Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, the AFL-CIO Releases Its Annual Report:
Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect
Each day in this country, an average of 275 workers die because of occupational illness and injuries.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, affecting more than 7.4 million Americans, with more than 210,000 deaths in the United States, the national AFL-CIO released its annual Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report today. In New Jersey, 83 fatalities and 74,400 occupational illnesses and injuries were reported in 2018, the most recent data available.
Those 2018 numbers are pre-pandemic, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted as he described the current health crisis as a product of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, weakened regulations and resource cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“This report shows the tremendous neglect by the Trump administration, since day one in office, to ensure that working people are safe on the job,” Trumka said. “For nearly four years, President Trump has downplayed the role of safety agencies tasked with protecting workers and let corporate profit, rather than science, influence the protections we need to keep us safe from this disastrous pandemic.
“Now hardworking families are paying the price,” Trumka said. “We all deserve the best protections available. It is time to change course. Our lives and the future of the country depend on it.”
According to the 29th edition of the report, in 2018, 5,250 working people in the United States were killed on the job and an estimated 95,000 died from occupational diseases. Each day, on average, 275 U.S. workers die from hazardous working conditions. The job fatality rate remained the same as the previous year—3.5 per 100,000 workers—indicating little progress on making workplaces safer in recent years.
In New Jersey, the fatality rate is better — 2 per 100,000 workers — ranking the state as third-safest, thanks in part to tireless advocacy by the New Jersey State AFL-CIO and the quality of its affiliated unions’ health and safety programs. Nonetheless, the toll and burden of any occupational injuries and illnesses at all continue to be enormous.
“When COVID hit, our frontline workers in every sector of labor stayed on the job without PPE or federal safety and health standards,” New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said. “Fortunately, our governor and state health and safety officials stepped up to protect essential workers as best as possible. From first responders and health care professionals to retail workers and people keeping the supply chain going, every one of these essential workers put themselves in harm’s way.
“This pandemic is not over yet,” Wowkanech continued, “and federal officials still have not set a safety standard. It’s long overdue. OSHA’s record under Trump has only gotten worse while the coronavirus has spread.”
President Debbie White of the Healthcare Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE-AFT) explained how the lack of an OSHA Emergency Workplace Standard has dangerously affected New Jersey workers. White is the former president of HPAE Local 5105 in Mount Holly.
“In New Jersey, we were hit hard and fast in March, and we learned very early on that in this pandemic, we must keep vigilant in our promise to keep workers safe,” White said. “For us at HPAE, the COVID-19 pandemic represents a health care system completely overwhelmed and without a plan.
“CDC rollbacks and a federal government that failed to establish safety standards left each of our employers and members to deal with the crisis however they saw fit,” White said. “If a national OSHA standard had been established, we could have saved lives and prevented the chaos that permeated our workplace.”
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO is the voice of New Jersey’s working families, representing 1,000,000 union members and their vision for real and lasting change.
View Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect report here: aflcio.org/dotj-2020