May 28, 2009

How Much For a Worker's Life?

How much would you guess a worker's life is worth? Millions? Hundreds of thousands? Maybe you can't even contemplate a thing like measuring human life in terms of pure monetary value. Maybe, like the credit card commercials say, it's...priceless?

Or what about $7000?

If that last figure seems a little low to you, you'll no doubt be horrified to hear that that's the top rate. The maximum amount that OSHA is allowed to fine companies who've received citations subjecting their workers to preventable hazards that could result in death or serious physical harm.

This is the palty price WalMart has to pay after OSHA
cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management following the Nov. 28, 2008, death of an employee at its Valley Stream, N.Y., store. The worker died of asphyxiation after he was knocked to the ground and trampled by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers who surged into the store for its annual "Blitz Friday" pre-holiday sales event.
This is what a worker's life is worth. Less than a fraction of 1 percent of those bonuses paid out to AIG executives.

Doesn't that reflect a problem with our labor laws? As Jason Lefkowitz at CTW Connect points out:
President Barack Obama has brought in a new team at the Department of Labor that is committed to ensuring that every worker has a safe workplace. But they can only do as much as they are empowered to do by the law. And the laws that govern worker protection on the job are shockingly toothless.

Lefkowitz goes on to make the same ask that I'll make here: Please tell Congress to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which is currently before the House of Representatives. It's legislation that would put some teeth in our labor laws and strengthen many protections for employees at their workplaces--including upping the minimum fine for the type of citation WalMart received after their worker's trampling death.

It won't bring workers who've died on the job back to their families and friends. But it would at least give companies pause to think about the consequences of not adequately protecting workers from on-the-job hazards.

Making workers safer on the job? That really would be priceless.

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