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Tomorrow, April 28, is Workers' Memorial Day, a day the labor movement established to mourn workers killed on the job and to renew the fight for the living. This year, as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, taking its toll on workers and their families, we’re reminded more than ever of how critical it is to guarantee all workers the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Even before COVID-19, a typical day in the United States saw 14 workers killed on the job – hardworking people who set out for work, never to return home. In 2018, 5,250 workers – one worker every 100 minutes – died on the job. Black and Latinx workers were hit hardest in 2018, with a 16 percent increase from 2017 in black worker deaths and a 6 percent increase in Latinx worker deaths. As in years past, tens of thousands of additional workers died from chronic illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestos, and silicosis, caused by on-the-job exposure to toxic substances. Millions more workers suffered on-the-job injuries.


Total Deaths



































Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

Tragically, over the past five years, we’ve begun to see a rise in worker deaths. Although we won’t have data on worker deaths during 2020 until late 2021, it’s probable the death toll will be higher as a result of COVID-19, even though many individuals are out of work or working from home. Yet we can also predict COVID-19 deaths will be undercounted because OSHA’s recent coronavirus guidance excuses employers from recording COVID-19 cases among employees, thus guaranteeing underreporting of work-related illnesses and deaths that result.

Fifty years ago, on December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act into law, with the purpose of ensuring every worker in the United States “safe and healthful working conditions.” Since that time, the annual number of on-the-job deaths has declined drastically. Yet with thousands still dying at work each year, there is much more lawmakers, OSHA, and employers can do.

Every worker deserves to return home from a shift without illness or injury. Yet President Trump and the Department of Labor have done little to protect workers, and the current Congress has passed no meaningful legislation to address workplace safety problems. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2019 Death on the Job Report, in 2018, federal OSHA and its state counterparts employed 1,815 inspectors to cover 9.8 million establishments, the fewest inspectors since the 1970s. This equates to one inspector for every 79,262 workers. As a result, federal OSHA can inspect each workplace only once every 165 years, and the agency's state counterparts can inspect each workplace every 108 years. While the federal government spends billions on tax breaks and subsidies to major corporations, OSHA spends a mere $3.69 on each worker’s safety, the AFL-CIO reports.

Amid the pandemic, Trump’s OSHA has made clear it plans to do even less to protect workers, actively undermining worker health and safety by neglecting its responsibility, including by letting employers police themselves. While nurses, doctors, bus drivers, bank tellers, janitors, grocery store employees, postal service workers, farmworkers, and other essential workers risk their lives for the rest of the nation, the Trump administration and leadership at the Department of Labor have taken no action to ensure they’re provided with basic protections like gloves and masks. Instead of leading in this time of crisis, they're backing away from their legal and moral obligations. In so doing, they’ve made clear that they view these workers as expendable, people whose well-being matters only so far as it affects the profits of business owners.

The current crisis is an important reminder that every worker has a right to a healthy and safe workplace. Tomorrow, on Workers Memorial Day, we mourn the loss of friends, family, and neighbors who have died while trying to put food on the table and shelter over their heads.

You can join the remembrance. Find an event here and join communities across the country in an online candle light vigil or memorial.

After we remember all those we’ve lost, we must renew our fight for the living. That fight can begin with some obvious reforms to improve working conditions, many of which I’ve proposed for the past several years. Although none of these ideas has yet to be adopted, I’m proposing them once again, along with a few new reforms in light of COVID-19.

Congress, President Trump, and the Department of Labor should make the following improvements: