A vital underpinning of the workplace is the health and safety of employees, a fact that has become starkly evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
NYSUT will be devoting much of its biennial Health and Safety Conference, to be held virtually May 21–23, to tackling existing problems in the workplace and preventing future ones.
Richard Wolff, a professor of economics at New School University and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, will kick off the conference. Wolff has devoted his career in both academics and public speaking to understanding the economic system as it involves the workforce and the impact of unions on the workplace.
If every workplace had a health and safety committee, Wolff said, the committees could — and should — demand provisions. Masks and PPE should be purchased and stored safely for the next viral or bacterial outbreak, as well as proper equipment for testing.
“We have to make sure these are lessons we don’t forget,” he said.
When COVID-19 struck, the nation endured a shortage of vital personal protective equipment for frontline workers, from health care and education professionals to grocery clerks and bus drivers.
Additionally, testing was not available.
“This is outrageous…It took us precious months,” Wolff said.
Visit nysut.cc/healthandsafety to see the complete schedule of workshops for the NYSUT Health and Safety Conference and register online.
All NYSUT members are welcome.
Health and safety committees should be in every workplace and should issue regular reports, provide accountability, and ensure adequate supplies and training.
“I can’t think of a better way to cement this than a powerful commitment by unions and management that there will be a health and safety committee in every workplace,” he said. “The unions have to take the lead here.”
NYSUT will be leading by providing training and resources at the health and safety conference. Participants will learn how to form active health and safety committees in their local unions and workplaces and receive both the tools and the understanding to advocate for healthy and safe workplaces.
Unions have historically led the way to safer workplaces by bargaining for health care, an end to child labor, and successfully winning provisions for days off.
“If people don’t demand it, the government tends to forget,” Wolff said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has brought to the world lessons in civic responsibility, public health, and the power of the labor movement.
“Once again, unions have led the charge as our nation changes and evolves,” said Veronica Foley, NYSUT health and safety.