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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In Case You Missed It, yesterday, on Workers’ Memorial Day, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate floor to honor and remember all of the workers who have laid down their lives on the job.
“This Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember all the American workers who have lost their lives on the job – from this virus, from gun violence, from workplace accidents,” said Brown. “And we honor them best by fighting to protect their fellow workers, and to make their hard work pay off.”
Earlier this month, Brown led a group of colleagues in urging the Biden administration to issue the delayed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to finally provide workers with enforceable health and safety protections specific to COVID-19. On Monday, the Department of Labor (DOL) sent safety standards to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.
In March, Brown announced legislation to ensure the safety and health of workers who are exposed to dangerous heat conditions in the workplace. The Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, is named in honor of Asunción Valdivia who died in 2004 after picking grapes for ten hours straight in 105-degree temperatures.
In February, Brown called for the Department of Labor to revise its policy that has limited the ability of workers whose hours have been reduced from receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Following Brown’s letter, the Department of Labor issued updated guidance for states, clarifying that the PUA program covers those workers who were left behind by the Trump Administration’s previous guidance.
Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found below:
Today we mark Workers’ Memorial Day, when we honor and remember all of the workers who have laid down their lives on the job.
I’ve worn on my lapel, since I was in the House, Madame President, a pin depicting a canary in a bird cage, given to me at a Workers’ Memorial Day rally in Lorain, Ohio in the late 1990’s.
This pin depicts a canary going down in the mines in a mineworker’s cage – if the canary died from lack of oxygen or toxic gas, the mineworker would get out of the mine – he had no union strong enough to protect him and no government that cared about him enough to protect him in those days.
It represents the role of government to support the middle class, and those who aspire to the middle class. It represents the progress we have made – and the society we continue to fight for every day.
We all know the story – coal miners took a canary down into the mines with them to warn them of poisonous gases.
Those workers didn’t have a union strong enough, or a government that cared enough to protect them.
Throughout the 20th century, we worked to change that.
We passed worker safety laws and overtime pay. We banned child labor. We passed clean air and safe drinking water laws. We enacted Social Security and Medicare, and workers’ rights and women’s rights and Civil Rights.
But despite that progress, over the last year, too many workers have felt a lot like those miners – they’ve felt like they’re on their own.
That grocery store worker and thousands of others have been on the front lines of this pandemic, risking their lives so that Americans could keep food on their table and get their packages delivered. They’re changing linens in hospitals and driving buses and stocking shelves in supermarkets.
And then workers go home at night and worry they’re going to bring the virus home and infect their family.
We know that hundreds of thousands of workers have been exposed to the virus on the job, and thousands have died.
It’s hard to get an accurate count of exactly how many, because the previous administration didn’t bother to keep track.
But we know UFCW reported last summer than more than 16,300 of their grocery store workers have been exposed at work, and more than 100 had died. We can only expect those numbers have soared since then.
The National Nurses United has recorded at least 3,200 health care workers have died.
In meatpacking plants, we know the toll has been horrific.
As of last summer, more than 16,000 workers had been infected – the vast majority of them Black and brown workers – and more than 230 had died. And we can only expect those numbers to be higher now.
And yet all of last year, the Trump Administration and too many large corporations failed to protect their workers.
The corporate lawyers in the Trump Labor department refused to issue workplace safety requirements.
Corporations ran a lot of feel-good TV ads, saying “thank you” to essential workers, claiming these workers are the heart of their companies.
But workers didn’t need a PR campaign – they needed protections on the job.
This Workers’ Memorial Day, we remember all the American workers who have lost their lives on the job – from this virus, from gun violence, from workplace accidents.
And we honor them best by fighting to protect their fellow workers, and to make their hard work pay off.
Yesterday on the Banking and Housing Committee, we held the committee’s first-ever listening session with workers from Ohio and around the country, to hear how the financial system affects their jobs and their lives.
They all shared powerful stories about how hard they work, and how corporations and our economic policies prevent their hard work from paying off.
We heard from a distribution worker in Ashtabula County, Ohio.
He told us, “We rarely go a few weeks without an injury, largely because of the insane pace we work at. We have suggested that slowing the pace even just a little bit would improve safety and could save money, to which we were told, quote, ‘Injuries don’t cost the company much money.’”
We heard from a former Wells Fargo call center worker, who talked about how the bank misclassified her to avoid paying her overtime.
We heard from a full-time gig worker, who workers for multiple corporations like Uber and InstaCart. He works full-time, but he has zero job benefits, because these companies claim he’s an “independent contractor.”
We heard from a Michigan worker who lost her job when a private equity firm bought out her company, and laid off all 3,100 workers.
And we heard from a worker in West Virginia, who talked about working her whole life, and never seeing that hard work pay off. She said: ‘Working poor’ should not be two words that go together.
If even a global pandemic – where America’s workers have been on the front lines – if even that will not get corporations to rethink their business model that treats workers as expendable, then it’s time to stop letting them run the economy.
They had their chance. They failed.
If corporate America won’t deliver for its workers, then we have to create a better system, centered on the Dignity of Work.
That means safe workplaces. The Biden Administration is taking steps toward finally issuing an OSHA emergency temporary standard, to ensure companies protect their workers from the virus.
It means laws and policies that reward work – like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and a strong overtime rule, and ending misclassification that robs workers of their wages and their rights.
And it means a strong labor movement. Unions give people power on the job, and allow them to join together to make their workplace safer.
It’s workers who make our economy successful. It’s workers that allow corporations and Wall Street investors to rake in record profits.
It’s time for that hard work to pay off for ALL workers – no matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of work you do.
When you love this country you fight for the people who make it work – on Workers’ Memorial Day, and every day.