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The 2015 Health and Safety Awards: Walmart Worker, Scientist Sleuths and others honored for grass roots activism

One of the highlights of this month’s National Conference on Worker Safety and Health in Baltimore, Maryland, was the presentation of the 2015 Health and Safety Awards.

The National COSH Awards, based on nominations from local COSH and other worker health and safety groups around the country, were presented on June 3. In addition, COSH Network awards, recognizing grass roots activists in local COSH groups, were presented at the COSH Network meeting on June 1.

“These health and safety heroes are making a difference,” says Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH. “We’re proud to recognize their efforts on behalf of workers and families all across the country.”

Meet the winners of the National COSH Awards:

Bethany Boggess of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas won the Health and Safety Innovation Award for her work on the U.S. Worker Fatality Database, a volunteer-led program that amassed data on over 1800 worker deaths from 2014. Bethany and a team of citizen scientists have created the most comprehensive listing ever about women and men who have lost their lives on the job in the United States. The Worker Fatality Database team also included Gavin West, Tammy Miser, Katelyn Parady, Anne Marie Gibson, Celeste Monforton, and Rebecca Reindel.

The team behind the U.S. Worker Fatality Database: Gavin West, Tammy Miser, Katelyn Parady, Bethany Boggess, and Rebecca Reindel. (Not pictured: Anne Marie Gibson and Celeste Monforton.)

Barbara Gertz of Denver, Colorado, received the Health and Safety Organizer Award for creating and spearheading the OURWalmart safety and health committee. Barbara has worked at Walmart for over six years. Two and a half years ago, she joined OURWalmart, an employee group working to improve labor standards at the retail giant. Barb, who herself suffers from work-related tendonitis due to her job at Walmart, has helped co-workers raise their voices to advocate for better working conditions.

Robyn Robbins of UFCW presents Barb Gertz with the Health and Safety Organizer Award.

Alejandro Zuñiga, who heads the health and safety program at the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston, Texas, won the Health and Safety Trainer Award. As an immigrant worker and survivor of workplace carbon monoxide poisoning, Alejandro knows personally how a family suffers when employers ignore workers’ rights. Alejandro sees training as a strategy for expanding awareness and engaging new players in the broader struggle for systemic change to benefit immigrant workers.

Martha Ojeda of Fe y Justicia presents Alejandro Zuñiga with the Health and Safety Trainer Award<.

Rod Hitchler of United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities is the recipient of the Health and Safety Community Activist Award. The Grand Island, Nebraska resident lost his son Ryan in May of 2009 to a preventable work-related incident. Ryan and a co-worker were working to repair a roof at the Nebraska Air National Guard when a makeshift platform they were standing on collapsed. Since then, Rod and his wife have advocated for safer workplaces and worked closely with victims’ families at annual events such as Workers’ Memorial Day and the Harvest of Harmony Parade.

Rod Hitchler receives the Health and Safety Community Activist Award while USMWF's Tonya Ford holds a picture of Rod's late son, Ryan.

Roger Cook, co-founder of Western New York COSH (WNYCOSH), received the Tony Mazzocchi Award, named in honor of legendary health and safety pioneer Tony Mazzocchi. A leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (now part of the United Steelworkers) Tony helped pass the original Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) in 1970.

Roger Cook served as the director of WNYCOSH for three decades, and has spent his life devoted to organizing campaigns for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. He currently co-chairs the New York State Zero Lift Task Force and serves on the WNYCOSH Worker Center Advisory Board and the executive boards of the Western New York Working Families Party and his local Sierra Club.

National COSH board member Liz Smith presents Roger Cook with the Tony Mazzocchi Award.

Winners of the COSH Network awards include:

  • Germain Harnden, executive director of WNYCOSH, received the COSH Legacy Award. She has been with WNYCOSH for over 25 years, working on Workers’ Comp reform, the EPA Tools for Schools program, advocacy and training on indoor air quality issues, safe patient handling, and hazard abatement. As executive director, she has expanded the organization’s reach to low-wage workers and helped to establish the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Buffalo.
  • Fran Ansley of the Knox Area Workers Memorial Day Committee received the New COSH Activist Award. An emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, Fran has worked with the Committee to author two Workers’ Memorial Day reports, highlighting preventable workplace deaths in Knoxville and surrounding communities.
  • Nicole Marquez, Staff Attorney for Worksafe in Oakland, California, and a National COSH board member, won the COSH Board Activist Award. Nicole has worked to assist low-wage Latina workers, helping to ensure compliance with labor laws and health and safety standards. For National COSH, Nicole was a leader in creating the new Board committee on Inclusiveness and Diversity, with a commitment to expand the organization’s reach to underserved communities.
  • Educator and Trainer Awards were given to members of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network: Levis Torres of WeCount!; Betzy Rega of El Sol; Ignacio Paramo of VOZ; Mark Day of the San Diego Day Laborers and Household Workers Association; and the Union Latina de Chicago.

 

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