Workers lost remembered at Greater Madison County Federation of Labor’s Workers Memorial Day service

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‘They served their neighbors through their work,” the Rev. H.R. Curtis, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden said of Timothy Earl Dagon, a member of United Steelworkers Local 1899, and John Douglas Behme, a member of Operating Engineers Local 520, both of whom were killed on the job. – Labor Tribune photo

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Alton, IL – The annual Workers Memorial Day Service in Alton is a poignant and meaningful remembrance of Madison County area workers killed on the job.

But this year’s event, held on April 28, was even more emotional because the service honored the sacrifice of two young workers killed in recent months. With families of both men present, and photos of them in front of the podium, the mood was both serious and somber.

The workers were:

  • Timothy Earl Dagon, 42, of Granite City, IL, a member of United Steelworkers Local 1899, who died March 5 after an accident at Granite City Steel, where he had worked for 20 years. He left a son, Tyler, a daughter, Shelby, and his mother, Sylvia.
  • John Douglas Behme, 44, of Worden, IL, a member of Operating Engineers Local 520, who died of burns April 29 after an April 6 explosion at a construction site in Maryville, IL, when an excavator hit a gas line. He left a son, Nick, a daughter, Brooke, his wife, Angela and parents John and Gail.

More than 100 people attended the memorial on a rainy night at the Muenstermann Pavilion at Gordon Moore Park in Alton, hosted by the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor.

The service’s annual march to the park’s workers’ memorial statue was canceled because of rain, but the Alton Police color guard attended, followed by the reading of the names on the memorial accompanied by a bell tolling.

The Rev. H.R. Curtis, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden, where Behme was a member, said the deaths of industrial workers such as Behme and Dagon can be as great a loss to society as those of soldiers or police, as vital as those roles are.

“Our society depends just as much on these kinds of labors as it does on the labor of men in uniform,” Curtis said. “What good is a secure border or safe streets without food to eat, homes to live in, running water and electricity – all that labor provides to make sure that our society functions?

“That work is not only necessary and useful, it’s godly and it’s a gift,” he added. “Anyone who knew Doug could tell you about the pride and care he took in his work. I’m sure Tim was the same way.”

Curtis added, “They served their neighbors through their work, they showed their love to their families by working hard and providing for them, they were able to give back to their churches and community and others in need because they worked by the sweat of their brow. For this, they and all working men deserve to be honored.”

SAFETY LAWS NEED PROTECTION

Madison County union leaders and elected officials called for increased diligence in protecting worker safety laws.

Sheriff John Lakin said memories of Behme and Dagon should help Labor supporters in the upcoming fight to protect the gains made in workplace safety.

“It’s important that we as a community and we as the United States stand behind our union leaders, Organized Labor and those who are serious about making our workplaces safe,” Lakin said in brief remarks.

“What we need to do collectively, as a group, is that each and every day, we do not let Tim or Doug or their families be far from our thoughts and prayers.”

Federation President B. Dean Webb noted that on average, 13 Americans die on the job each day.

“Since job safety laws were passed more than four decades ago, we’ve made great progress in making the workplace safer for workers and protecting workers,” he said.

“This progress did not happen just because laws were passed, it happened because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded actions from employers and their government. It is the working people, through their unions, who demanded and won stronger standards in protecting workers from asbestos, benzene and other hazards.”

WORKERS AT RISK

Great progress was made under the Obama administration because of its emphasis on worker safety, he said, but those days are over.

“All of those victories on safety and health protections are in serious jeopardy under this new administration,”

Webb said, noting an executive order that for every new protection, two others must be removed, and the repeal of rules requiring accurate records of job injuries.

“It’s dangerous and a slap in the face to working people,” he said. “Now more than ever, we must stand up and protect our hard-won gains and fight to make jobs safer, not just for union members but for all workers.

“We must fight back. We simply cannot and will not let politicians and corporations put workers in danger, drive down wages and destroy our communities.”

State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said some public officials will now have to be pushed to enforce job safety laws.

“While the laws remain on the books that have been put in place to protect the working people of America, they will only be as good as the enforcement of those laws,” he said. “And the people responsible for enforcing those laws are prosecutors like me, federal prosecutors, federal agencies and state agencies. So it’s going to be incumbent on all of us to continue pressure on them, to make sure that they recognize the importance of the safety of American workers, and that they use the laws and the tools available to them to look out for the people who are working to make our country strong.

“If we are to believe that the intention of this administration is to put America first, the only way we can do that is by putting the people of America first and protecting the working people and the working families of America. I have great doubt whether that is truly the intention.”

Coroner Steve Nonn said that as recently as 2016, 36 Illinois workers died on the job, a 28 percent increase over 2013.

“We’re supposed to be getting better not worse,” he said.

He called on workers and their employers to find ways to work together on safety issues.

“I am sure that all in this room know that cooperation between Labor and management is key to workplace safety,” he said. “The people who are carrying the tools and who are exposed to the hazards have to be the focus of our concerns.”

WAVE SAFETY BANNER

Aaron Priddy, director of the OSHA office in Fairview Heights, IL, which serves 39 southern Illinois counties with only 10 inspectors, called for more safety education and training and greater collaboration between workers, employers and state governments.

“I would ask that you pick up your safety banner at work and wave it fiercely, encourage others to work responsibly and safely, and encourage your employers to reach out to us and ask questions,” he said. “It’s essential to understand how those deaths on the job are preventable. We don’t want to let their loss be in vain.

“At your job, take time to ask questions about safety regulations, safety practices and precautions,” he added. “Ask your family members about their jobs, especially those young ones who are just entering the workforce and may not have the experience to properly evaluate the risks they are being exposed to.

“It’s going to take all of us working together toward that same goal – so we can see that everyone goes home safe and sound at the end of their workday.”

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