Looking around our community, when we say employer, most will respond to State Farm, Country, or Illinois State University. We too often forget those who are building our roads, serving our food, or our public employees.
COVID-19 has made us more aware of the risk. Going to work every day for some people means considering safety and potential harm.
April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day. This was established by the AFL-CIO in 1989 to commemorate those who have lost their lives on the job and to call for safety and health. Locally, the first Workers’ Memorial Day was held in that same year, 1989, outside the old United Rubber and Asbestos factory on Bloomington’s west side. That day, the names of over 100 asbestos victims were read.
Every year, usually at sunrise, local workers congregate at Bloomington’s White Oak Park on April 28. During that ceremony, over 300 names are read of local residents who didn’t come home after work or died from workplace exposure. There are over 100 asbestos victims and 100 railroad workers locally who died from their jobs. Add to that construction, public safety, and industrial accidents and it’s a long list.
In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, began. On the job, deaths fell with enforcement, yet hazards remain. Different administrations have bolstered or cut job safety. Currently, under the Trump Administration, regulations and enforcement are being cut again. The AFL-CIO estimates that over 5,000 Americans die annually from on the job accidents, another 50,000 from long-term exposures, and over 800 from workplace violence. If a passenger jet crashed daily we’d be crying for regulation and enforcement – the equivalent is happening statistically daily to working people. In McLean County, over 125 workplace deaths have occurred since the OSHA law began, the majority of those from the lingering impact of asbestos exposure.
Because public gatherings are not possible, this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day is virtual. At www.bntrades.org and also at the Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Bloomington-Normal-Trades-Labor-Assembly-523163121223561/), there is a 3-minute scroll of all the local workplace victims. Take 3 minutes and remember these fallen workers. This year’s ceremony is dedicated to Scott Bundy, a McLean County Highway Department employee we lost last year on August 28. Remember the fallen and work safely.