Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Death of Boston T Worker Raises Issue of Public Employee OSHA Coverage

It's not nice and it's not fair, but the fact is that here at the beginning of the 21st century, public employees are still second class citizens in the United States of America. They don't have the right to bargain collectively that all private sector workers have, unless the state grants them those rights. About half the states do not give public employee full collective bargaining rights, and two states that just elected Rebublican governors -- Missouri and Indiana -- just took away public employees' collective bargaining rights.

But public employees' second class status is more than just a matter of dignity and bargaining rights -- it's also a matter of life and death. Because in over half the states in this country, public employees don't even have the right to a safe workplace. Even though they do work as dangerous as private sector employees they aren't covered by federally approved OSHA programs in 26 states. Those "backwards" Southern and red states, you say? Partially true, but also some good, "liberal" blue states as well -- like Illinois, Pennsylvania and...."ultra-liberal" Massachusetts, for example.

The death last week of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA the "T") signal engineer Obioma Nna, 46, who was hit by a train, once again raises the issue of public employee safety in Massachusetts. MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb is making sure that Nna did not die in vain.

The Boston Globe published her letter yesterday:

T workers deserve equal protection

February 1, 2005

THERE PROBABLY isn't a person who takes the T or commuter rail to work who hasn't grumbled about delays these last few days. But the tragic death of the T worker on the Orange Line on Jan. 27 makes us stop and think about those who work to keep the system going. Many of these individuals work in dangerous jobs.

In Massachusetts, these and other public sector employees currently don't have the safety protections offered to workers in the private sector under the national Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). In many cases, these safety protections can be the difference between life and death.

We owe these workers our thanks for getting us home at night. But more than that we owe them the same protections given to those of us who work in the private sector.

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health

There's a rumor that Massachusetts unions and sympathetic legislators are mounting a campaign to get OSHA coverage for Massachusetts public employees. If it's true, let's wish them luck -- and give them the support that they need.