By TIM ROWDEN
Union workers who were killed on on the job or a result of workplace illness or injury in 2021-22 were remembered at the Greater St. Louis Labor Council’s 42nd annual Robert 0. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass on Sunday, May 1, at the Shrine of St. Joseph at 11th and Biddle streets in downtown St. Louis.
Fifty-one years ago on April 28, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act went into effect, promising every worker the right to a safe job. Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as chemical plant explosions, major fires, construction collapses, infectious disease outbreaks, workplace assaults and other preventable workplace tragedies continue to occur.
Workplace hazards kill and disable approximately 125,000 workers each year—4,764 from traumatic injuries, and an estimated 120,000 from occupational diseases.
INTERFAITH PRAYER SERVICE
As in previous years, the Workers Memorial program began with a Workers’ Memorial Interfaith Labor Prayer Service outside the church celebrated, by The Rev. Dr. Teresa Mithen Danieley, priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri:
We gather to remember all workers who have been injured or killed as result of occupational illness, accident or trauma while earning their livelihood.
We remember those we have lost with great fondness. They gave much to our world as individuals, family members, friends and colleagues at work.
We remember their families as they continue to grieve.
We remember those who have died at work building a better place for all humanity:
Those who have died while constructing buildings and expressways, hospitals and schools, our homes and places of worship.
Those who have died young and innocent, especially those who were victims of avoidable workplace incidents and accidents.
We remember those who have brought needed blessings to our lives:
… miners and asbestos workers who suffer from lung disease.
… farm workers who are exposed to hazardous pesticides.
… health care workers, restaurant workers and service employees.May we learn from their loss, honor their memory, and strive for a safer workplace for all people, where the rights and dignity of all workers are upheld.
UNION LABOR MASS
Following the Interfaith Prayer Service, a Memorial Union Labor Mass held inside the Shrine of St. Joseph, an historic Catholic church with strong ties to the Labor Movement. After years of neglect, the church was restored to its original beauty through the donated labor, skills and material of unions and union craftsmen. A brunch that follows the annual Union Labor Mass continues to raise funds for the shrine’s maintenance and upkeep.
Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the Labor Tribune, opened the service with the procession of the Tools of the Trade, honoring and recognizing various skills and crafts that make up the union workforce.
The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Daniel Kearns, a retired Catholic priest who spent most of his career in education, most recently in East St. Louis, Ill., who reflected on the Tools of the Trades processional “representing the dignity of Labor, representing the fact that when we use these tools we must decide their use in building the Kingdom, in building what is necessary for the Kingdom, in building what is going to be fruitful and beneficent to the whole Kingdom, and this is indeed what we’re asked. And by using these tools we must make them useful to bring about God’s Kingdom in this world.
“In celebrating this memorial, we have to remember all of those who went before us,” Fr. Kearns said. “We remember them and thank them for what they did. We must build on what our ancestors and all who came before us did, and what they left us. It was a great thing they did and it was at great cost that they did it.”