By TIM ROWDEN
More than 200 union members and their families turned out for the 38th Annual Robert O. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass and Interfaith Prayer Service on May 7 at the Shrine of St. Joseph, where Labor honored 10 workers from area unions who died or were murdered,on the job or died of work-related injury or illness in the past year, as well as numerous others who passed from our ranks.
An interfaith Labor Prayer Service, led by Mother Teresa Danieley, an Episcopal priest and doctor of ministry student, was held outside the Shrine prior to the mass.
The program was sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Labor Council and the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council.
THOSE WE LOST
Among those we lost were:
- Thomas F. “Tommy Barnes, Jr., Ironworkers Local 396 – Brother Barnes, 55, of St. Charles, collapsed and died working in extreme heat at a Monsanto jobsite in Chesterfield on June 14, 2016. He left behind a wife and son along with numerous relatives, extended family and friends.
- John Douglas Behme, Operating Engineers Local 520 – Brother Behme, 44, of Worden, IL, suffered 3rd-degree burns affecting 70 percent of his body in a natural gas line explosion while he was working in Maryville, IL, on April 6, 2016. He succumbed to his injuries on April 29, 2016. He left behind a wife, two children, his parents and numerous relatives and friends.
- Alex Boschert, USW-Gas Workers Local 11-6 – Brother Boschert, 27, of O’Fallon, MO, was gunned down on a job site on the western edge of St. Louis on April 20, 2017. He left behind a wife and young son, along with numerous relatives and friends.
- Timothy “Lumpy” Dagon, USW Local 1899 – Brother Dagon, 42, of Granite City, IL, died on March 5, 2017, after an incident in the rail yard at Granite City Steel. He left behind his mother, two children, his former wife and numerous relatives and friends.
- William “Bill” Froelich, USW-Gas Workers Local 11-6 – Brother Froelich, 52, of the De Soto area, was gunned down on a job site on the western edge of St. Louis on April 20, 2017. He left behind a wife, three grown children, along his parents, a granddaughter and numerous nieces and nephews.
- Dale T. Heitman, Jr., SMART Local 36 – Brother Heitman, 49, of Lenzburg, IL, died working on the BJC campus renewal project in St. Louis on June 15, 2016. He left behind a wife and two daughters along with numerous relatives, extended family and an expected granddaughter.
- Robert J. Hoke, Laborers Local 110 – Brother Hoke, 40, Robertsville, MO, was removing a long piece of rebar on a job site on Aug. 15, 2016 when it apparently made contact with some power lines. He left behind a wife and two young children.
- Floyd Jennings, American Postal Workers, St. Louis Gateway – Brother Jennings, 53, a union steward for APWU and tractor trailer driver, suffered a fatal heart attack while at work, leaving behind two sons.
- Ron Summers, Operating Engineers Local 148 – Brother Summers, 75, a longtime hydro technician and the most senior member of Local 148 at Ameren Missouri’s Keokuk Energy Center, a hydroelectric dam on the Mississippi River suffered a heart attack, while operating a golf cart-type vehicle on the dam, veered into the river and drowned on April 22, 2017. He left behind his wife, two sons, two stepsons and three grandchildren.
- Kenneth Trentham, Teamsters Local 688 – Brother Trentham, 59, of St. Louis, was killed in a boiler explosion at Loy-Lange Box Co. in St. Louis on April 3, 2017. The 25-foot long 1½ ton tank launched into the air and crashed through the roof of a nearby business, killing three other people. Brother Trentham left behind a wife, two grown children, three grandchildren, his siblings, and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
AN OFFERING FOR WORKERS
The mass included a special recognition of workers’ lives, skills and craftsmanship, with a presentation and display at the altar of workers’ tools of their trades, presided over by Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the Labor Tribune:
- Two hard hats – representing USW-Gas Workers 11-6 members Alex Boschert and William “Bill” Froelich, who were gunned down April 20 while connecting gas service to a home in St. Louis, reminding us of the daily dangers construction and utility workers face.
- A shovel – symbolizing how deep we go in our meaningful daily work.
- A book, paper and pencil – symbolizing all the teachers, journalists, social workers and novelists who educate children and adults to make this a better world.
- A wrench – symbolizing workers who create, build and repair the machines that make our lives easier.
- The Big Book – representing the hope of recovery for the many members and families who struggle to overcome addiction.
- A saxophone – symbolizing how musicians and poets inspire beauty and inspiration in our troubled world.
- A Justice for Janitors sign reminding us of the tens of thousands of workers mobilizing today like never before for better wages, working conditions and dignity on the job.
Finkelstein closed the presentation by holding up his smartphone, like the phones most of us carry in our pockets – “Once only a simple telephone, now a powerful computer symbolizing the changes in our world… and how fast computers are changing the way we work.”
FIGHTING FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS
Every year at this time, events are held across the country to remember workers who have died on the job and honor them by continuing to fight for improved worker safety.
Unions have championed and fought for worker safety throughout their history, influencing state and federal regulations and investing in health and safety education and technical expertise to protect workers’ health and often save lives.