Remarks by Diane Stein
Executive Board Member, Local 1-149, Paper, Allied-Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE)
On Winning The
NYCOSH Karen Silkwood Award
March 31, 2003
It's such an honor to receive this award from NYCOSH - and it's even more of an honor to be sharing the podium with such a distinguished and deserving group of people.
It isn't often one gets a chance to publicly thank the people who are so important, so please bear with me while I take a minute to acknowledge those people with whom I have had the great pleasure of working over the past twenty plus years.
First, I want to thank NYCOSH. I first came to NYCOSH as a rank and file clerical worker in the early 1980s. At that time, I knew that I wanted to work on safety and health issues to improve the conditions in my workplace, but I had no clue how to do that. NYCOSH offered me the training and support that I needed to do my job as shop steward.
I also want to thank my union sisters and brothers from the oil, chemical and atomic workers union. The struggles we have engaged in over the past many years have inspired me and helped me to keep my eye on the prize of workers rights. It has been one of the finest experiences of my life to work with a union that is militant, democratic, and activist to its core.
Rather than risk leaving people out, I'll just say thank you to the countless co-workers and fellow activists that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years.
And on a personal note, my partner Peter Davis makes every day more fun (when we manage to see each other). And, his hazardous line of work keeps me thinking about safety and health pretty much all the time!
Finally, there are two people who deserve a special recognition award of their own. I have known each of these men for nearly twenty years. They have, by example and by their friendship, shaped who I am and how I conduct my work. They are both shining examples of activists with integrity, clear thinking and compassion. So, thank you to my ex-husband, Paul Stein, and my union president, Mark Dudzic.
In 1974, Karen Silkwood led a fight in her nuclear plant to expose safety hazards that could potential cause a great deal of harm both to the plant workers and to the environment. Later that year she was killed while on her way to bring documents about the plant to a New York Times reporter.
Most people in this room know that story, but what you may not know is that Karen was doing this work not just for the safety issues involved, but because there was a union decertification drive going on in her plant. She understood that in order to achieve any measure of safety and respect on the job, her job was to make sure that it stayed unionized.
I know that there is debate in the labor movement right now about whether we can afford to continue working on safety and health when we need so many resources devoted to organizing. While none of us would argue against organizing, I would argue that we can't afford to do away with what some may consider to be "special projects" and that includes safety and health.
People join unions because they need better work lives. Safety and health is a huge part of that struggle.
The TWU knows this. They are actively engaged in a struggle to make work safer for track workers, following the 4 tragic deaths of track workers over the past several months.
People concerned about ergonomics know this. The only sector that has gotten any significant measure of protection from OSHA on ergonomic issues are the unionized sectors (meat packing and nursing homes).
Chemical workers know this. The original process safety management standard, which is designed to reduce the risk of explosions and fires, is a direct result of union action. And the expansion that we currently seek to make these rules stronger is a multi-union effort, with support from our friends in the environmental community.
Without unions actively working on these issues, we would be failing the people we represent.
People join unions because they know that unions are the only institution who really put forward their agenda. We cannot abandon that agenda because we need resources for organizing. It simply doesn't make sense.
Unions have a huge task. We need to do our share to ensure that workplaces are safe, that our communities have clean air and water, that adequate health care is available to all.
We cannot separate these issues and we cannot choose among them. We must be an advocate for social justice wherever and whenever we can if unions are to have a meaningful place in people's lives.
But we can't do this alone. The only way to achieve these goals is by working in coalition with others who share our vision of social justice. Environmentalists, public health advocates, women's and civil rights organizations must all be our partners in the struggle for a better world.
We in New York City are lucky. We have, right here, an organization that works every day to bring together groups with these concerns. NYCOSH has provided a platform for more than 20 years for unions, public health activists, environmentalists, and community organizations who are working toward a common vision of a better New York and a better world for working people.
I urge you all to continue to work together, and support NYCOSH and continue to work with unions on organizing efforts.
We can achieve so much more by working together.
Remember, an injury to one is an injury to all.