2:30 p.m. PT
EPI will be live-streaming this event on YouTube on April 20 at 4 p.m.—5:30 p.m. ET / 1 p.m.— 2:30 p.m. PT. Just click on the video below at that time.