Madison County Federation of Labor remembers workers lost

THE MADISON COUNTY Workers Memorial at Gordon Moore Park. – Labor Tribune photo

Illinois Correspondent

Alton, IL – Last year, 2,586 workers were killed on the job. That’s one worker every 96 minutes.

Of those, 10 fatalities were in the lower 39 counties of Illinois, according to Aaron Priddy, area director for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

The members of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor gathered for their annual commemoration of Workers Memorial Day April 28 to remember workers hurt or killed on the job at the Workers Memorial in Gordon Moore Park. While the numbers are still too high, they’re a vast improvement over the days before the OSHA laws regulating workplace safety, said Federation President Dean Webb.


DEAN WEBB, president of the Madison County Federation of Labor, speaks at the annual Workers Memorial Day commemoration of those who have died on the job. – Labor Tribune photo

For nearly 30 years, the Madison County Federation has engraved the names of lost workers on the memorial. Only those who were members of unions that belong to the Federation can be on the memorial, which means that Oscar “Zeke” Bettorf will not be added to the list. Bettorf was a member of Teamsters Local 525 when he was killed in an explosion at the Olin Winchester facility in East Alton in June 2023. Teamsters are not part of the Federation.

But Bettorf was remembered, along with the many others going back to the early 1900s engraved on the wall. “He had a passion for horses,” Priddy said. Bettorf left behind a wife, two daughters, seven grandchildren and a large extended family.

Priddy said another young worker was Jason Welles, a 22-year-old carpenter from St. Rose, fell 20 feet and lost his life on the job.

“It’s important to remember that behind every fatality is a family in unimaginable grief,” Priddy said. “Every worker is entitled to a safe and healthful workplace. Every worker’s voice deserves to be heard. It really is, and should be, a fundamental value to everyone.”

Marc Parker of the Illinois workers compensation bureau said that workers die of heatstroke, of not enough breaks, of someone driving through a construction zone on their cell phone, or falling off a ladder building a warehouse.

“We must continue to honor and remember those who have fallen,” he said.

MADISON COUNTY CORONER Steve Nonn speaks at the annual Workers Memorial Day commemoration of those who have died on the job. – Labor Tribune photo

Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn recalled the many times he has had to call the families of fallen workers. As coroner, he must be part of the investigation team whenever someone is killed on the job.

“This is why we are here today, to remember and honor those people who were killed,” he said. “When they left that morning and kissed their families goodbye, nobody thought it would be the last time they saw that person.”

Nonn remembered workers killed operating a front loader in Granite City, or driving a tractor trailer on the highway, or hauling explosives in East Alton, or who fell off a barge in the river.

“We strive for answers for the family, and we pray for them, and for their families,” Nonn said.

The Workers Memorial at Gordon Moore Park was created in 1994 and features a sculpture of a worker with a doffed helmet standing over the wall inscribed with the names of workers who lost their lives on the job. During the ceremony, a crimson-draped chair with a solitary hard hat is on display as members read the names of everyone on the wall.

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