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    "The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people."
    Cesar Chavez

    :: Sunday, December 18, 2005 ::

    When it comes to health and safety, your life should be in union hands - By Rory O’Neill, Editor, Hazards magazine UK
    There is no more natural union function than defending the health and safety of members. It is a reason people join unions and a reason people stay in unions. And it has always been so.

    Herbert Abrams’ Short history of occupational health, published last year in the Journal of Public Health Policy, says: “It is important to recognize that throughout the often tragic history of worker health and disease, the worker played a primary role as the basis of every significant improvement in legislation, factory inspection, compensation, correction, and prevention.”

    Abrams concludes: “Labour unrest, protests, strikes, lawsuits, and catastrophes were vital catalysts in obtaining action. Organized labour has been the essential factor central to most workplace health and safety improvements, from the industrial revolution to the

    When it comes to challenging workplace harm, hygienists might have a measure of it and doctors a diagnosis for it, but only workers with collective power have much chance of doing anything about it. And there is no shortage of up-to-the-minute evidence illustrating this “union safety effect.”

    The Canadian Labour Congress cites a 1993 study done for the Canadian Ministries of Labour which concludes that union-supported health and safety committees have a significant "impact in reducing injury rates".

    Later studies for the Ontario Workplace Health and Safety Agency “found that 78-79 per cent of unionized workplaces reported high compliance with health and safety legislation while only 54-61 per cent of non-unionized workplaces reported such compliance.” But this isn’t a Canadian phenomenon. US academic Adam Seth Litwin, now a board member of the US Federal Reserve, then with the London School of Economics, concluded in a review last year of health and safety in UK workplaces that unions dramatically improve safety in even the most hazardous workplaces.

    A non-union office worker was, by Litwin’s calculations, 13 times more likely to suffer an injury than was a closed-shop union worker on an industrial assembly line. Litwin found “strikes and slow-downs serve as efficacious union tools for reducing workplace injuries,” with the most effective union organizational model “the pre-entry closed shop.”

    He concludes: “Injury rates can be reduced by allowing for co-determination regarding health and safety, even in situations where industrial relations may be otherwise characterized as adversarial.

    “Even if unions and management quarrel over all the other issues, labour possesses vital, tacit, shopfloor knowledge regarding health and safety, knowledge that is imperative for reducing accident rates.”

    The true extent of the union protective effect was evaluated in a 1995 study of UK unions. It found that in workplaces with full union recognition and a joint management-union safety committee, serious accident rates were less than half those at firms with no union recognition and no joint committee.
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