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Safety & Health Conference Inspires Young Workers

Safety & Health Conference Inspires Young Workers
María Elena Durazo addresses
worker safety conference

“Why are we here today?” María Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, asked the crowd assembled for the Southern California Worker Health and Safety Conference. “We” re here because we have an epidemic before us… From coast to coast and everywhere in between, hundreds of millions of workers expose their health and their family unity to dangerous environments at work, and the diverse crowd gathered here today is representative of the diversity of our workforce that is at risk.”

The annual free conference, held this year on July 25th, is co-sponsored by the Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (SoCalCOSH), along with labor and community partners. The event brought together 130 workers, union members, and public health advocates for workshops on such topics as workplace violence prevention, whistleblower rights, and working effectively with CAL/OSHA.

Teen peer-educators Yosselin Rustrian
and Jeanette Guerra

Organizers put a special emphasis on recruiting young workers, like college sophomore Jeanette Guerra. “The conference brought together people from very different backgrounds,” she says. “For example, there were people that work at car washes, offices, and of course our young people.”

Jeanette is a peer-trainer for Teens vs. Work Hazards — a group engaged in educating young people about occupational safety and health. “The issue with young workers is that we are new to the workplace,” she explains, “and we do not know what types of jobs we can work, or what types of job hazards are found in the workplace.”

Jeanette’s involvement in safety and health advocacy was inspired by her mother’s experience as an immigrant worker who “once faced an accident during her job while sewing and did not know any of her rights.”

Health and safety training is essential for young workers, said SoCalCOSH coordinator Jorge Cabrera. “They are the ones in the trenches in the service and retail industries. They are gaining the organizing skills which will help them for years to come.”

Their participation helped meet what Cabrera described as the overall goals of the gathering: ”Better education, better advocacy, creating more leaders, and creating a stronger labor movement.”

Future leaders like Jeanette understand what it will take to address the epidemic of workplace illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. “The next step,” she says, “is to apply what we learned to the real world and inform more young workers about their rights. We need to come together as a group and prevent the deaths of young people by sharing our knowledge, and start changing the way young workers view their job environment.”

Jorge Cabrera (right) leads a Young Worker workshop

Teens vs. Work Hazards is the SoCalCOSH-sponsored chapter of Teens Lead at Work, a national young worker peer-education effort The Southern California Worker Health and Safety Conference was sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, SoCalCosh, and the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, and hosted by the Los Angeles Trade Technical College.