April 21, 2016
Workers Memorial Day 2016: Dedicating Ourselves Anew
By UAW Region 8 Webmaster John Davis
On April 28, 2016, Workers Memorial Day will once again be observed. This day has been set aside to remember workers who died on the job since 1970. The AFL-CIO organized the event after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Each year on April 28, labor pauses to remember those who died on the job in the past year.
Workplace safety is every worker’s right. It is a shame that some employers do not consider their workers’ safety when making business decisions. Donald Blankenship, former Massey Energy CEO, was recently sentenced to a year in prison for his part in the death of 29 miners in 2010. In his trial prosecutors presented evidence showing Blankenship’s total indifference to the safety of his employees. Witnesses testified he called one mine manager "literally crazy" and "ridiculous" for devoting too many of his miners to safety projects. He also ordered delays to repairs to ventilation equipment. However, investigators had a hard time piecing the case together because the head of Massey Security destroyed thousands of documents while the investigation was ongoing. One year in prison is a small price to pay for causing the death of 29 workers.
Men like Don Blankenship could care less for workers. Union-represented workplaces have health and safety standards designed to protect workers. However, non-represented workplaces find workers at the mercy of bosses like Don Blankenship. Blankenship closed some of his mines and reopened them under different names to force the union to organize again from scratch. He did whatever it took to put profits first and people second. On April 5, 2010, a spark caused by a piece of equipment resulted in an explosion of coal dust gas due to insufficient ventilation. The Mine Safety and Health Administration had cited the mine several times for not following proper ventilation guidelines, but rather than correct the problem they simply paid the fines. That fateful morning, 29 miners lost their lives as fire raged a mile in minutes while Blankenship was spared the result of his decisions in an office outside the mine.
So how did a man with this little disregard for his workers’ safety escape with just a year of jail time? It is called political favors. Blankenship has donated very generously to right wing candidates and donated money to candidates against worker protections. The wealthy can outspend us but they cannot out vote us unless we let them. Unfortunately, we have been letting them. Only when we decide that Walter Reuther was right that the ballot box and the bread box are tied together, can we utilize our collective power.
In the past year four UAW members have died on the job. One of those was a Region 8 member:
Catherine White, 51, team leader, Carlex Glass America, Local 737, Nashville, Tennessee.
Our thoughts and prayers are with this family of this member. We must always remember that even with the health and safety protections that come with our contracts, the potential for danger always exist in the workplace. Our fight should always be to continue to improve health and safety in the workplace for all workers. Every family deserves their loved one back home at the end of the shift. While we remember those we have lost, it is worth remembering that Workers Memorial Day is also a day to renew the fight for the living. We cannot allow the Don Blankenship’s of the world to use workers as machines while profit margins dictate worker protections. This Workers Memorial Day let us pray for the dead and fight for the living. We owe it to our fellow workers and children to build a better world for workers, all workers. On this sacred day let us dedicate ourselves anew to the cause of safer workplace and rights for all workers.