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Community Honors 217 North Carolina Workers Who Died on the Job

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Dozens of local workers, union members, and community leaders gathered on Bicentennial Plaza in Raleigh April 28th to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day by renewing the call for strong safety protections and remembering workers sickened, hurt, or killed on the job. At the interfaith press conference and solemn memorial service, participants rang a bell 217  times - once for each person in North Carolina who died while working for a better life in 2022, the most recent year for which the full death toll is known.

For the third year in a row, the NC Department of Labor participated in the event, publishing a joint statement between Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson and NC State AFL-CIO President MaryBe McMillan, who discussed continued cooperation to strengthen the department and improve workplace safety. Rev. Sean Allen of the NC Council of Churches and Imam Sami Kocak of the Cary Islamic Center offered prayers for workers and their families. Union member Eric Winston spoke of the ongoing dangers of working in the service industry, and surviving family members attended and shared reflections on those they have lost.

“We at the North Carolina Council of Churches are here to stand with you and to proclaim that this is not acceptable,” said Rev. Allen. “It is not acceptable for workers to be in harm's way for reasons that are preventable. It is not acceptable for one who is loved by us and beloved by God to die before flourishing into his or her greatest potential.”

“As we reflect on the lives of those who have gone before us, we are reminded of the inherent dignity and worth of all laborers,” said Imam Kocak. “We lift up in prayer those who continue to toll under challenging and often hazardous conditions, facing uncertainties and risk each day.”

“On this Workers' Memorial Day, we honor those who died by making a commitment,” said President McMillan, “a commitment that we will work together, labor, community, and elected officials, to do everything we can to ensure that every job in North Carolina is a safe one.”

“My department's core mission is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all North Carolinians, with the ultimate goal of returning workers home to their families safely at the end of the day,” said Commissioner Dobson, who is not running for reelection this year. “I commit to you that with the time I have left at Labor to work with all of you here to make sure that we do all that we can, together, to prevent more workplace fatalities.”

“All these corporations need to take responsibility for workers' health and safety as a priority,” said Eric Winston, a fast-food worker and member leader in the Union of Southern Service Workers, who testified about a coworker who died alone on the job five hours before being discovered. “I encourage all workers to speak out, strike, and unionize to make our health and safety be taken seriously!” 

The final speaker was Devin Gilgor, father of Gabriel Gilgor Strathern, a 29-year-old who died in a fall from a roof in Orange County. 

“Rest in peace my dear son,” said Mr. Gilgor. “May your memory be a blessing, and may the memory of those whose lives have been lost like yours be a call to demand that none of us here, or anywhere else, have to endure the loss of a loved one due to the failure of an employer to ensure a safe work environment.”

Then, surrounded by people, many dressed in black and holding signs displaying the known names of the dead and photos of workplace fatality victims, each speaker and the members of five attending families took turns ringing the memorial bell once for each of the 217 people who died in 2022. 

In addition to Gabriel’s, attending families included those of Trampas Penny, a 44-year-old pawn shop worker, and Bibiana Arellano, a 22-year-old food plant worker, who both died in Johnston County; Naomi Carroll-Moore, a 56-year-old correctional officer in Wake County; and June Okundi, a 44-year-old recovery center worker in Durham County.

According to the latest AFL-CIO report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2024, 344 workers died each day from hazardous working conditions in 2022. With 217 deaths that year, North Carolina was the 15th most dangerous state for workers, but NCDOL levied the 9th lowest fines and penalties and today employs fewer safety and health inspectors than it did 10 years ago.

“All working people have the right to a safe and healthy work environment,” said President McMillan and Commissioner Dobson, pledging to work together to improve NCDOL enforcement in North Carolina. “No family deserves to suffer the grief of a loved one lost prematurely while working for a better life.” 

Watch recorded video of the NC Workers’ Memorial Day service, April 28th, 2024.

See photos of the service here and here.

Read Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2024.