Governor Kotek signs Key Worker Protection Into Law
For Immediate Release:
June 07, 2023
Ira Cuello-Martinez, PCUN, email@example.com, (503) 851-5774
Martha Sonato, Oregon Law Center, firstname.lastname@example.org, (971) 801-5031
Kate Suisman, Northwest Workers Justice Project, email@example.com, (503) 765-7105
Jamie Pang, Oregon Environmental Council, firstname.lastname@example.org, (971) 353-7963
SALEM, Ore.– Today, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed SB 907, the Right To Refuse Dangerous Work, into law. This bipartisan legislation clarifies and codifies workers’ rights to safe work in accordance with federal OSHA standards.
These protections are more critical than ever. Workplace hazards kill approximately 125,000 workers each year—4,764 from traumatic injuries and another 120,000 from occupational diseases. This averages out to 340 workers deaths each day from hazardous working conditions. Oregon has a higher fatality rate than neighboring states- our 2021 workplace fatality rate was 3.3 worker deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to California’s 2.8 and Washington State’s 2.1. These tragedies include the heartbreaking case of Sebastian Francisco Perez, who, two years ago this month, during the Oregon heat dome event, was doing agricultural work outside in 116-degree weather. Working alone and doing hard physical labor, Perez was found unconscious and could not be revived. No one should be asked to work in such conditions and if they are, they should be protected when they say no.
The “right to refuse” dangerous work already exists in state and federal rule, but the right is not well-known and difficult to exercise. The new law takes the existing administrative right and adds it to the retaliation section of the Oregon Safe Employment Act, in statute. Under SB 907, a worker is protected from retaliation if they refuse a work assignment that could seriously injure or kill them, as long as there was no reasonable alternative, and they acted in good faith. It also directs Oregon OSHA to spell out the details of the protections in a rule that is in accordance with federal standards. Oregon will use the federal rule as a starting point but will come up with an Oregon-specific solution in consultation with stakeholders.
“Representing farmworkers, some of the most vulnerable workers in the state, who are regularly doing intense manual labor in dangerous conditions such as pesticides, heat, and smoke, PCUN sees SB 907 as an important step forward for worker safety,” said Ira Cuello-Martinez, Policy and Advocacy Director at PCUN, Oregon’s Farmworker Union.
“Workers need to be safe on the job. If a worker reasonably believes a job assignment can seriously injure or kill them, they should be able to say no.” said Kate Suisman, Campaign Coordinator at the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.
“Climate hazards like extreme heat, smoke and environmental health threats are only increasing. Clarifying this worker right and protection from retaliation is a key step to addressing situations where existing OSHA rules are silent,” said Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Program Director at Oregon Environmental Council.
“The right to refuse hazardous work is a fundamental human right. SB 907 is a necessary step towards making this existing right accessible and available to workers,” said Martha Sonato, Legislative and Policy Advocate at the Oregon Law Center.
SB 907 is the result of collaboration between advocates, business representatives, Oregon OSHA, BOLI, and lawmakers. Industry and labor stakeholders agreed the bill would clarify rights and duties for both employers and employees in dangerous work situations.