Labor leaders remember workers killed on the job

Donna S. Edwards, president of the Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO speaks during a Workers Memorial Day service at the UAW hall in Maugansville. 

MAUGANSVILLE — Corporate greed, combined with growing divisiveness and hate across the nation, is jeopardizing workplace safety for many American workers, a Maryland labor leader said Friday.

Speaking to a small crowd during a Workers Memorial Day event at the UAW Hall in Maugansville, Donna Edwards, president of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, said, “This greed, this selfish obsessive desire to have more than anything that you need” drives corporations to take risks at the expense of their employees.

“Was it greed that caused Boeing to ignore countless, countless whistleblowers ... pilots and maintenance people saying there’s a problem with the 737 Max? Did they have to wait for not one crash, but two crashes and 346 lives lost? Because of greed?”

Edwards was one of several speakers during the yearly event hosted by the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Labor Council, which represents Frederick and Washington counties.

The service recognizes workers who died or have been injured on the job, as well as their families, in the 49 years since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. It also is a reminder to renew or continue calls for increased workplace safety.

“I think it’s important just to remember that people go to work, they expect to be paid a fair wage and they don’t expect to die,” said Jeff Hughes, president of the Central Maryland council. “If anything, we keep it out in the forefront that business and industry need to concentrate on safety on the job. That’s the biggest thing we want to push forth and keeping memory of those who have died.”

In 2017, the most recent year of available data, 5,147 people died on the job in the U.S., according to AFL-CIO officials. Another 95,000 died from job-related illnesses or injuries.

Putting profits over people remains a major concern, Edwards said, but the growing “hate movement” in the country, driven by the Trump administration, “is what’s destroying us.”

Workplace violence, in general, remains a major cause of death for workers, resulting in 1.8 million lost work days and $55 million in lost wages, Edwards said.

Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore said about 80 percent of all active shooter incidents occur at a business. It’s “almost commonplace” to see an active shooter situation unfold somewhere in the country every couple of weeks, he said.

“People are settling disputes with weapons now more than their words,” he said.

Nearly 50 years later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has laid the framework for increased safety on the job, but the department remains vastly understaffed and penalties are far too lenient for violations, officials said.

In the face of continued challenges, Hughes, as well as other speakers Friday, quoted a saying attributed to labor activist Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”

“Together, we can keep making progress and continue the dream that one day, events like this will be a distant memory,” Hughes said. “And one day, every preventable work death will be prevented.”