Democratic Senators Take the Lead in Advocating for Workers’ Safety in the Workplace

By Yuqi Wang, Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project, UnidosUS

Every worker deserves to be safe in their workplace and to know that their well-being is a priority for their employers. Unfortunately, that is not always a reality—in 2015, the AFL-CIO found that 4,386 U.S. workers were killed on the job. That year, a staggering 903 Latinos had a workplace-related fatality, the highest number of Latino deaths in 10 years. This means that about 2.5 Latinos die just trying to make a living each day.

A national poll recently released by UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza) found that safe working conditions and protections intended to promote workers’ safety and well-being are lacking for many low-income Latino workers:

  • One in five low-income workers (20 percent) reported that going to work sick or delaying a medical appointment is a problem they have experienced in the workplace.
  • More than one-quarter of low-wage Latino workers (28 percent) received no orientation at their jobs.
  • More than one-third (34 percent) of low-wage earning respondents received no training about workplace rights or safety.
  • When low-income Latino workers try to speak up about their concerns or dissatisfaction with their working conditions, they report experiencing employer retaliation. Nearly one in two workers have said they or someone they know have been treated differently or punished for raising workplace problems.

The situation for Latino workers stands to worsen.

The president included plans to reduce funding to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) by $2.5 billion, or by 21%, of the Department’s current operating budget. Cutting the DOL’s budget to such a degree will further reduce funding for job training programs, workplace safety programs, and prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Wage and Hour Division, and other DOL agencies from embarking on any rulemaking or regulatory actions to help ensure that workers are safe.

On July 10, Senators Menendez (D-N.J.), Brown (D-Ohio), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Gilibrand (D-N.Y.), Booker (D-N.J.), and Franken (D-Min.) wrote to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to express concern about the increasingly high rate of Latino and immigrant workplace deaths, and to demand DOL to provide solutions to reverse this trend. They noted heightened urgency considering the funding threats from the Trump administration and congressional Republicans’ rollback of important worker protections.

UnidosUS commends the leadership of the Senators and their desire to fight for workers left behind by the current administration. Our poll results and the current data on worker fatalities underscore the fact that our workers cannot afford rolled back or weakened protections in the workplace. Funding cuts to DOL will hurt the very people its mission is trying to protect and UnidosUS will stand to fight for a federal budget that will protect and defend everyone in the workplace.

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