Every year, almost a thousand workers in Canada and another 6,000 in the U.S.are killed in on-the-job incidents. Thousands more are injured. Many more become seriously ill or disabled due to exposures at work.
To honor these victims and to encourage stronger efforts to protect all workers, the international labor and health and safety communities set aside April 28 as Workers’ Memorial Day.
“Each and every death of a Laborer or worker on the job is a tragedy. We must redouble our efforts to help Laborers and signatory contractors improve safety at work,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “Workers’ Memorial Day reminds us that job safety requires constant vigilance and persistent effort. Everyone has a role in eliminating workplace accidents and illnesses.”
In 1985, Canada became the first nation to establish an annual day in recognition of workers who have died on the job. Known as a Day of Mourning, it is commemorated by the House of Commons and many provincial governments as well. The first international Workers’ Memorial Day was staged in 1989. April 28 was chosen as the annual date because it corresponds with Canada’s original date. It also marks the anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1971, after decades of struggle led by American unions.
Local unions can acknowledge and commemorate those who have died on the job by asking for a moment of silence at an April or May membership meeting. That request could be introduced with a short explanation of the purpose and history of Workers’ Memorial Day and concluded with the suggestion that everyone recommit themselves to combating dangerous conditions at work. If the local union has suffered the loss of a member on the job in the last year, a specific reference may be appropriate.
In some communities, candlelight vigils will be held to bring more public attention to the issue of workplace safety. In other areas, activists press for action in response to identified job safety problems; for instance, after many deaths earlier this year, mine safety is one such area of legislative action. In many states and provinces, permanent memorials have been erected to honor workers who were killed in otherwise spectacular construction endeavors or in specific, tragic catastrophes. In some areas where unions are not strong, Workers’ Memorial Day presents an opportunity to explain to unorganized workers how a union provides an avenue to address workplace safety issues.
The LHSFNA Workers’ Memorial Day Resource List provides links to additional information, posters and other resources to assist in memorial activities.