Workers’ Memorial Day: “Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living”

Going to work can be dangerous.

More than 4,500 workers in the US died on the job in 2013, the latest year for which data is available.

According to the Center for Disease Control. another 3 million workers in private industry were injured or sickened on the job as were more than 740,000 state and local government workers.

Of those injured on the job, 2.8 million workers were treated in emergency rooms and 140,000 required hospitalization.

On April 28, Workers’ Memorial Day events will be held all over the US to commemorate those who died and to demonstrate for improved health and safety on the job.

“On this Workers’ Memorial Day, we need to join hands to seek stronger safety and health protections and better standards and enforcement,” said James Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters. “To quote Mother Jones, a small woman but a giant in the American labor movement, ‘Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living’.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on April 22 released its revised Census on Fatal Occupational Injuries.

According to the revised data, 4,585 workers were killed on the job in 2013, slightly below the 4,628 killed on the job in 2012.

But while overall worker deaths remained about the same, there was an alarmingly high incidence of on-the-job deaths of Latino workers. There were 817 deaths of Latino workers in 2013, up by 9 percent from the previous year.

For all other racial and ethnic categories, the number of on-the-job deaths declined slightly.

Among Latinos killed on the job in 2013, 66 percent were immigrant workers.

The industry with the most deaths was construction; 828 construction workers died on the job in 2013. Latinos in 2013 were 25.5 percent of the construction workforce and 29 percent of those who died on the job.

Juan Carlos Reyes of Brownsville, Texas was one of those Latino workers killed on the job, and it was no accident.

Reyes was working on the fourth floor of building that was to become a Marriott hotel in Harlingen, Texas. His employer was a non-union electrical contractor. The platform on which he was standing became unstable, and he fell to his death..

OSHA conducted an investigation and issued five citations for safety violations, including one that OSHA described as willful.

One of the safety violations cited by OSHA was for improperly constructed scaffolding.

Reyes worked in the state that had the most on the job fatalities of any other state–Texas.

In 2013, Texas recorded 508 worker fatalities, down a bit from 2012 when 536 Texas workers died.

Worker deaths in Texas are well above those of other states with comparable populations.

California had 396 worker fatalities, 28 percent fewer than Texas; New York had 178, about 180 percent fewer than Texas.

Of the 508 workers killed in Texas, 192, or 38 percent, were Latinos.

Two Workers’ Memorial Day events in Texas organized by the Workers Defense Project (WDP), will honor the Texas workers who died on the job and urge state and local leaders to take action to make work in Texas safer.

WDP helps low-income workers, especially immigrant workers from Latin America, organize and fight for job safety, fair treatment, good wages, and respect on the job.

One of the events will be held in Austin where state lawmakers are in session. After a media conference that begins at 8:00 A.M. at the Capitol, those participating in the event will meet for a short training session then fan out to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to make work safer and to protect workers from other abuses such as wage theft.

In Dallas, participants will meet at City Hall then lobby City Council members for a city ordinance requiring that workers receive at least a 10-minute rest break for at least every four hours of work.

“Sadly, Texas remains the deadliest state to work construction in the country,” reads a statement on a WDP Facebook page announcing the Austin event. “But this legislative session, Workers Defense Project is fighting to win change to better protect workers. This Workers’ Memorial Day, WDP will honor the workers who have died building our state and urge our elected officials to listen to construction workers and pass life saving laws. Join us for a day of action including a press conference, legislative visits and an exhibit.”

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