Texas leads all states in workplace deaths; one in five take place in Houston
Press conference with Mayor Turner, U.S. Reps Jackson Lee and Garcia April 23
HOUSTON, April 18--In 2017, the latest year for which all data is available, 101 people in the Houston area died because of a job-related injury. Numbers for 2018 will also exceed 100 fatalities. Most of these deaths were preventable.
Texas leads the United States in workplace fatalities, and around 20% of Texas deaths occur in Houston. This trend has held true for the last decade. With the recent spate of high-profile industrial accidents in the city, including the plant explosion that killed a worker in Crosby on April 2, the annual observation of Workers’ Memorial Day April 28 promises to spotlight a problem gaining more recognition with Houstonians.
“People dying at work is a tragedy and also a moral outrage,” said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, executive director of the Faith and Justice Worker Center, which is organizing Workers’ Memorial Day actions in cooperation with a diverse coalition of partners. “These deaths didn’t have to happen. They occurred because employers put profit over safety and policymakers neglect existing countermeasures and dismiss calls for better ones.”
FJWC and its partners are hosting a press conference at Houston’s City Hall on April 23, with comments from Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Representative Sylvia Garcia, relatives of fallen workers and labor rights activists. Names of workers killed at their jobs will be read aloud.
For the first time, nine Houston faith communities will be observing Workers’ Memorial Day during their services April 27 and 28, witnessing the human cost of lax employer safety practices and inaction from policymakers. Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian congregations are already committed.
“Our communities of faith are a source of leadership in times of mourning and in pursuit of a more ethical environment,” said Acuña Arreaza. “They are here to provide comfort for the families who have lost someone, and to fight for the living, too.”
“When I participated in my first Workers’ Memorial Day many years ago, I was shocked at the number of people who were killed on the job or died as a result of on-the-job injuries. You hear periodically about more sensational accidents, but with this many people dying, it’s necessary to speak out. We need to call attention to what’s happening,” said Ceil Roeger of the Dominican Sisters of Houston. “Our Catholic social teaching is that all people have rights, and deserve dignity and respect. If employers can’t do more to guarantee employee safety, they’re not showing that dignity and respect.”
Just in 2018: A worker was killed in an industrial shredder on his fourth day on the job. A worker had an SUV dropped on them when a coworker hit controls reaching for a phone. A worker was electrocuted by a hydraulic lift. A worker was run over by a forklift. A worker tripped and fell off a truck, where pipes rolled onto them.
“Each one of these deaths represents a failure of workplace safety that cost a human life, leaving behind family, community, hopes and dreams. There is no centralized data collection system tracking workplace fatalities,” said Acuña Arreaza. “So little has been done to prevent workplace accidents that we do not have the names of all deceased workers. Their names and lives deserve to be known and commemorated.”
Simón Bautista, Minister at Christ Church Cathedral, said, “The Latino Ministry of the Cathedral supports workers’ rights because the Gospel calls for it. This is part of our baptismal vows as Christian Episcopalians.”
A full list of churches participating in Workers’ Memorial Week and the types of actions faith communities might take is available at https://www.houstonworkers.org/wmw. Names of the dead, as well as pictures and obituaries for some, are also available. FJWC will release a report with in-depth information about the state of labor rights in Houston May 1.
Workers’ Memorial Day is observed nationally, and organized locally by Faith and Justice Worker Center, Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council, Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), Workers Defense Project, the Painter's Union, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, and academic and faith-driven volunteers.
Tuesday, April 23, 11:00am - 3:00pm (UPDATED TIME)
Houston City Hall (901 Bagby St, Houston, TX 77002)
WORKERS’ RIGHTS HOTLINE: 713-862-8222
For more information:
NAME: Silvia Chicas
PHONE: (713) 298-8824