April 28, 2014

On Workers Memorial Day, NYSUT remembers the fallen

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
solidarity singers
Caption: NYSUT singers (including Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, second from left) lead a chorus of "Solidarity Forever." Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, opening a ceremony at NYSUT headquarters in Latham to remember the fallen on Workers Memorial Day, shared a sobering statistic:  4,383 workers nationwide died on the job in 2012.

"That's 12 people a day. That's not OK. These people were not going to war. They were going to work," said Magee, who led a similar ceremony for the Westchester Putnam Area Labor Federation for many years. She was elected NYSUT president earlier this month.

The names of those who worked in the public sector in the Capital Region and who died on the job in the last year were read aloud during the somber ceremony. For each name, a bell was rung; a flower was placed next to the person's name and alongside a candle:

  • Ronald Clifford, 53, Greene County Mental Health;
  • David Cunith, 35, New York State Police, Fultonville;
  • Dennis Javorski, 45, SUNY Research Foundation;
  • Richard LaPort, 52, Edinburg Town Highway Department; and
  • Aron Thomas, 33, NYC Department of Environmental Protection in Kingston.

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job, and to renew efforts for safe work places.

karen magee
NYSUT President Karen Magee. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

It means going back to what Magee calls "our basic roots." In the words of Mother Jones, she said, we "mourn for the dead but fight like hell for the living."

Magee said she was surprised to learn that health care workers are more at risk than construction workers. She praised NYSUT's efforts and Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta for getting the Safe Patient Handling Act passed this year. The Act will require health care facilities to provide training and proper equipment to lift and move patients.

The Workplace Violence Prevention Act, enacted in 2006, requires New York state's public employers to develop and install programs that prevent and minimize workplace violence and help ensure the safety of workers. NYSUT continues to press for public schools to be included in that law. It provides that "that no one has fear of reprisal for pointing out a problem," Magee said.

Proper staffing, training and equipment all contribute to safer work places, said Stephen Madarasz,  president of the board of directors for the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition and director of communications for CSEA.

 "There are almost never any real accidents," he said. "We really can avoid the harm that comes to people in the work place."

Madarasz noted that a Workers Memorial Service was held Saturday in Saratoga Springs by the Capital District Area Labor Federation, and CSEA will hold one this weekend in Lake Placid for 400-500 members as part of its biannual health and safety conference.

"They leave you sad and they leave you mad," he said. They also bring labor and religion together, because "faith helps us look for meaning in events, and labor tries to change to status quo."

The Rev. Damone Paul Johnson of the Metropolitan New Testament Mission Baptist Church in Albany recited a passage from the Book of Zechariah: "Wail, oh pine trees, for a cedar has fallen …" in honor of those who died on the job.

He noted that cedars are a great monument, known for loftiness and height, durability and strength. They rise above, like those who work for health and safety in the workplace.