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COSH issues call to action, honors health and safety heroes at #COSHCON16
"This is not your normal educational conference,” said National COSH’s Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, kicking off the 2016 National Conference on Worker Safety and Health last week at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute (CCMIT), just outside of Baltimore. “We're planning for action."
#COSHCON16 was a flurry of networking, strategizing, and even a bit of singing. Hundreds of health and safety activists came together to build cross-movement solidarity and create a workers’ rights platform for troubled times.
With brainstorm ideas from every conference workshop, the National COSH platform is a work in progress, focused on building worker power, expanding safety protections, reducing the use of toxic chemicals, and building infrastructure for a safe work environment.
“Right now, we need hell-raisers,” said writer and activist Bill Fletcher, Jr., one of the conference’s keynote speakers. Reflecting back on his own experience as a shipyard welder, Fletcher talked about a fall that nearly killed him. Many of his co-workers, he recalled, tried to blame him – instead of safety lapses by his employer -- for the accident. This response, he pointed out, “is often the way workers deal with oppression.” Building a broad progressive movement Fletcher said, requires workers of all races and backgrounds to join hands, instead of pointing fingers.
And United Food & Commercial Workers International Union Secretary-General Esther Lopez pointed out that the hundreds of thousands of Latino members of her union have become targets during this political season, and delivered an impassioned call to come to their defense: "There is no difference between immigrant rights and worker rights," she said.
Another highlight of the conference was a panel session featuring outgoing OSHA chief David Michael (a founding member of NYCOSH); U.S. Chemical Safety Board member Rick Engler (a founding member of PhilaPOSH and NJWEC) and Manhattan assistant district attorney Diana Florence. Earlier this year, Florence successfully prosecuted a construction company and contractor for manslaughter following the 2015 workplace death of Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year old immigrant from Ecuador.
All three government officials emphasized how citizens and workers can help enforce safety laws and regulations – by gathering evidence on worksites, calling attention to preventable hazards and lobbying for change.
With immigrant workers’ struggles in mind, National COSH emphasized language justice throughout the conference, with a “Spanish Track” of workshops, a roundtable on language justice and cultural competence, and simultaneous bilingual translating of all plenaries and key sessions.
On Wednesday, Dec. 7th, National COSH presented awards to this year’s health and safety heroes, including:
- The Family Activist Award to Gustavo and Jasmine Granillo, father and sister of Roendy Granillo, a construction worker who died from heat exhaustion during a triple-digit heat wave in Dallas in July 2015. Gustavo and Jasmine helped spearhead a successful campaign for new a city ordinance guaranteeing rest breaks for construction workers.
- The Lifetime Achievement Award to Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and former director of health and safety for AFSCME. Prior to entering government service, Jordan was known throughout the health and safety community as the author of the award-winning blog “Confined Space.”
- The Tony Mazzocchi Award to Lee Clarke, former health and safety director and current Chair of NYCOSH and special assistant to the president of AFSCME District Council 37. A tireless advocate, Lee also serves on the Executive Steering Committee of the World Trade Center Monitoring and Treatment Program.
- The Health and Safety Trainer Award to Randy Rodriguez, Occupational Safety and Health Committee Chair of CWA Local 6222. Randy is an OHS trainer for both the CWA and United Steelworkers’ Tony Mazzocchi Center. He accepted the award in honor of his father-in-law Ray Gonzalez, who died from a fatal workplace injury.
- The Social Justice Award went to Nicole Marquez and Jora Trang of Worksafe legal advocates on behalf of low-wage and immigrant workers in and around Oakland, California.
- The Worker Leader Award to New York dairy worker Crispin Hernandez, who went to court to fight for his rights after being fired for talking to organizers from the Workers’ Justice Center of New York.
- A COSH Movement Special Recognition Award to National COSH’s own Peter Dooley, for the decades of work he has devoted to building a strong, worker-centered movement for safe workplaces.
Just prior to #COSHCON16, representatives of 20 member and affiliate groups of the COSH Network gathered to strategize and make plans for National COSH for the coming year. A spirited election, with 10 candidates vying for five seats, resulted in seats for five new National COSH board members: Brian Brown-Cashdollar of WNYCOSH; Michelle Jamison, health and safety director for AFSCME District Council 47 and a board member of PhilaPOSH; Jeannette Smith of South Florida COSH; Nadia Marin of NYCOSH, and Jora Trang of Worksafe. They will join returning board members Milagros Barreto of MassCOSH, Debra Coyle McFadden of NJWEC; Linda Delp of UCLA-LOSH and Matt London of NENYCOSH.
“It was great conference and a great opportunity to see so many old friends and new faces,” said National COSH co- executive director Jessica Martinez. “Just what we all needed to get charged up for the work ahead. We’re going to develop an effective platform for health and safety – and roll up our sleeves to carry it out in our workplaces and communities.”