Workers Memorial Day: ‘Mourn for the Dead, but Fight Like Hell for the Living’


The labor movement sets aside April 28th of each year to remember workers who died on the job in the past year – our brothers and sisters, colleagues, family members and friends – who literally gave their lives to their jobs. Further, we pledge to redouble our efforts to fight for safe workplaces for all, in the name of those who died. We thank our affiliated unions, Central Labor Councils, Building Trades Councils, elected officials and workplace colleagues for their continued dedication to the urgent task of speaking out for safe work sites.

Because of a strong union presence in New Jersey, our state consistently ranks among the lowest in the nation in worker fatalities and injuries. Nonetheless, 1,000 of our residents died in work-related incidents in the 10 years ending in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. Before this year is out, we will bid premature (and sometimes senseless) goodbyes to approximately 100 colleagues from every sector of the job market. Some will die (or become permanently disabled) due to freak accidents beyond their control. Others will succumb to foreseeable and preventable workplace dangers or diseases they acquired from working with dangerous materials.

Preliminary federal figures for 2014 show a decline in job-related fatalities in the state, but even one worker death is too many. We won’t be satisfied until the number is zero.

Two bills that have been introduced in the state Legislature would improve workplace safety. The first, A-3416, creates a task force on construction industry workplace safety and health. The second, S-1183, establishes minimum nurse safe staffing standards for hospitals and ambulatory surgery facilities. Both bills are worker- and working family friendly, and should be advanced quickly.

An average of 12 workers die on American job sites each day – a number that remains far too high. As we pause on this solemn day to remember our brothers and sisters who have been killed or maimed, we are reminded that there are hazards in every job. Without the safety protections fought for and won by the labor movement, the workplace would be a far more dangerous place.

On Workers Memorial Day, let us continue to uphold the timeless words of Mother Jones: “Mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living!”

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