This article examines a series of Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) campaigns for protection from needlestick injuries, led by women health-care workers, from the dawn of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s through battles over the 1992 OSHA standard on blood-borne pathogens and the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000. We argue that these campaigns developed in response to the growing physical precarity of women health-care workers in the era of “managed care,” caused by the intensification and flexibilization of health-care labor and the deregulation and underfunding of OSHA and the CDC. We show how women workers challenged employers, OSHA, and elected federal officials to address workplace health hazards, through unions like SEIU and women’s, gay rights, and public health organizations. More broadly, we argue that the occupational hazards of health-care workers are a crucial but underexplored facet of workplace studies and the history of women workers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
The Precarious Work of Care: OSHA, AIDS, and Women Health-Care Workers, 1983–2000
ELIZABETH FAUE is professor of history and department chair at Wayne State University. She is the author, most recently, of Rethinking the American Labor Movement (2017), among other studies. She is currently completing a book, entitled Work and the Body Politic: Gender, Occupational Risk, and the Health of Democracy.
JOSIAH RECTOR is assistant professor of history at the University of Houston. His research focuses on twentieth-century American urban history, environmental history, and the environmental justice movement. His forthcoming book, From the Motor City to Mass Water Shutoffs: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit, examines the history of environmental inequality and environmental health activism in Detroit from the late nineteenth century to the present.
Elizabeth Faue, Josiah Rector; The Precarious Work of Care: OSHA, AIDS, and Women Health-Care Workers, 1983–2000. Labor 1 December 2020; 17 (4): 9–33. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-8643460
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