Unions Give Workers the Ability to Speak Up about Workplace Hazards

Posted on November 21, 2019

Unions have a “protective effect” on worker safety and health, giving employees the ability to speak up about workplace hazards without the fear of retaliation. The lack of unionization in American workplaces is linked to a 14% increase in fatal accidents for workers.

Union Rights and Protections

According to a study published in the journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, a 1% decline in union representation results in a 5% rise in the rate of occupational deaths.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that fatality rates are 54% higher in states with right-to-work laws which are proving to be detrimental to worker safety and health.

Right-to-Work Laws

Right-to-work laws force unions to represent workers who do not pay union dues. These laws are usually promoted by corporate interest groups who want to limit union representation in the workplace. Right-to-work laws are not meant to provide a guarantee of employment. Their main goal is to place a government ban on contractual agreements between union employees and employers, so workers are not required to pay for the costs of union representation. To date, 28 states have adopted right-to-work laws through state legislation.

Right-to-work laws are controversial among many workers and employers because they do not protect workers’ rights. In right-to-work states, a worker’s benefits are significantly decreased:

  • Fewer workers are free to join a union
  • Workers make about $5,300 less per year
  • Worker retirement and pension funds are reduced
  • Job health and safety is compromised
  • Workers do not have an active voice on job issues
  • Workplace accidents and injuries are higher

In workplaces with right-to-work laws, the death rate among workers is 36% higher than in workplaces with union representation. Many states with right-to-work laws have seen a significant rise in on-the-job injuries and fatalities since laws were adopted. A recent press release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), shows that workplace deaths from machine hazards, equipment malfunctions, falling objects, and worker falls have risen in states with right-to-work laws.

Unions offer workers many advantages including collective bargaining. Unionized workplaces give workers the right to speak up about workplace hazards without fear of retaliation from an employer. Many workers without union representation seek help from workers comp lawyers because they are fearful of getting fired if they speak up about workplace dangers and safety violations. Unions stand up for the safety and health of workers and promote workplace safety practices that prevent on-the-job injuries and fatalities.