The American Public Health Association is holding its annual meeting this week in San Diego (check out their conference blog here), and members of the occupational health section will be gathering today to congratulate the winners of this year’s awards. (Read about last year’s awards here.) Here are some of the outstanding individuals who are working tirelessly for safe, healthy workplaces:

David Kotelchuck, PhD, MPH, CIH is the recipient of the Alice Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Dr. Kotelchuck is professor emeritus at Hunter College School of Health Sciences at the City University of New York.  He began his long record of labor, environmental, safety and public health activism decades ago.  In 1973 his ground-breaking article “Your Money or Your Life” exposed the corporate criminal malfeasance of the Johns Mansville Company.  He has served continuously on the NYCOSH Board since its creation in 1980, and in 1984 he founded the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at Hunter College.  Dr. Kotelchuck’s labor collaboration includes service to the United Auto Workers Union, the Professional Staff Congress of the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. 

Diane Bush, MPH and Tony Oppegard, JD are both recipients of the Lorin Kerr Award for Activism. 

Diane Bush coordinates the Young Worker Project at the University of California Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program.  For more than 13 years, Ms. Bush has worked with students, teachers and other members of the community to address health and safety issues faced by teenage workers.  Ms. Bush  and colleagues at LOHP researched and wrote “Promoting Safe Work for Young Workers,” one of the first reports characterizing this public health problem, and she has consistently demonstrated a unique ability to engage and energize young workers about their fundamental labor rights, sharing knowledge that will last their lifetime.

Tony Oppegard is a private practice in Kentucky, who has been representing coal miners and their families for nearly 30 years.  His legal career began in Hazard, Kentucky at the Appalachian Research & Defense Fund, and in 1991 he established the Mine Safety Project to focus exclusively on safety discrimination cases.  Mr. Oppegard served as a senior advisor from 1998-2000 at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, and was the General Counsel of Kentucky’s Mining Board until May 2005.  Tony not only represents miners and their families, but also encourages them to organize, protest and speak-out for change.

Carmen Hacht is the recipient of the Tony Mazzocchi Award for Grassroots Organizing.  Ms. Hacht worked for 20 years at the Tyson Foods (formerly IBP) in Dakota City, Nebraska, and served as one of the meatpacking plant’s original “ergonomic monitors” ― a line worker trained in ergonomics.  Over the years, Ms. Hacht has held the company’s feet to the fire about making changes to reduce “overload,” prevent musculoskeletal disorders and help injured workers.  Ms. Hacht is currently the Recording Secretary of Local 222 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and also sits on the plant’s health and safety and ergonomics committees.

Jaime Cota is the recipient of the International Health and Safety Award.  Mr. Cota founded and has been a long time leader of the Centro de Informacion para Trabajadoras y Trabajadores (CITTAC, Information Center for Working Women and Men), a labor rights non-governmental organization in Tijuana, Mexico.  He is a widely-recognized leader of grassroots labor activism in Tijuana and appeared in the documentary film “Maquilapolis” (City of Factories) which profiles the struggles of assembly line workers in the Baja California region.  Jaime Cota is a shining example of a dedicated, courageous health, safety and labor rights activist seeking worker justice in a city wracked by deep-seated political corruption, terrifying narco-violence, and domination by Asian and US transnational corporations. 

Congratulations to all of the 2008 Occupational Health & Safety Award winners! More info on the awards, as well as info on previous years’ winners, is available in the OHS section’s Hall of Fame.