This chapter reviews Anglo-American labor history to illustrate that the right to refuse unsafe work has been a struggle to decide who is empowered to define it. The right to refuse was protected as early as the Jellico Agreement of 1893, which covered eight Appalachian mines and was at the time “one of the most advanced agreements of any miners in the country.” It allowed a miner “to refuse to work if he thought the mine was dangerous through failure of the bosses to supply enough support timber.” After the enactment of the U.S. National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act) and adoption of Wagner Act principles in Canada in the 1940s, the right to refuse unsafe work gained ground as a viable subject of collective bargaining in North America. Collective labor agreements would become the only way to circumvent the strict common laws on the termination of employment that had commodified workers in the United States and Canada.
Keywords: right to refuse, unsafe work, hazardous work, Anglo-American labor history, Jellico Agreement 1893, National Labor Relations Act 1935, Wagner Act, collective labor agreements, collective bargaining
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