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Daily News Blog

01
Sep

Labor Day Reflections: Workers Need Protection of Their Well-Being, Not Just Appreciation

(Beyond Pesticides, September 1, 2023) As we celebrate Labor Day—a day of acknowledging workers and the work of labor unions—it is essential to remember workers’ contributions to society and consider the challenges they face. Recent reports of Hollywood writer and actor strikes, and Starbucks and Amazon store union petitions have created a sense of a booming union movement. However, there is an ongoing decline in the percentage of the unionized workforce. Although public-sector unionization has experienced slight fluctuations (dropping from 36.7 percent to 33.1 percent between 1983 and 2022), the most significant decrease has occurred in the private sector, where rates dwindled from 16.8 to 6 percent.

While the decline of labor unions is a significant challenge, there is hope for the future if we work to enact meaningful reforms that empower workers and strengthen the labor movement. That’s why, this Labor Day, it is especially appropriate that we continue to express gratitude to all workers—healthcare workers, farmworkers, landscape workers, food processors, grocery workers, and others who put their lives on the line every day.

But our gratitude does not protect anyone’s health. Nobody should have to risk their health for a job. As we as a nation recognize that systemic change is needed to fight racial and economic injustice, we are faced with questions that go to the core of our society—the distribution of wealth, a livable wage, investment in and access to education and health care, protection of the right to vote, and a workplace and environment that sustains life.

The community must renew our commitment to eliminate the racial and economic inequities in our society that contribute to disproportionate risk to the health and well-being of workers, especially people of color who suffer elevated levels of harm. We can do this through the adoption of local, state, and national policies that eliminate toxic pesticide use, which disproportionately affects workers. This is a moment for building coalitions in our communities to advance policies that ensure all aspects of a healthful life and environment, supported by our social structures. In doing this, we recognize that we must join together to build the necessary power to effect meaningful and transformational change that confronts the existential public health (including worker health), climate, and ecological crises.

Beyond Pesticides’ work to advance systemic change will continue to seek changes in underlying policies that codify disproportionate harm, such as federal pesticide law that is built on a foundation that allows elevated and disproportionate risk to workers who are excluded from EPA’s cumulative risk assessment (under the Food Quality Protection Act, amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act), which aggregates dietary and nondietary exposure, but explicitly does not include occupational exposure to pesticides, while including a mandate to protect children. With this, the law effectively requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow higher rates of harm for workers, particularly farmworkerslandscapers (workers who are disproportionately people of color), and others occupationally exposed to pesticides. As we rethink our approach to pesticide reform, we ask: Should a science-based, public health-oriented, occupational safety-focused, children-concerned, ecologically protective society allow the use of toxic pesticides that are unnecessary to achieve land management, quality of life, and food productivity goals? The answer, of course, is “no.”

Now is the time to eliminate worker and community hazards by adopting organic land management practices and policies in all our communities. We can eliminate petroleum-based, toxic pesticides and fertilizers, protect workers, and achieve beautiful landscapes and safe playing fields and parks. With increased momentum nationwide, in all parts of the country, all communities can make the transition, as we work with states and the federal government to eliminate our unnecessary dependence on toxic pesticides.

Labor Day is a time to reflect on the progress that has been made in the labor movement and to consider the challenges that workers face today. The holiday is an opportunity to reflect on the labor movement to come from and where it can go.

With this understanding, we must rethink our approach to pesticide reform, including a legislative proposal before Congress introduced earlier this year, that, while well-intentioned, reaffirms institutional biases that codify environmental racism by not embracing changes that question the need for pesticides in view of the availability of nontoxic and organic alternatives.

The time for systemic change is now. In our communities, let’s protect the workers, public health, and the environment. To discuss transitioning your community to organic land management, see Beyond Pesticides’ Parks for a Sustainable Future, and contact [email protected].

Source: Union Member Summary, Labor unions aren’t “booming.” They’re dying., History.com

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