Sunday, May 23, 2004

UNITE's Frumin Celebrates 30th

Too often, by the time we take a moment to reflect on someone's contributions to making this world a better place, they're dead and we're remembering them in some church or memorial service. So, it was with great pleasure that a number of us got together with the very alive Eric Frumin the other evening to celebrate his 30th anniversary as health and safety director of UNITE, and ACTWU before that (and soon to be UNITE-HERE.) (Rumor has it that Eric was hired as a mere child, having impressed his elders with his snappy dressing and his gift for understatement.)

Eric regaled a crowd of friends with his stories of labor safety & health struggles over the past decades, including the landmark 1981 Cotton Dust decision by the Supreme Court which upheld OSHA's Cotton Dust standard.

Eric's co-workers told of the lessons they learned from him, lessons not just confined to health and safety, but also the politics of the workplace, the importance of workplace conditions for organizing campaigns and, when necessary, the need to take those battles from the workplace to the Capital and White House.

Eric's reputation far exceeded his ACTWU/UNITE environment. He was chair of DOL's Labor Research Advisory Committee for over two decades, where he was the major mover behind improvements in data collection on workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although most of ACTWU and UNITES members were in the textile industry, ACTWU also had members at Napp Technologies in Lodi, New Jersey, which exploded in 1995 killing 5 employees. The Napp explosion was caused by chemical reactions that were not covered by OSHA's Process Safety Management Standard and Eric has been instrumental in pressuring (so far unsuccessfully) OSHA to amend the standard. He played an instrumental role in promoting OSHA's ergonomics standard, not just by bringing disabled UNITE members to the hearings, but also employers that UNITE had sold on the merits of ergonomics programs.

Eric's greatest contribution to the labor movement and the struggle for workplace safety is still being written. There has been much discussion over the past decades about increasing the role of health and safety in organizing. For most unions, that discussion began and ended as....discussion. But Eric and UNITE are currently building the model for the use of health and safety issues in organizing. Safety issues are critical to UNITE's Cintas organizing campaign, as well as several others.

So, happy anniversary Eric. It's been a great almost third of a century, and we're all looking forward to many more decades of your inspiration, wisdom, enthusiasm and fighting spirit.