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Arthur Steinberg Remarks at Public Sector OSHA Press Conference

Thank you, President Ferritto.

As mentioned, I’m Arthur Steinberg. I am the President of AFT Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. I offer greetings on behalf of our 36,000 professional and paraprofessional educators into whose nurturing and care we entrust our Commonwealth’s most precious resource, our children, every day, in every community in our state.

The health and safety of our members and of the students entrusted to us has been a paramount concern of our Union for the entirety of my professional career. Beyond the responsibility of my position as the State President of AFT Pennsylvania, I serve as the Chief Trustee and Lead Coordinator of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund.

In that position I have been integrally involved in the development of our Union’s asbestos, lead, and mold program to assess the safety of school facilities and oversaw development of the Healthy Schools Tracker mobile app, that allows members to report facility safety issues in real time.

The most ironic part about OSHA—a law that likely doesn’t go far enough—is that when private contractors, like our siblings in the trades, come into school buildings to make the repairs reported in our app, those workers are protected by OSHA while our members—educators, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and nurses—who are exposed to these conditions every sing day are not protected by the same law. That just doesn’t make any sense.

Even worse, in private schools and charter schools, educators and staff with private employers can file an OSHA complaint and receive an inspection while their public-school counterparts do not enjoy the same protections.

Schools across the Commonwealth are approaching, at, or beyond their useable lives. That means pipes that contain lead and construction materials containing asbestos. When a school building’s age alone or retrofit improvement or a weather event causes the damage and disturbance of asbestos, the educators, and students inside are put at grave risk. Just about four years ago, four schools in Scranton alone had to temporarily close after asbestos was discovered. That was a full quarter of all schools in Scranton School District, closed due to lack of upkeep or improvement.

There isn’t a clearer example that our members’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

As far back as I can remember, the American Federation of Teachers, our national union—of which I also serve as a Vice President—has advocated for state-level OSHA plans. In 1996—27 years ago—AFT passed a resolution calling on OSHA to extend protections to public sector workers. This has been one of our fights for a very long time.

And we have been fortunate to be in this fight with so many supportive and active partners. Groups like PhilaPOSH, the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health, which has been a convener of unions throughout the Philadelphia region, training workers, providing resources, and advocating for stronger workplace protections since 1975.

I want to thank the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO for bringing us all together today and Senators Costa and Tartaglione who are working to ensure passage of this important legislation. We look forward to a day soon when public-school educators and staff, and all public-sector workers are provided the same protections as our private sector counterparts.

We look forward to working with you all to get it done.


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