Workers at risk need solidarity

Unions help prevent the drive for profits from taking people’s lives.

With the schoolyearâÄôs end alarmingly close, the mad rush for jobs âÄî summer, âÄúreal worldâÄù or otherwise âÄî is no doubt weighing on many students. Still, our employment struggles are generally not life-or-death. For too many, however, working each day remains a gamble. Most days they win, but horrific, often preventable accidents occur with frightening regularity. Recent events have framed this reality âÄî where profit margins supersede safety compliance âÄî in vivid detail. The tragic death of 29 coal miners at Massey EnergyâÄôs Big Branch mine followed a string of citations from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration âÄî 638 since 2009 alone. Rather than fix problems, Massey clogged up the system with hundreds of appeals. Eleven oil rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico just died in an explosion. Despite technological advances, such massive rigs âÄî spanning up to two football fields âÄî have been cited repeatedly for safety violations. Numerous fires have broken out in recent years, fortunately without such catastrophic results. BP, which operated the now-sunken rig, vigorously fought proposed safety regulations last year. Whether they are below-ground or isolated at sea, workers can be vulnerable to exploitative, unsafe working conditions. Unions can remedy this by empowering workers to raise concerns and adding leverage to force improvements. Indeed, union mines are safer than their non-union competitors âÄî such as Massey âÄî which goes to great lengths to bust unionization campaigns. MasseyâÄôs CEO personally threatened workers that he would fire them and close shop if workers unionized. Keeping people safe at work requires giving them collective power to voice individual concerns.