Jordan Romero, 28, was struck by a vehicle and died in a trench at a Boston construction site in February 2021. Romero was the father of two young children. They will grow up without him.
Robert Woods, 42, was murdered in 2018 during a robbery at the St. Louis Dollar General store where he worked, leaving behind a grieving daughter. Despite multiple violent incidents at its stores, Dollar General has not taken measures to adequately address security concerns.
Janine Denise Johnson Williams, 50, was one of nine workers who died this past December when a tornado struck Mayfield Consumer Products in Kentucky. She is survived by her husband, four children and 17 grandchildren. Five workers at the Mayfield plant say they asked to leave after severe weather alerts but were told to stay or risk being fired.
These three preventable deaths are just a few of those that took place at workplaces recognized as this year’s Dirty Dozen unsafe employers by our organization, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH). Each year we release this list to call attention to egregious actions by companies that put workers and communities at risk.
You may ask: Can employers really prevent a traffic accident, a shooting or a death from a tornado? The answer is yes, yes and yes.
Any competent contractor must safely manage traffic at a construction site. Retail stores have a responsibility to protect employees and customers with safe staffing, security systems and other measures. In an era of climate change, factories and warehouses must have emergency procedures in place for severe weather — and forcing workers to stay on the job can have terrible consequences.
More than 4,700 U.S. workers died from workplace trauma in 2020, the latest year for which data is available. And as many as 95,000 U.S. workers die each year from long-term exposure to toxic hazards including silica and asbestos.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought new risks to many workplaces, leading to a huge loss of life. One insurance company reports a 40% increase in deaths of working age Americans, from ages 18 to 64, since the pandemic began.
Indigenous, Black and Latinx people and Pacific Islanders are dying from COVID-19 at far greater rates than white people and Asian Americans. Disparities in access to health care and other resources can mean the difference between life and death.
When workers organize, U.S. employers often respond with brute force, firing a few so the rest are afraid to speak up. The nation’s 11 million undocumented workers are especially vulnerable, due to fears that their immigration status will be used against them.
But in today’s labor market, where employers are dealing with a shortage of workers, the old tricks aren’t working. Workers are standing up to intimidation with bold campaigns at companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Dollar General. Stories from these workplaces and others can be found on workedup.us, a new National COSH platform for workers who are joining together to turn bad jobs into good jobs and good jobs into better ones.
We might hope that unsafe employers would take steps on their own to reduce risks and eliminate hazards. But hope is not a plan. Organizing with co-workers is a much better bet.