There are few people who have had a greater impact on the safety and health of American workers than the late Tony Mazzocchi.
Tony was a labor leader in New York City, who eventually became Legislative Director and then Vice-President of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (now part of the United Steelworkers). Through his association with the environmental movement, Tony became one of the first in the labor movement to recognize how dangerous it is for workers to be exposed to toxic chemicals day in and day out. His tireless advocacy for worker safety and health played a major role in convincing Congress to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
One of Tony’s greatest contributions was recognizing that scientists and rank-and-file workers shared the same goal of reducing workplace chemical exposures, and that both groups could learn from each other. He involved physicians and public health scientists in researching the health effects of workplace chemicals and sharing the results with workers. He also enlisted workers to teach medical and other students about how change occurs on the shop floor.
In doing that, he changed the lives of countless people: workers who learned how and why to protect themselves, and physicians and scientists who were exposed to the world of industrial work. Many of the country’s leading occupational health scientists and clinicians were introduced to the field by Tony directly, or in one of the programs he started.
Tony’s legacy also lives on today in worker health groups across our nation, in which workers, unions, activists and professionals come together to prevent workplace hazards.
As a tribute to his unparalleled efforts to protect the lives and livelihoods of workers, the U.S. Department of Labor will be inducting Tony into the Labor Hall of Honor today.
The Labor Department is pleased to recognize Tony Mazzocchi for his tireless commitment to the safety, health and welfare of America’s workers. Tony’s extraordinary efforts and leadership helped pave the way for vital reforms like the OSH Act, and it’s time he takes his rightful place in the Labor Hall of Honor.
Dr. David Michaels is assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.