Members and representatives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) newly forming Carbon County Labor Chapter 32-BJ, AFL-CIO, and county officials gathered at the No. 9 Mine and Museum Miners Memorial in Lansford recently to remember Workers' Memorial Day and those who were injured or killed on the job, as well as the fight and remembrance of unions to keep work places safe.
Workers Memorial Day, recognized in the United States since 1989 and takes place annually around the world on April 28, is an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work.
Speakers during the remembrance were SEIU 32-BJ member Terry Whiteman, Carbon County Commissioners William O'Gurek and Charles Getz.
During the 1820's, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company began mining and shipping coal. The years 1844 through 1845 were the conception of the No. 9 Mine. After opening in 1855, the mine closed down to all mining in 1972. At that time, it was the oldest continually operated mine in the world. America's growing strength was rooted in 1910 by the skill and energies of 37 million workers. 95 percent had no Union protection to limit working hours, set minimum wages or compensate them for accidents.
Over the years approximately 31,00 workers were killed while working in or around the mines, along with hundreds of thousands of injuries. Whiteman stated, "Most sadly of all, in 1911, some 15,000 children under the age of 16, known as "elves", worked as coal miners, picking slate out of the coal."
Each year, more than two million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases. Workers also suffer approximately 270 million occupational accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of work-related illnesses. Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually. One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide, representing about 5,750 workers who die every day. During the remembrance, union members also asked legislators to make occupational safety their first concern.
In Pennsylvania in 2009, 166 workers were killed on the job. O'Gurek and Getz pointed out that on occasion, death, injury and illness at work are taken for granted and Workers' Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and ill health, and to promote campaigns and union organization in the fight for improvements in workplace safety.
Whiteman closed by stating, "The commonplace freedoms that we take for granted today, were brought about by the Unions, better working conditions. The right to organize, bargain, to strike and picket were brought about by the sacrifices of working class citizens. We feel it is extremely important to remember those who fought for those rights."