Proactive safety for U

Local workers deserve safe working conditions, not reactive settlements.

In 2008, 21 employees at Quality Pork Processing in Austin, Minn., contracted a rare neurological disease later linked to breathing in bits of blasted pig brains. Some of those workers are still seeking compensation benefits for lost wages and disability. Now, some window washers of Service Employees International Union Local No. 26 claim theyâÄôve been locked out of their jobs after voicing concerns that equipment was not meeting safety standards. Michael LeSage, president of Columbia Building Services of Minneapolis, accused the workers of lying about safety issues as a bargaining tactic in union contract negotiations. Three window washers have died in the Twin Cities over the past three years. This time, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration should not wait for another tragedy to enforce safety guidelines. These workers certainly deserve access to safety inspection reports any time of the day. The window washers should serve as a reminder to University of Minnesota unions to be more proactive about worker safety and to prevent problems before they occur. Mary Austin, a member of AFSCME 3937 âÄî the University technical workersâÄô union âÄî who sits on the University Health and Safety Committee, explained that âÄúDental School workers had problems with a sterilizer machine releasing toxic fumes a few years back. Management wouldnâÄôt get rid of the machine, so it went to the Health and Safety Committee and it was fixed.âÄù Austin continued, âÄúThese people have power.âÄù So it was surprising when Austin said, âÄúI canâÄôt get the health care workers, I canâÄôt get the clerical workers to appoint anyone to the committee.âÄù Austin was most fired up about preventing a potential campus smoking ban but indicated that safety can fall too easily by the wayside. âÄúWith so many people doing other things, safety can become a reactive concern rather than a proactive one.âÄù