Iowans honor the fallen on Workers’ Memorial Day

Iowans paid tribute to fallen workers during the week of Workers’ Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance observed on April 28.

For 30 years Workers’ Memorial Day has not just been a day of mourning, but a call to action in the fight for workers’ safety. As vital protections are being stripped away by the Trump administration, this call is as urgent as ever.

On April 25, the AFL-CIO released the 2019 edition of their annual report, “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” which details the condition of workers’ safety (or lack thereof) in the U.S.

According to the Executive Summary, “Nearly 50 years after the passage of the nation’s job safety laws, the toll of workplace injury, illness and death remains too high, and too many workers remain at serious risk. There is much more work to be done.”

The report stated that 5,147 workers were killed on the job and more than 95,000 died from occupational diseases in 2017. That means for each day of the year, approximately 275 workers died due to dangerous workplace conditions.

Iowa was the “14th most dangerous state for workers” and was ranked number 36 in workplace deaths, based on data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2018, 26 Iowa workers aged 22 to 65 lost their lives. They died from falls, electrocution, collapsing trenches, being pinned under equipment and struck by machinery, industrial and construction accidents, fire and other causes.

Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health Director Brandi Janssen, Ph.D., told Eastern Iowa News outlet KCRG-TV9 on April 26, “Nearly every occupational fatality is preventable.

“You have to take the time, you have to plan for it. Every industry is responsible, they’re responsible for their workers. And none of these deaths that we’re talking about today should have ever happened.”

From April 26 to 29, Workers’ Memorial Day events were hosted in Iowa cities: Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City, Keokuk, Sioux City and Waterloo.

Gov. Kim Reynolds attended the ceremony outside the Iowa State House in Des Moines on April 29. Reynolds’ appearance can be viewed as a cynical publicity stunt, considering she and her GOP colleagues are in lockstep with the Trump administration’s anti-worker agenda.

Reynolds, her predecessor Terry Branstad and GOP legislators have cut taxes for the rich, eviscerated bargaining rights for public union workers, frozen the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and recently weakened worker’s compensation. They are not on labor’s side, but on the side of the exploiters.

Among the findings in the AFL-CIO report, nearly 3.5 million workers across all industries had work-related injuries and illnesses reported nationwide by employers in 2017. However, many cases are underreported, with the real estimate being closer to 7 million to 10.5 million.

Job fatalities decreased slightly in 2017 compared to the previous year, from 3.6 per 100,000 workers to 3.5 per 100,000. Regardless, any injury or loss of life that could have been prevented — and wasn’t — is unacceptable.

The Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, in their newsletter, Iowa Labor News, wrote, “We will stand united against the ongoing attacks on workers’ rights and protections and demand that elected officials put workers’ well-being above corporate interests.”

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