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Workers Memorial Day Observed

Jeremy Sprinkle
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(Picture) Workers Memorial Day April 28 AFL-CIODecades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions. However, the threat of going to work healthy and coming home severely injured - or not coming home at all - remains all too real.

According to estimates (PDF document)by the International Labor Organization (ILO), worldwide, 1 million workers suffer a workplace accident and more than 5,500 workers die each day due to accidents or disease from their work.

The AFL-CIO's 18th annual "Death on the Job" report shows that on an average day in the United States alone, 15 workers lose their lives as a result of injury or disease in the workplace, and 10,959 are injured.

We remember these workers on April 28, Workers Memorial Day.

North Carolina ESC held ceremony to honor the dead

For the past eight years, the North Carolina Employment Security Commission (ESC) has held a ceremony to honor workers who have lost their lives on the job.

“Workers Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to remind ourselves just how critical it is to be observant about workplace safety each and every day,” said ESC Chairman Moses Carey Jr. “That is why we host this event, because safety and having a productive workforce go hand-in-hand.”

NC State AFL-CIO president James Andrews was the featured speaker at the event and was joined by Lt. Governor Walter Dalton, who also delivered remarks in observance of Workers Memorial Day. Andrews listed several needless disasters that could have been avoided:

"The explosion at the BP refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers, the Sago mine collapse in Utah where 6 miners and 3 rescue workers died, the explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia that claimed 14 lives, and the New York City crane collapse that killed 6 construction workers. These workers should not have died."

In addition to stepped up enforcement of existing health and safety laws, Andrews pointed to the need for workers to have a voice on the job as a way to protect themselves:

"With a union, workers can raise job safety concerns without fear of employer retaliation and make jobs safer. With a union, workers can bargain for increased safety and health protection and training. With a union, workers have the power to make sure that safety and health regulations are followed and fully enforced."

National workers memorial dedicated in Maryland

(Picture) Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis speaking at dedication of workers memorial at National Labor College

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis speaks at national workers memorial dedication April 28, 2009.

Newly appointed Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, joined AFL-CIO leaders John Sweeney and Richard Trumka and the heads of several major unions in a ceremony at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, MD to dedicate a new national workers memorial to honor those who have died on the job or as a result of workplace related illness. Said Solis of the reason for a workers memorial:

"It is appropriate that we dedicate this memorial at the National Labor College. Not only will this calm and quiet spot serve as a gathering place to pause and remember the men and women who have lost their lives while pursuing their livelihood, but it will serve as a reminder to future labor leaders about the importance of workplace safety."

Secretary Solis used the occasion of the memorial dedication to announce two new major workplace safety rules - one to avoid combustible dust explosions like the one that killed 13 people at Imperial Sugar in Georgia on Feb. 7, 2008, and a second to protect workers from exposure to diacetyl, a dangerous chemical additive that causes the severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease “popcorn lung".

The rules are a reversal of Bush administration decisions to block the implementation of standards urged by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in 2006 that could have prevented the Imperial Sugar disaster and another decision to delay emergency standards to regulate workers exposure to diacetyl. No such standard currently exists, and Solis' action yesterday will fast-track its development.

Mine Workers President, Cecil Roberts, was one of the leaders on hand for the dedication, where he challenged anyone who would oppose DOL's stepped up enforcement of health and safety rules in the workplace:

"We just come to work here. We don’t come to die here."