Hundreds of construction workers participate in Workers Memorial Day ceremony in Saint Paul

Still wearing hardhats and bright neon safety vests, hundreds of construction workers walked from their jobs building the new Senate Office Building and renovating the State Capitol to attend Tuesday’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony at the Capitol complex’s Workers Memorial Garden. 

Workers Memorial Day, observed nationwide April 28 each year, honors workers who died in workplace accidents or from work-related injuries and emphasizes the need for strong workplace safety practices and regulations. (Photos from this year's event can be on the Minneapolis Regional Labor Council Facebook page.)

Photo of workers at Workers Memorial Day 2015 “It’s a somber occasion,” said Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, addressing the crowd of construction workers and other attendees.

Four Building Trades workers stood in front of the wall of the Workers Memorial Garden with crosses bearing the names of four workers who died from workplace-related accidents or illnesses in the past year: 

 

  • Jeffrey Ruland, age 28, member of Operation Engineers Local 49, who died on the job in a crane accident December 2, 2014;
  • Larry N. DeCrosse, age 82, member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34, who died December 16, 2014 from mesothelioma.
  • John W. Phillips, age 78, member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34, who died January 18, 2014 from mesothelioma.
  • Alan Crepeau, age 70, member of Heat and Frost Insulators Local 34, who died January 28, 2014 from mesothelioma.

Photo of crosses being draped in black.“The leadership of the Building Trades works hard every day to make sure each one of you goes home to your family safe,” McConnell said to the crowd at the Workers Memorial Garden, noting that construction jobsites present “a high abundance of opportunity to hurt yourself.”

Bobby Kasper, president of the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, offered an invocation: “Awaken our passion to fight for justice for workers who face unsafe working conditions.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a former business agent for the Carpenters union, praised the construction workers on the two State Capitol projects for their safety consciousness. “There has not been one lost-time accident on the entire project,” he reported. “It doesn’t happen by accident… It happens because everybody is being aware.”

Statewide, Bakk said, 15 construction workers die on the job in Minnesota each year. Nationwide, the toll is 12 each day.

Bakk related a story about a construction company owner who brought home to a grieving family the hardhat, jacket and lunchbox of a worker killed on the job. The company owner became a strong supporter of workplace safety programs, Bakk said, because the owner said he wanted to never need to repeat that awful task.

Ken Peterson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, also spoke at the Workers Memorial Day observance.

Not just construction workers risk death on the job, Peterson said. “The range of jobs of workplace death victims is astonishing. In the past ten years, victims in Minnesota have included, to name a few — bakers, tree trimmers, electricians, sewer maintenance specialists, laborers, boy-scout-camp employees, landscape workers, bricklayers, mechanics, forklift drivers, window washers, even a school principal.”

Each year in Minnesota, Peterson said, 60-70 workers die on the job.

“Work is a way we experience our humanity,” Peterson commented. “We need to keep tough safety laws on the books… We need to tell fellow workers, ‘take care, stay alive.’”

Photo Of Darryl Ray with bell.Speeches concluded, retired Carpenters business agent Darrell Ray rang a bell as the Minneapolis Building Trades’ Dan McConnell read the name the of each one of the four workers honored that day.

The crowd stood silently.

The workers then resumed a picnic lunch provided at the event and headed back to their jobs.

Three of the four workers honored at the ceremony were members of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 34. “We’ve got a lot of them — very terrible,” said Mark Newman, New Brighton, a 33-year member of Local 34 who  held the cross with the name of Alan Crepeau. 

“I worked with every one of these guys here with the names on the crosses,” Newman noted. He said they represented “the stubborn old-timers who really went to battle to get all the goodies we enjoy now” — like a decent wage, health insurance benefits, pensions and more.

A cross with the name of Alan Crepeau

“They installed the old asbestos products,” Newman noted. “I’ve seen so many die — hundreds.” Workers use different materials now and follow improved safety precautions, Newman said, but “the danger now is the removal of the old asbestos products.

Photo of Local 34 member Ben Yanez, St. Paul held the cross with the name of John W. Phillips during the ceremony. “We’re all a brotherhood and we’re all doing the same thing,” he said. “It’s an honor to hold one of these crosses and keep their legacy alive.”

One of the several hundred construction workers who attended the Workers Memorial Day ceremony and picnic was Alexia Vanderson, Minneapolis, a member of Carpenters Local 322 who is working on the State Capitol restoration project. She said she became a member of Local 322 just in the past year. “I’ve learned everything I can learn about being safe” on the job, she said. “They make sure they teach us safety precautions all the time.”

In addition to the construction trades’ Workers Memorial Day event in Saint Paul, AFSCME members participated in Workers Memorial Day events organized in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Mankato, Rochester, and Roseville.

Steve Share is Editor of the Minneapolis Labor Review.

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