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Activists share ideas, strategies at COSH Network Annual Meeting

Nicole Marquez presents in a panel on
effective COSH models at the
COSH Network Annual Meeting.

Nicole Marquez found her calling, she says, while she was still in high school. An older cousin asked her to join a United Farm Workers demonstration in Watsonville, California.

“We marched with 20,000 people,” Marquez recalls. “It was such an important moment in my life. From that moment on, I really wanted to dedicate myself to fighting for the rights of working class people and people of color.”

More than a decade later, Marquez is a staff attorney at Worksafe, an Oakland-based health and safety advocacy organization. She and her co-workers recently helped pass AB 1897, new legislation which offers stronger workplace protections for temporary and contract workers.

Activists Gather in Albany: Marquez was one of fifty participants in this year’s COSH Network Annual Meeting and Skills Building conference, which took place on September 30 through October 2nd at the New York State United Teachers Albert Shanker Conference Center just outside Albany, New York.

Staff and board members from local Coalitions on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) came from 19 different organizations in 13 different states.

Conference sessions included workshops on effective health and safety training techniques; strategies for engaging hard-to-reach workers; fundraising; organizational capacity-building; and communication strategy.

Health and safety activists from across the country met just outside Albany, New York..

Representatives of local COSH groups also elected new members to the National COSH board of directors, presented awards to outstanding health and safety activists, and debated a new policy agenda.

Key components of a national health and safety agenda, participants agreed, should include:

  • Eliminating disparities in the high rates of deaths, injuries, and illnesses among immigrants and minorities, temp workers, and young workers.
  • Creating stronger whistleblower protections
  • Addressing the impact of climate change on worker safety and health.

Diverse voices, fresh ideas: “It’s exciting,” said Laura Perez-Boston, executive director of Fe y Justicia Workers’ Center, the home of Houston COSH. “There aren’t a lot of spaces for us to learn about creative strategies that organizations around the country are taking to hold employers accountable for their workers’ safety and health.”

Connecting with fellow activists, says outgoing National COSH Board President Brian Mitchell, is always the best part of COSH gatherings. “You get new ideas and you can’t wait to get home and implement them,” says Mitchell, who is executive director of New Hampshire COSH. “You’re thinking, ‘I’m going to try this, I’m going to call this person, I’m going to try that.’ It’s really helpful to see other people have the same problems you do – and how to fix them.”

Carlos Gutierrez of the Mid-State Education and
Service Foundation was elected a board member
of National COSH.

COSH welcomes new Board members: Mitchell will leave the National COSH board this year after 4 years of service, having completed 2 terms as specified in the organization’s by-laws. Brian had also served on the Board from 2004–2006. Mike Florio of WesternMassCOSH has also completed his term of service on the board.

New National COSH board members elected at the Albany meeting include Francisco Arzu of SoCalCOSH, David Newman of NYCOSH, and Carlos Gutierrez of the Mid-State Education and Service Foundation. Barbara Rahke of PhilaPOSH was re-elected to the board.

Activists honored for outstanding contributions: A highlight of this year’s meeting was the presentation of health and safety activist awards to key leaders, for their efforts to make workplaces safer and empower workers.

This year’s winners:

  • New COSH Activist Award: Al Vega, Deputy Director, MassCOSH.
  • Health and Safety Activist Award: Rosemarie Molina, Board Member, SoCalCOSH.
  • Health and Safety Activist Award: Wallace Reardon, Central New York Occupational Health Clinical Centers.
  • COSH Legacy Award: Tom Joyce, President, Mid-State Education and Service Foundation.
  • Tony Mazzocchi Award: Debra Coyle McFadden, Assistant Director, New Jersey Work Environment Council.

Award winners: Debra Coyle McFadden: Wallace Reardon: Carlos Gutierrez accepting for
Tom Joyce; Al Vega; and Jorge Cabrera and Francisco Arzu accepting
for Rosemarie Molina.

Full details on the award winners are in a National COSH press release. This year’s COSH activist awards are also featured at the ISHN website.

Next up: The National COSH Conference on Worker Safety and Health, June 2-4 2015. It’s an even larger gathering of health and safety activists, including COSH groups, public health experts, union members and others. Save-the-Date flyer is available here; mark your calendars and stay tuned for coming announcements on conference speakers and agenda.

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