Think carefully with your co-workers/union about what steps would be most effective in your workplace.
- Step 1: Brainstorm the full range of approaches that are possible. Use the organizing action checklist (see link below) to assist you.
- Step 2: Review the pros and the cons of each. Consider how your employer will respond and whether you need to have multiple actions at the same time.
- Step 3: Try to get agreement on your action plan, and make sure your time-table is clear (i.e.- If one step doesn't work, when you will proceed to the next step?)
You will need to consider how your employer will respond. Some employers will address unsafe working conditions if workers provide concrete information about what the hazards are and ways they can be addressed.
Other employers will need various forms of pressure: being informed that they are violating a law and threat or actual visit by an enforcement agency; pressure from workers and their union (where possible), and/or pressure by external supporters (customers, community organizations, elected officials).
Advantages and disadvantages of filing a complaint with an enforcement agency:
Pros: When you have a hazard that is clearly a violation of a state or federal law, it may be helpful to call an enforcement agency – especially when the danger can cause workers serious harm. This may be especially helpful when an employer is ignoring workers complaints and when done along with other pressure strategies.
Cons: However, if the hazards are not an actual violation of any regulation or standard there are risks involved in calling in an enforcement agency. For example, OSHA has no specific standard for unhealthy indoor air quality, so calling in OSHA because of a mold problem means risking an investigation that results in no citations or fines. In this case, the employer may then make it clear to workers that s/he is in the right, that the workplace is completely safe, and that whomever complained is a trouble-maker.
Using public pressure from customers and community supporters
Sometimes employers will respond if they fear that not doing so will result in losing customers, gaining negative media attention and/or receiving calls from elected officials. Do a thorough analysis of all the public pressure possible. Who are the customers – are any of them public agencies who would be concerned about how their money is being spent?
If the employer retaliates against any workers involved in taking action around health and safety issues, take immediate steps to address it. OSHA and the NLRB provide some protections against retaliation – and both have quick deadlines.