At a memorial gathering, some wept. Others vowed to fight.
By Jane M. Von Bergen
April 28, 2007
Luann Wilson's pain was raw - tears-running-down-the-cheeks raw, red-faced and nose-running raw, inarticulate-sobbing raw.
Coffee cups stopped clinking at yesterday's memorial breakfast for workers who died on the job. Conversations halted, whispering ceased. Some wept themselves, for their own sorrows. Some couldn't look. Some couldn't look away.
Wilson's grief was at once too private and too public.
But that's how it is when a mother's child dies - even if the child was 23 years old, a grown man working as a construction laborer.
"Seven months and seven days ago, I lost the most precious thing in the world," Wilson said sobbing at the Workers Memorial Day commemoration at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall in Philadelphia. Similar events are held around the nation on the last Friday in April.
Her son, Jeffrey Martin, died Sept. 20, when he fell several stories to his death at the Symphony House construction site on Broad Street. He landed in a garage area, and was impaled by construction material.
Martin, of Egg Harbor Township, had been employed by Fabi Construction Inc.
Fabi, of Egg Harbor Township, had been one of 15 companies sued in connection with the 2003 death of four construction workers and the injuries of 21 others when the top five stories of the Tropicana Casino and Resort's 10-story parking garage collapsed. On April 12, the companies agreed to a $101 million settlement in the Tropicana case. No one from Fabi would comment yesterday about Martin's death.
In Philadelphia, Workers Memorial Day usually includes a breakfast at the union hall on Columbus Boulevard, followed by a funeral march toward Penn's Landing. Then, mourners file by a symbolic coffin and read the names of the dead, one by one, dropping a rose into the Delaware River for each worker.
Yesterday's rains kept this year's event for 275 inside, but did nothing to change the tone set by a quote on a stage banner from the famous labor leader Mother Jones.
"Mourn for the dead," the banner read. "Fight like hell for the living."
If Luann Wilson, herself a union steward, represented those in mourning for the dead, others talked about fighting for the living.
Richard Trumka, a former miner and the secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO, said that "more than 50,000 workers die of occupational diseases a year . . . and there's no outrage.
"More than 100 workers get killed a week, and there's no outrage," he said while criticizing cutbacks at the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The rate of fatal work injuries is down almost 25 percent in recent years - from 5.3 per 100,000 workers in 1994 to 4 per 100,000 in 2005, the most recent year for which Labor Department figures are available. The department said 5,734 workers suffered fatal injuries on the job in 2005.
Even so, Trumka said standards have been relaxed and there are now fewer workplace inspections - political decisions that adversely affect the safety of workers. "Let's follow these flowers with strength," to push the government to strengthen and enforce safety rules, he said.
Albert D'Imperio, area director of the Philadelphia OSHA office, attended yesterday's breakfast. He said his office worked with the resources it received.
Among yesterday's speakers was Irene Warnock. Her son, Charles Carpenter, was 22 on July 2, 2005, when he was electrocuted while repairing the Arctic Circle amusement park ride in Seaside, N.J.
"No mother should have to bury her son," Warnock told the group before the reading of the names of 148 workers who died in 2006 and earlier this year.
"I'm here to fight like hell for the living," she said. "If anyone needs my help, call me. I'm ready."
Workplace fatalities: 224
Rate per 100,000 workers: 3.7
Workplace fatalities: 112
Rate per 100,000 workers: 2.6
Workplace fatalities: 11
Rate per 100,000 workers: 2.6
Workplace fatalities: 5,734
Rate per 100,000 workers: 4.0
Based on an AFL-CIO analysis of U.S. Department of Labor statistics for 2005.