Iím Talking to You

On August 21, 2010, Noe Garcia Jr., a member of United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 112, fell forty feet through the roof to his death while working at Caterpillar Technical Center Building K. Our hearts go out to Brother Garciaís family as they struggle with the sudden loss of a loved one. Brother Garcia was the fourth non-Caterpillar worker to die on or from injuries suffered while working at a Peoria-area Caterpillar facility in recent memory.

This tragic event was witnessed by members of Local 974 who were working nearby and who also provided emergency care to Brother Garcia in the last moments of his life. If you donít know who the volunteer EMTís or First Responders are, you should take the time to find out and then thank them for the jobs they perform to assist us in our darkest hours.

Incidents like what happened to Noe Garcia Jr. are not accidents. Accidents are defined by Miriam Webster as ďan unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstanceĒ. Reportedly, a 32 inch wide by 7 foot long section of roof was being replaced and Garcia fell through a portion of the material being used during this process that could not support his weight. No matter what, when the hole was cut, there was the possibility that someone was being exposed to a 40 foot fall. According to OSHA, when the hole was cut, workers exposed to the fall hazard had to be protected by ď by personal fall arrest systems, covers, or guardrail systems erected around such holesĒ (http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owaquery.query_docs?src_doc_type=INTERPRETATIONS&src_anchor_name=1926.501%28b%29%284%29&src_ex_doc_type=STANDARDS&src_unique_file=1926_0501 ).

This interpretation of the OSHA Construction Fall Protection Standard is not meant to make life difficult for employers and their employees; it was made to protect workers exposed to fall hazards. These standards have been paid for with the blood of workers killed or injured by these hazards. Although I was 300 miles away when this tragedy occurred, I was sure somebody saw something, knew the type of work that had to be done or had been informed that workers performing this task were exposed to fall hazards, but did not take the steps necessary to protect Brother Garciaówhy?

How important is a safe workplace to you? According to a new study from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 85% of workers rank workplace safety as the most important factor related to the workplace (http://www.publicwelfare.org/NewsRoom/NewsDetails.aspx?newsid=79). The workers surveyed felt safety was more important than other labor standards such as family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick days, overtime pay and the right to join a union.

If workplace safety is that important to you, what steps do you take when something at work poses a threat to you?Do you tell your supervisor or their boss of the problem? If management takes care of it, fine, but what if the issue isnít resolved? What do you do? Iím talking to you!

Far too often, the path of least resistance is taken. Rather than do the right thing and ask for our union safety representative, we try to figure out other ways to accomplish what we want done. Instead of using the system we have, we work around it. Why?

Iíve heard a lot of reasons why people donít speak up and none of them are worth spit after someone is hurt. See if youíve said or heard any of these excusesÖ I donít want to bring up safety problems because: Iím too old, Iím too young, I donít want to make the boss mad, let the steward file a complaint, I donít want to make my co-workers mad, theyíll farm the job out if I complain, I wonít be promotable, Iíve got a pretty sweet job now and I donít want to be moved somewhere else, Iíve only got a couple of months before I retire so Iím going to let the younger guys take care of it, youíre the safety guy- you do it, Iíll let one of the old guys getting ready to retire start the trouble, how come I always have to stick my neck out, they think Iím a troublemaker alreadyÖ the list is endless.

The real reason we donít speak up is that we are afraid. Weíre more afraid of what people will think or what will happen than we are of being hurt. But what if we roll the dice and itís not us that ends up being hurt, what if itís someone else who is injured or killed because weíre too afraid to do the right thingócan you live with that?

Do you know the origin of Labor Day in the U.S.? The recognition of the American Labor Day was not a gift out of the kindness of managementís hearts it was a compromise so that we in labor wouldnít remember the true meaning of the original Labor Day, May 1st. The rest of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1st, in honor of the Haymarket martyrs were hung because they dared to protest against the brutal slayings of unarmed workers protesting in favor of the eight-hour day. What is sad is that many more workers died for the eight-hour work dayóa benefit we take for granted, paid for long ago with the blood of heroís. And we canít summon the courage to raise our hands and complain about workplace health and safety. Shame on us!

Iím not asking you to dive on a live grenade, Iím asking everyone to do their part to make sure each of us goes home healthy and safe after each shift. Weíre not dealing with a small Mom and Pop shop with no money to fix things, our employer has the resources, the knowledge of the hazards, and the legal obligation to provide us with a workplace free of recognized hazards. If we can identify the hazards and bring them to the attention of management, they are obligated to correct them. We have a very good safety complaint procedure that should be used instead of CI cards. We have a group of union safety representatives that are better trained in safety than most of management, and they are on your side.

In closing, remember Noe Garcia Jr., a guy who went to work one day and didnít go home. Wouldnít you like to have the opportunity to have stepped up to help him or another worker just like you, so that he or she could return home to the people who love them? During the history of labor, nothing has been given to us, weíve had to band together and fight for what was ours. Take advantage of the opportunity to point out health and safety problems, making your work place safer for everyone. You might save a life-and it could be yours. Yes, Iím talking to YOU!

In Solidarity,

Steve Mitchell