Workers’ Memorial Day: remembering those who have suffered and died while earning a living

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Over 100 people rallied at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket on Saturday to mark Workers’ Memorial Day, a day to remember “those who have suffered and died while earning a living.” People held signs, sang and chanted in front of Hope Artiste Village for about an hour before marching to the site of the old Hope Webbing Mill at the intersection of Esten Avenue and Warren Avenue.

On October 22, 2018, an accident caused three workers to be badly injured when the floor collapsed at the site of the old Hope Webbing Mill during renovations. The owner of the mill is California developer Lance Robbins, who has been tagged as one of the worst slumlords in Los Angeles history.

At the rally, people demanded “justice and accountability” for the injured workers, adding that, “We will raise our collective voices to demand safe working conditions for all workers, in construction and in all industries.”

The workers demanded:

  • A thorough investigation into all projects receiving tax credits and the revocation of such if labor law violations have occurred or are occurring;
  • Guaranteed jobs for local workers;
  • Guaranteed safe working conditions, with minimum training requirements and safety standards; and
  • Guaranteed good middle class jobs by ensuring area standard wages and benefits are paid to all workers on jobs receiving tax payer money subsidies.

Workers’ Memorial Day takes place annually on April 28, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.​

In 1970, the AFL-CIO declared April 28 Workers’ Memorial Day. On that day one year later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was formed in the United States. In the late 1980’s events and commemorations started being held annually around the globe.

Since I was out of town, all the pictures and video from the event are from reporter/photographer Selene Means. Below is the video from the speaking program outside the Hope Webbing Mill, but first, here’s the march from the front of Hope Artiste Village to the Hope Webbing Mill:

“On October 22 2018, a floor collapsed inside this building. It crushed three workers,” said Justin Kelley, Business Agent/Organizer at IUPAT. “These worker’s identities have not yet been ascertained. We’re here to say that we will insure that you get justice. We will make sure that you get justice regardless of your immigration status, regardless if you’re union or non-union. We will make sure that you’re taken care of and the contractor that you were working for is held accountable, as well as the developer…”

“I was asked today as a member of the Rhode Island Labor History Society to talk about the history of important people at this facility,” said Patrick Crowley, organizer for NEARI. “What you don’t see, what’s not talked about in this building are the names and the faces of the people who’ve worked here for over a hundred years and that’s a deliberate act to make sure that we forget about them. What you don’t hear about is the 1913 strike that was led by the Industrial Workers of the World who walked out of this building for six weeks and marched all the way down to Pawtucket City Hall to make sure that people paid attention to their grievances.

“You also are not going to hear about the 1916 strike where drawing in girls, young women, were supposed to be paid $7.50 a week but the company changed their piece rate to try to pay them only five dollars a week and [the bosses] said, ‘Oh no no no, these aren’t drawing in girls, these are waiting in girls.’ In other words, even then they profited off misclassification of workers.

Patrick Crowley

“You’re not going to learn about the 1937 strike that lasted six months, led by the CIO, when the company bosses made sure that they got their story in the paper but not what the workers had to say,” said Crowley. “They called union organizers ‘breeders of discontent’ but what you expect us to do? Of course we’re going to breed discontent when you pay us dirt and you treat us unfairly and you make our lives unsafe that is what causes discontent and we’re going to organize against it!”

“We want to set apart this space now for some stuff that hasn’t happened properly, like when the the beam on the third floor collapsed into the second and the first and the basement and left one woman and two men under the rubble in the basement. The company that hired them, Metric Construction, could not be bothered to give any kind of public condolences,” said Reverend Duane Clinker. “So we want to start by claiming this space and remembering, in some grief and some solidarity, those three workers who are representative of hundreds of thousands that have died building this country and across the globe.”

“In this country right now, 70 to 100 workers are injured or killed on the job every week,” said Jim Celenzo, director of the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. “In this country 100 to 150 workers died from industrial diseases, asbestos, formaldehyde, and a lot of the chemicals they’ll use in production.”

“I can think of no place I’d rather be on such a beautiful Saturday morning,” said Representative John Lyle Jr (Republican, District 46, Lincoln). “I had the privilege of marching last summer with some of my brothers and sisters that were picketing against the injustices that they were experiencing at Rhode Island Hospital. I was proud to support the nurse. I was proud a couple of weeks ago to stand with my brothers and sisters that work at Stop & Shop. I am a proud member of the Rhode Island AFT, retired. I am one of you.

“It was a privilege, three weeks ago, to vote to support the firefighters, who deserve better consideration for the work that they do. They deserve a safe workplace, as we all do. I was also honored to support legislation over this past week, as a Republican, I will say, that ensures that Greenhouse Contracts will continue. We need to make sure that all workers receive all the rights that they’re entitled to.

“You will continue to have my full support in my work at the Rhode Island State House,” said Lyle.

“In the entire history of OSHA, only 99 cases where people have died since 1970, in decades, only 99 criminal prosecutions. That’s wrong! That is absolutely wrong,” said SEIU Executive Vice-President Patrick Quinn. “People know how to build a safe environment, they know how to keep workers safe, it’s not rocket science. It takes time, it takes training, which the Building Trades provide…”

“I want to tell you the story of a worker who could not be here today because he was injured on the job,” said Raul Figueroa, Community Organizer at Fuerza Laboral. “He was working construction and unfortunately this person had an accident. He almost lost his leg. A big piece of marble fell on his foot and broke it. He’s been out of a job for two years. When he got injured, his boss didn’t even want to call an ambulance for him. He took him to the hospital himself.”

Raul Figueroa

“Another worker almost lost his eye,” continued Figueroa. “When his boss took him to the hospital, he took [the worker’s] shirt off, so the hospital wouldn’t know that [the injured worker] was working for him. [The boss] gave him a clean shirt, took [the worker] to the hospital and told the nurse the person was hurt at [the worker’s] own house, and that he [the boss] was just a good Samaritan.”

“Today we are talking about cleaning up our state from bosses who do not care about workers, from employers who would rather make a profit right than protect the women and men who earn their wealth,” said Providence City Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13). “We know this: Labor creates all wealth.

“Some of us have been in this fight for our long time. We have been fighting for community benefits when public money is used on private development development projects. It is our right that workers are protected on those jobs, that wages are family sustaining wages on those jobs, that employers are training and using apprenticeships on those jobs. We’ve been fighting for this for decades right?”

Rachel Miller

“We know the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice,” said Miller. “I am telling you here today that we bend it towards justice by working together, by organizing and by fighting together…”

“We have a very simple task: to make sure that you go to work in a safe condition and come home the same way you went. That doesn’t happen here. It’s not right what happens here,” said Tim Byrne, business manager of United Association Local 51. “We need to make sure that projects that get state money, projects that get tax agreements, are done with union labor, prevailing wages, and a safe environment.”

“Here’s the deal: Everyday in this state – and this I say this with certainty – every day on a construction site in this state someone is getting ripped off, someone is working unsafe, someone is working under conditions they should not be,” said Scott Duhamel, Secretary-Treasurer at the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trade Council. “We could take you for a ride and within an hour of that ride we can take you to two sites and find that. That happens every day and that’s just not right.”

“We need jobs for local people,” said Justin Kelley wrapping things up. “We need to ensure that everyone on that project follows the law. That means no ripping workers off, no employee misclassification, no OSHA violations, no breaking labor laws. And if a contractor breaks labor laws, that contract is rescinded, right?

“We need workers to be paid area standard wages and benefits. Construction work is hard work. We don’t don’t go to work to work for dirt money only part of the year. “


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