Nine somber events were held around Iowa marking Workers’ Memorial Day this week.
Labor unions around the state held events marking the 53rd anniversary of the establishment of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and read the names of 71 Iowans who lost their lives on the job in 2020 and 2021.
Mary Sand, President of the Dubuque Federation of Labor, emceed a ceremony that included the playing of “Taps” on bugle, “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes and a dove release.
“In my own career, I have witnessed individuals dying on the job, and in the military,” Sand said. “I appreciate everyone being here and honoring those who have lost their lives on the job.”
On the day before the ceremony, an employee of the Dubuque Community School District, Craig Jackson, died when a piece of equipment he was operating rolled over on him, Sand noted.
“That is a tragedy for them and for everyone, and that is the second time they have lost someone in their community in the last few years,” she said.
Accidents are a big cause of worker death generally. But this year, more than half—38—died from COVID-19, making it the No. 1 cause of death.
“(COVID) was a challenge for everyone—for the employer and the employee,” said Tom Townsend, President of the Great River Area Labor Federation. “You still had to go to work every day, and unfortunately that was putting you at a much higher risk.”
Speakers included Dubuque Mayor Brad Cavanagh, who told the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911. It killed 146 workers, mostly women and girls, who were locked inside their workplace because their bosses apparently wanted to prevent them from taking excessive breaks.
“We recognize that we have made progress,” Cavanagh said, noting thousands fewer workers died on the job than they did decades ago. “That’s a marked improvement, but do we call that enough? I say ‘no.’
“As mayor, I care deeply for the safety of workers in our community,” he continued. “And I stand ready to work hand-in-hand with you to continue to create working conditions that protect everyone from illness, injury, and even death.”
Former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, now a candidate for U.S. Senate who was recently endorsed by the Iowa Federation of Labor, also made brief remarks about “the work we have left to do for worker safety in this country.”
“It is why I’ve done what I’ve done with my life; I know it is why so many of you have done what you’ve done with yours,” she said. “We have so much more work to do here, and you have my word I’ll continue.”
In Clinton, Bob Krajnovich with the Clinton Labor Congress read all 71 names, causes of death, and the age of each worker. The oldest were 78: Charles Padavich, struck by a tree branch, and Larry Hon from COVID. The youngest was 17-year-old Victoria Marie Parra-Lerdo, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“We can’t forget the people that die on the job,” he said. “I hope someday we can come out here and just have a picnic, and nobody has died in that year.”
By Amie Rivers
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