UFCW International President Marc Perrone and UFCW Member Viviana Calvillo on Workers Memorial Day and the Need for Safe Jobs

Do you feel safe at work? All of us should be able to answer that question with a resounding “yes.” Unfortunately, not all of us can.

As recently as 2013, 4,400 workers were killed on the job. But that startling statistic is only part of the picture. According to this year’s Death on the Job report, 150 workers die every single day because they were exposed to toxic chemicals and other health hazards throughout their career.

On Workers Memorial Day, we remember the hard-working men and women who have sacrificed their bodies, and in some cases their lives, to make a living for themselves and their families.

While most Americans may never have heard of this day, the workplace tragedies that inspired it are real and continue. Even in the 21st century, and even in America, too many workers are exposed to dangers they should never be. This must end.

If we are to end these workplace tragedies, we must remember them and inspire ourselves to work together — unions, corporations, government, and the public — to build a broad-based coalition that is focused on stopping them.

A workplace death or injury is so tragic because it is so preventable. But time and time again we see irresponsible companies pushing demands upon their workers that encourage them to dodge safety standards. From increasing the pace of work, to decreasing staffing levels, this profit at any price mentality has infected certain employers for too long.

The best way for workers, and for all of us to protect our loved ones in the workplace is to empower them with laws that protect their right to speak out when they see something unsafe on the job. We must be unafraid to raise the alarm when conditions at their worksite become dangerous.

Its seems like common sense, yet in Missouri, New Mexico, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin, we are witnessing workplace safety being endangered with the push to pass so-called “right to work” laws. “Right to work” laws are not just unfair, they are unsafe. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9% higher in “right to work” states. We can’t allow corporations, driven by greed, to pass laws like “right to work.” They put workers in danger, they drive down wages, and they make life more difficult for working people and their families.

Rather than passing laws that put people in danger, we should be working together to end workplace deaths, injuries, and health hazards. We must change this and it begins with our elected leaders, republican and democrats, taking a stand against the threats hard-working people face.

Workers Memorial Day may be a little known day of remembrance, but it can be a catalyst for great change. Let’s come together and push to pass safe workplace laws that help workers, not protect the irresponsible. Let’s make it easier for workers to be protected in their workplace and bargain for safer standards. Let’s create an environment where corporations view workplace safety as a priority, and not just an inconvenient price they must pay to do business.

Let’s use Workers Memorial Day to inspire us to save the lives that should never be lost.

Marc Perrone is International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Viviana Calvillo is a member of UFCW Local 227 and works at the Farbest Foods in Huntingburg, Indiana.