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Hagerstown ceremony honors those who died on the job

Speakers say White House policies hurt workers and their families

Speakers say White House policies hurt workers and their families

April 29, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- A tribute to workers who have suffered and died on the job turned largely political Monday during a Workers Memorial Day service.

Speakers denounced current practices by the Bush administration that they say are hurting American workers and their families.

That is not uncommon in an election year, said Dave Perkins, president of United Auto Workers Local 171.

"Politics have a lot to do with safe workplaces," Perkins said. "Politics are in the every day lives of every workplace."

The Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council, which includes Washington and Frederick counties, honored fallen workers at an event attended by more than 50 people at UAW Local 171 on Maugans Avenue.

Thaddeus M. Thomas, the only local union member to have died on the job, was honored with a weeping cherry tree that will be planted in his honor at the Maugans Avenue building.

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In 1988, Thomas was working as a pipe fitter at Mack Trucks when he was crushed by a machine, Perkins said.

Ronald Kline, UAW Local 171 health and safety representative, said the local union has had eight accidents that caused workers to miss one day or more of work since the first of the year. The local union represents workers at Volvo Powertrain in Hagerstown; and Williamsport companies Xerxes Corporation and EPS.

UAW Local 171 has more than 1,000 active members and about 1,800 retired members.

Tom Holder of Boonsboro and Earl Hill of Hagerstown said they worked with Thomas at Mack Trucks before they retired. Holder, who worked as an engine assembler at the company for 32 years, said after Thomas' death more emphasis was placed on safety, and the company locked down machines to help protect workers from similar accidents.

"So, you could work in there without worrying about it," Hill said.

He worked for Mack Trucks for 30 years before retiring 17 years ago. Hill said he agreed with speakers Monday who advocated for a change in policy regarding America's workers. He said that the local union does support political candidates - usually Democrats - who advocate for safe, good jobs.

"When you work around machinery, you have to have someone looking out for you," he said.

Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, said the past eight years have not been good for American workers. More than 3 million jobs have been lost, he said.

Rising gas prices also have taken their toll, he said.

"It seems like we've become accustomed to faulty equipment in the workplace and faulty policies," Mason said. "We need policy changes. We need leadership changes."

Representatives for U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both D-Md., spoke during Monday's event. Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, County Commissioner William J. Wivell and City Councilman Martin Brubaker also attended.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said Maryland has "set itself apart from the Bush administration." He said state officials are concerned about the safety of the state's work force.

Bruchey said he was "dodging rocks" at the event as a Republican.

"We definitely have to elect somebody who is actually going to enact change," he said.

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