Workers Memorial Day observed at Carpenter's Union Hall in Hagerstown

April 28, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Gathered at the Workers Memorial Day event at Carpenters Union Hall in Hagerstown are, from left, Former Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council President Don Forcino; Donna S. Edwards, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO; Julianna Albowicz, aide to Sen. Barbara Mikulski; and Robin Summerfield, aide to Sen. Ben Cardin.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Although federal statistics indicate that the number of on-the-job deaths in the nation fell 17 percent from 2008 to 2009,  area union supporters believe the trend toward safer workplaces could be endangered by the current economic and political climate.

The Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council observed Workers Memorial Day Thursday with a ceremony at the Carpenter's Union Hall in Hagerstown.

Each year there are workplace disasters that command  headlines. Among the incidents noted at the ceremony were the deaths of 28 coal miners last year in a Massey Energy Co. mine in West Virginia, the deaths of 11 oil workers when a BP rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and, locally, the murder of Pennsylvania Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the number of workplace deaths fell from 5,214 in 2008 to 4,340 in 2009. However, most workplace deaths occur one at a time, and the victims are largely remembered by family, friends and co-workers, said Donna S. Edwards, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO.

Since the federal Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed 40 years ago, "we've actually seen a reduction in fatalities and major injuries, but there is still so much to be done," Edwards said.

While safety has improved, she said there is an effort to roll back some of the progress workers have made.

"We've ... witnessed in the last couple of a years a Department of Labor at the federal level that is doing more enforcement, doing more inspections," Edwards said. At the same time, she said there is "a major assault on workers in this country" by some members of Congress and corporations.

The federal deficit and fiscal problems in some states have been used by politicians wanting to eliminate regulations that protect the health and safety of workers, according to Edwards.

She said Congress reduced funding to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and there were unsuccessful efforts to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board and cut construction workers' pay for government construction projects.

"We didn't see these improvements just because some laws were passed. It happened because workers formed collectively into their unions, fought and demanded action from their employers and the government," Edwards said.

Edwards said there are about 350,000 union members in 500 locals chapters in Maryland, a number that has been relatively steady.

Former Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council President Dan Forcino estimated there are more than 5,000 union members in Washington County.

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