NEW BRUNSWICK – Hundreds gathered at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple on April 22 to celebrate Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual day of action to remember those who have died or been injured on the job, and raise awareness to prevent future illnesses, injuries, and deaths.
This year, Workers’ Memorial Day and Earth Day fell on the same day, creating an opportunity to talk about the connection between climate change and worker safety. The event, organized by New Labor, the New Jersey Work Environment Council, and other partners in the Jersey Renews coalition, brought together a diverse group of workers, immigrants, environmentalists, and health professionals to march and rally for climate and worker justice, according to information provided by the New Jersey Work Environment Council.
Many in the Garden State have already seen firsthand the impact of climate change in the form of superstorm Sandy and a wave of extreme temperatures over the past few years, according to the statement from the New Jersey Work Environment Council.
As the temperature increases, workers are more likely to suffer from heat stroke, exhaustion and even death. The increased temperatures also magnify air pollution, causing or exacerbating respiratory illnesses, heart diseases, and allergies in urban and well-trafficked areas. Workers who spend time outdoors will see an increased risk of diseases like Zika and Lyme’s as the longer summers create larger habitats for disease vectors like ticks and mosquitos.
“Climate change is already a public health emergency, and the impacts on workers and communities are only going to get worse. This Earth Day, unions, worker centers, faith groups and environmental organizations are standing in solidarity demanding action on climate change. We recognize that if we want to protect workers and provide safety for everyone, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Dan Fatton, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, said in a prepared statement. “Members of Jersey Renews have aligned behind many strategies to increase clean energy and provide good jobs, while addressing climate,” he continued. “We’re worried about a future full of extreme weather events and the accompanying dangers that often follow during clean-up efforts. We’re concerned about a rapid rise in cases of heat exhaustion, a hazard that laborers, farm workers, and teachers will face even more frequently if we don’t act now. We’re scared that our already over-burdened health care system will be strained even further as disease vectors spread due to a changing climate. The cost of inaction is too high; we must do more to act on climate.”
Alberto Jandete, a member of New Labor, said respect is needed.
“Respect for us as workers means having safe workplaces. We need employers to be responsible for conditions in the workplace. That’s respect,” he said.
Reynalda Cruz, also of New Labor, added, “Temp workers are often sent to work without any training. And if something happens, no one wants to take responsibility. We need statewide legislation that includes health and safety protections like forming health and safety committees. And clear responsibility of who provides training.”
“We go to work to make a living. We don’t go there to die. Our workplaces need to free of recognized hazards for all workers. And we’ll keep fighting until that happens,” said Louis Kimmel, executive director of New Labor.
Peter Trujillo, member of 32BJ SEIU, said he moved from California to New Jersey for better job opportunities, and decided to live in Central Jersey to escape some of the air pollution in parts of the state.
“I have managed to avoid health issues due to air pollution and other environmental toxins, but it has come at a cost. Public transportation is not very accessible where I live and moving for cleaner air is not an opportunity everyone has. Many working families can’t find a way out of cities or vulnerable areas when hurricanes or natural disasters hit and many of our neighborhoods are where power plants and refineries sit, making these weather events even more dangerous. The fact is, working people can’t avoid the impact of climate change, and it usually hits us first and worst. That’s why we in the labor movement are on the front lines of the fight to move away from climate-polluting industries toward healthier, greener options,” he said.
Nurses stand with communities in calling for respect for the health and safety of working people, according to a statement from the Board of Directors of the New York State Nurses Association.
“We demand safe working conditions so we can have the best environment for our students to achieve their dreams. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) knows that students, parents and communities thrive when workers are protected,” NJEA President Marie Blistan said in the statement.
For more information, visit www.newlabor.org, www.njwec.org or www.jerseyrenews.org.