Cumberland Times-News

April 29, 2013

‘Profits over safety’: Workers Memorial Day time to speak out about employee fatalities

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Local labor leaders addressed a packed house in the City Hall rotunda Monday at noon and delivered a unified message on Workers Memorial Day: It’s important to remember those who have died and been injured on the job, but they are best honored by fighting to protect the living.

“There are 150 workers dying in the U.S. each and every day due to workplace injuries,” said Donna Ed-wards, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO. “Workers pay the ultimate price when companies put profits over safety.”

In 2011, 4,609 workers were killed by traumatic injuries on the job and another 50,000 to 60,000 died of occupational diseases, labor officials said.

Fines for environmental violations and other federal violations are often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Edwards said, while the average penalty for willful violations of health and safety laws was $814.

“We must continue to fight back on the assault on worker safety,” Edwards said. Edwards closed her speech with a quote from American labor activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones.

“Mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living,” Edwards said.

“It’s a shame in this country that this can still happen on the job,” said George Koontz, president of the Western Maryland Central Labor Council.

“The culture of safety has now permeated down into the workplace,” said Ron DeJuliis, the state’s commissioner of labor and industry. DeJuliis contrasted today’s attitudes to when he was younger and on the job. “Everybody hid when the inspector came in,” DeJuliis said. Now, “employees are spreading the gospel of safety,” he said.

State Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, said federal sequestration cuts will hurt worker safety. “Sequestrations stands for stupid,” Frosh said. While claims are made that worker safety laws and regulations kill jobs, “lack of worker safety kills workers ... it’s not a difficult choice to make,” Frosh said.

Other speakers included the Rev. Chuck Erzkus of Christ Lutheran Church, who provided the invocation and benediction; labor lawyer Matt Darby; and retired Army Cmdr. Andrew Duck.

The ceremony then moved outdoors so that a wreath could be placed next to the workers memorial on the City Hall plaza. The color guard for all the ceremonies was provided by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 172, with taps played by retired U.S. Army Sgt. Allan Lewis.

A large number of local political leaders were present, as were representatives of U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, along with a representative of U.S. Rep. John Delaney and Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.