1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Passed

One of the major issues of the Labor Movement has always been the health and safety of workers on the jobsite to prevent workplace deaths and injuries. In 1970 the Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted to create the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enforce workplace labor laws to prevent injuries and deaths. The goal of OSHA is to significantly reduce workplace accidents by enforcing labor health and safety laws and to reduce the number of people who do work which causes disabilities later in life, which were, until the creation of OSHA, not considered workplace injuries. Unions relied on OSHA and the Department of Labor and Industries to expand the protections to Massachusetts workers. “MassCOSH, a group of unions and health, safety and legal professionals,” was formed to provide assistance and advice to workers who believe they may be in a dangerous position at their workplace and need to know the laws that protect them.

Occupational Health and Safety still continues to be a problem after the passing of OSHA in 1970. In 1986, UWA members of Local 369 and 387, led by Donald Wightman and former Massachusetts AFL-CIO President, John Faherty, asked Boston Edison for added health and safety provisions in the workplace. This request was in response to the 1,800 UWA workers being exposed to dangerous substances. “Faherty and Wightman asked the company to form a joint labor-management safety and health committee to monitor working conditions, hire additional staff to operate a comprehensive preventive maintenance program, maintain the wage rates of injured employees who had been reassigned to lower-paying positions, and provide improved benefit protection to disabled retirees and to the spouses and children of workers killed on the job.”  Boston Edison did not quite agree with their position. Instead of agreeing to the terms, Boston Edison asked the union for concessions, even though the company had just reported an extremely profitable quarter. After a strike by Local 369, the company finally came back to the table and granted the health and safety provisions the union demanded.

It is amazing to think that it took until 1970 to get an adequate workplace health and safety law passed in this country. Even after OSHA was passed, it did not prevent employers and big businesses from thinking of their own profits before the safety of their workers. To this day, many companies would rather turn a profit then protect the lives and quality of living of their workers and those workers’ families. Employers clean up any hazardous areas in their workplace for the one day that OSHA inspectors are there and then allow things to fall back into disarray once the inspectors have left. They intimidate employees who threaten to tell officials of workplace hazards, preventing these dangers from being resolved. While the passing of OSHA was an enormous victory for the Labor Movement, there is still a ways to go before acceptable levels of workplace health and safety are achieved.