Madison County Federation’s Worker’s Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen workers

Illinois Correspondent

NO WORKERS were added to this year to the Workers’ Memorial Wall at Gordon Moore Park in Alton. – Labor Tribune photo

Alton, IL –Sunlight and pleasant temperatures allowed the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor to hold its annual memorial outside at the permanent Workers’ Memorial April 28, dedicated to all union workers who have died on the job since the 1940s.

Created in 1994, the memorial in Gordon Moore Park here features a sculpture of a worker with a doffed helmet standing over a granite wall inscribed with the names of workers who lost their lives on the job. For the ceremony, the Alton Fire Department brought over its silver bell next to an altar of candles and flowers, with a crimson-draped chair with a solitary helmet resting on it.

Federation President Dean Webb said that since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was formed in 1971, the law has promised workers the right to a safe job, and progress has been made. “This did not happen because laws were passed,” Webb said. “It happened because unions fought to make the jobs safer.” Webb called for an end to “unnecessary deaths for all our brothers and sisters.” He quoted Mother Jones in her famous line, “Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

No new names were added to the wall this year, but Webb made mention of Chad Crabtree, 47, of Owensboro, Ky. who was killed at the Wood River Refinery Phillips 66 in December when a crane overturned. Crabtree was not added to the wall because he did not belong to a union included in the Madison County Federation of Labor.

OSHA area director Dustin Miller said deaths on the job are often “entirely preventable” through diligence and attention to safety. “Although we have made great progress, too many people continue to lose their lives,” he said.

In fact, Miller said there were 5,191 deaths on the job in 2021, the most recent numbers available. That’s 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers, which is the highest rate since 2016. It means that every 101 minutes, someone dies on the job.

But this is about more than numbers, Miller said.

“Every worker who dies is not a number to their family or friends,” he said. “A safe workplace is not a privilege. It is every worker’s right. It is important that they have the information and training they need, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or what language they speak.”

Marc Parker, of the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, said Illinois has the strongest workers’ compensation laws in the country, allowing injured workers to receive compensation and choose their own doctors. In Missouri, he said, the employer picks the doctor. “We’ve come a long way since the 1900s,” he said. But there are still echoes, when they find a woman working in a sweatship in 100 degrees with no water breaks, and so on. “No one should have to choose between a living wage and coming home safe at night,” he said.

During the ceremony, two readers announced every name on the wall, stretching from 1944 to 2018, the last time a name was added. After each name, Capt. Steve Perry of the Alton Fire Department rang the bell.

Webb said they are planning to add a plaza of brick pavers to the memorial site, allowing people to buy a brick on behalf of a worker or an organization.

“Hopefully there’s not another name on the wall next year,” Webb said.

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