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Delegates vote to advance health and safety work

August 12, 2022

USW convention delegates unanimously approved resolutions on Thursday to advance the union’s fight for safer and healthier workplaces, while also paying tribute to their fellow Steelworkers who lost their lives in workplace incidents.

The first resolution, “Health, Safety and Environment,” contained a long list of commitments USW members made to step up their efforts to protect each other. That vote was followed by a scroll memorializing all of the workers at USW-represented facilities who were killed on the job in the five years since the union’s last convention.

The memorial scroll of 144 fallen workers’ names, International President Tom Conway said, was a powerful reminder of why the union’s priority must always be making sure that workers come home safely at the end of their shifts.

Later in the morning, another resolution passed unanimously recommitting the USW to supporting its Emergency Response Team (ERT) program, which provides victims, family members and co-workers with immediate assistance in the aftermath of a serious workplace injury or death. The team, which includes member coordinators across the union, responded to 220 incidents since the 2017 convention.

Thursday’s focus on safety and health kicked off with the delegation marking the 30th anniversary of the Westray mine disaster and celebrating the work USW members did in the aftermath to enact change.

On May 9, 1992, an explosion killed 26 underground coal miners in Plymouth, Nova Scotia. Following that tragedy, USW members launched an effort to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to hold company leaders responsible for violations that result in serious injuries or death. The legislation, known as the Westray Bill, became law in 2004.

Even after that victory, USW members continue their activism with the “Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law” campaign to make sure prosecutors actually put the law to use and held companies accountable.

“It’s never over,” Canadian National Director Marty Warren said of the USW’s efforts to protect workers. “It’s a continuous fight, every day.”

To help members with that fight, Thursday’s resolution committed USW locals to expanding and improving enforcement of the health and safety clauses in their collective agreements, including the right to refuse unsafe work, and to better educate members about their rights in the workplace. The resolution also urges members to elect political leaders who support advancements in workplace safety and pledged “unrelenting opposition” to any efforts to weaken any laws protecting workers in the United States and Canada.

More than a dozen members spoke from the floor in strong support of the health and safety resolution, many of them recalling personal experiences with workplace incidents and stories of friends who were injured or killed on the job.

“When you see how these accidents affect families,” said Bill Slater of Local 2724 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. “Safety has to be number one.”

Bill Fredette of Local 2705 in the Minnesota Iron Range said it’s essential that longtime members make sure that newer workers learn about their rights on the job so that all members can fight to protect each other.

“It’s important that we share information and educate members,” said Fredette. “Safety is everybody’s job.”

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