PEF health and safety specialist receives prestigious award
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Geraldine Stella, PEF health and safety specialist, was the recipient of the 2018 Karen Silkwood Award presented by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). Stella received the award June 14 in Manhattan for her tremendous contributions to the occupational safety and health movement.
Stella was instrumental in helping to develop workplace violence prevention policies and programs that are a model for workplaces across the nation. She has educated union members on the value of strong labor-management committees to protect workers, and how to launch and maintain the committee. Stella also worked with the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to conduct a wall-to-wall risk assessment in one of its correctional facilities, which resulted in a workplace violence risk assessment training that is now being delivered for each state prison in New York.
“I’ve been able to really change things and develop strong programs to help injured workers with workers’ compensation, which is a complicated system,” Stella said. “When people are out on workers’ comp and don’t know how they are going to pay their bills, if you can help them find a way to get their benefits or some money, that’s a big accomplishment. One woman I worked with thought she would lose her house, but instead got a sizeable amount of money. That was a great relief to her.”
Stella felt very honored to receive the award.
“I had a grin on my face from ear-to-ear when I stood on the stage and saw all the people whose work and accomplishments I have admired. I’m usually on the other side, and I was thrilled. It was very exciting, but I share the award with my fellow co-workers in PEF, as we all work hard in the health and safety field.
“It was amazing to be seated at a table with other awardees, and see people in the audience who I consider heroes in our field. People who are organizing nail salon workers, fighting for construction workers, and former staff of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Obama administration. NYCOSH brings these groups together in a common cause,” Stella said.
With the constant attack on unions, Stella said her future goals include coalition building, not just with other labor unions but with like-minded groups such as NYCOSH, nail salon workers and construction workers.
“Health and safety is an issue that promotes unity. Everyone deserves to go home at the end of the work day in the same shape or better when they leave.
“I also want to rebuild PEF’s health and safety committees. With turnovers in leadership and membership, it’s important to get the rank-and-file members involved with these committees and making them function. If that doesn’t happen, management will make all the decisions.”
Jonathan Rosen, former PEF director of occupational health and safety who hired Stella, described her as a committed and determined unionist.
“Geraldine’s love for advancing the well being of working people led her to PEF and to developing into an important leader in the safety and health movement,” Rosen said. “Passion, persistence and member participation in solving safety and health problems, searching for innovative solutions, and building the union are the reasons she deserved to be recognized and receive the Karen Silkwood Award.”