Saturday, February 26, 2011

Workplace Safety close to home

After last week's post with union history, I heard from relatives who reminded me of my grandfather's union past. He worked for a paper mill in the 1940s before workers were union members.

The mills were extremely dangerous places to work back then. If not for unions, the mills could and did treat people as though they were expendable. A mill manager could arbitrarily fire a long time paper machine operator and replace him with an incompetent relative or neighbor. This kind of grossly unfair management was only stopped when the unions came in.
He saw great injuries caused by the paper machines. Safety wasn't mandatory; making money was.
He saw people lose their hearing before ear protection became mandatory. One of those so disabled was my great uncle.
He was there when people died gruesome deaths. Two men from his little town went into a giant digester machine for maintenance and suffered gruesome deaths from a steam explosion.
Later, three local men died from inhaling toxic chemicals (Hydrogen Sulfite) in a sewer. Grandpa talked about this at length, blaming a combination of incompetent management and poorly trained, unprepared workers.

Readers, go back into your family history. You may have someone who remembers life before unions, life before OSHA, and life before management was forced to be fair. Ask your grandparents; you may find surprising stories.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grandpa was in management when the sewer gas killed the three men. He left the Union in 1963 and remained in management until his retirement.

2/26/2011 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These awful things occurred when the unions were "young" and improvements were yet to come. Today we need unions to keep safety and welfare top priorities for workers.

2/26/2011 2:12 PM  
Blogger songbird's crazy world said...

Saw an article in today's paper. the Triangle Shirtwaist fire took place 3/25/1911. the girls had just unionized but the owners wouldn't bargain about safety issues...

My grandmother came here in the 1920's and worked in similar factories before she was married.

2/27/2011 1:07 PM  

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