Around the world last week, people came together to observe Workersâ€™ Memorial Week (WMW). Tales of loss and remembrance echoed from community to community â€“ along with a renewed dedication to action. Here is a sampling of events:
In Cheyenne, Wyoming, 35 bells rang out in the State Capitol â€“ one for each person who died on the job in that state in 2012. In Chaska, Minnesota, workers lay 34 orange hard hats in a line, to honor the Department of Transportation employees who have died in work zones. In Los Angeles, members of SoCalCOSH paid homage to workers like Cesar Valenzuela, who died in February on a service road at LAX. (Valenzuelaâ€™s death is one of seven workplace fatalities profiled in "Preventable Deaths 2014,â€ released by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on April 23rd.)
At a memorial In Philadelphia, family members mourned the two workers and four shoppers who died in a Salvation Army thrift store collapse. â€œMy husband, Jay, and I believe it is our duty to stand up,â€ said Nancy Winkler, who is the cityâ€™s treasurer, â€œto make sure what happened to our daughter and to the others on June 5 is not forgotten... The death of our loved one was avoidable, preventable.â€
Workers and survivors across the country advocated for the specific steps to create safer, healthier workplaces. In Buffalo, speakers called on Congress to update the Protecting Americaâ€™s Workers Act. In Boston, labor officials and workersâ€™ advocates gathered on the statehouse steps to support legislation that protects workers and provides for families of those that die on the job.
Beyond fatalities that take place in the workplace, participants at WMW events discussed the long-term occupational illnesses that kill over 50,000 workers a year. Adam Wood, a member of San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798, told a WMW gathering in San Francisco about the alarming rate of cancer deaths in the profession.During a telephone press briefing to announce the release of â€œPreventable Deaths 2014,â€ Javier Garcia Hernandez, a construction worker who works as a consultant and trainer for PhilaPOSH, discussed the dangers posed by exposure to silica, asbestos, and other hazardous materials.
The hundreds of WMW events reminded people around the world of the unsafe conditions faced by millions of workers, and of the measures necessary to prevent the tragedies that we mourned last week.