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Union members commemorate Workers Memorial Day

April 27, 2007|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

When Dave Perkins dropped off his son at school on Friday, he said what many parents say.

"I'll see you this evening," he told his son.

Driving away, Perkins said he realized that each day, many workers bid their children the same farewell, but never return.

Later, gathered with fellow union members to remember workers who suffered and died on the job, the words of Mary Harris "Mother" Jones struck Perkins as they once did every American who wore a blue collar.

"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living," Jones once said.

Watered down for modern politics, Jones' message echoed in the speeches and screamed from the walls of the Central Maryland AFL-CIO headquarters on Friday during the 18th annual Workers Memorial Day.

"We cannot become complacent," Perkins said. "It is the duty of every one of us as organizers, as labor leaders, as politicians and as individuals to fight for the living and to mourn for the dead."

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Created in 1989 to remember those who lost life and limb in the workplace, Workers Memorial Day of the AFL-CIO has become a day of remembering both how far labor has come and how far it has yet to go.

"Without the AFL-CIO, I never would have enjoyed a 40-hour workweek, paid vacation or collective bargaining," longtime union member A.G. "Bobby" Fouche said.

Yet for all of the progress made by groups such as the AFL-CIO, even the death of one worker is evidence to some that the fight for a safe workplace is not over.

Brian Bibbee, president of Communication Workers of America Local 2105, said he came to the memorial to honor the eight people from his company, Verizon, who died in the past year.

"Many workers do not realize how dangerous this job is until it is too late," he said.

Shouldering the cause of worker safety, local politicians promised reform to the 35 people gathered Friday at the Franklin Street headquarters.

"This delegate will always fight for the working people of this state," said Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington.

Teresa Martin, president of the Central Maryland AFL-CIO, said the official Workers Memorial Day is April 28, the 36th anniversary of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

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