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Workers Memorial Day 2020: Western New York Labor Honors Fallen Workers While Focusing On Worker Protections In This Time Of The COVID-19 Crisis

Published Wednesday, April 29, 2020
by Staff
Workers Memorial Day 2020: Western New York Labor Honors Fallen Workers While Focusing On Worker Protections In This Time Of The COVID-19 Crisis

(BUFFALO, NEW YORK) - The Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF), the Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health (WNYCOSH) joined forces Tuesday (April 28th) to commemorate Workers Memorial Day 2020 by honoring the current sacrifices Essential Workers are making in the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic, while honoring the ultimate sacrifices of Workers who were killed on the job over the past year. 

Due to COVID-19 and the social distancing it now requires, those from the Western New York Labor Movement, Health and Safety Advocates and Workers came together in a very different way this year.  The annual ceremony that would have physically taken place at the Workers’ Memorial in Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, just south of Buffalo, was instead held on the tele-conferencing Zoom platform.

During the hour-long presentation, Worker Advocates took the time to remember the fallen, while at the same timed dedicating themselves to continue the fight to better protect all Workers.  

Several Essential Workers from the health care, transportation and service industries also participated and shared their experiences from the front lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic.  

The event also included a roll call of fallen Workers over the past 12 months.

Buffalo Labor Council President Denise Abbott - a Health and Safety Representative from Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1168, said: “This year marks the (50th) year of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which promises ‘all’ Workers ‘the right to a safe workplace.’  Unfortunately in 2018 for (5,250) Workers ‘that promise was lost.’  On Workers Memorial Day ‘we are here to remember them.’  ‘At this same time we are facing a public health crisis,’ the COVID-19 Pandemic - a public health crisis ‘that has brought all of us challenges and changed our lives in unprecedented ways.’  Working ‘shoulder to shoulder to care for the sick and dying, we should never have to beg our leaders to keep us safe.’  Essential Workers ‘shouldn’t have to beg for protections while barely earning nothing more than a Living Wage.’  This is ‘unacceptable.’  ‘My plea is you make a decision today to contribute to the fight against accidents and deaths in the workplace, for stronger protections for all Workers and for legislation to be put in place to hold employers accountable for non-compliance and cutting corners.’  ‘Add’ legislation that ‘includes all the dangers at work, including infectious diseases and workplace violence.’  ‘Hold (the Trump) Administration accountable for reducing and repealing key protections and reducing budgets and staff of safety agencies.’  ‘Demand they be restored.’  ‘Stand united with me and all my Union Brothers and Sisters and continue our fight to protect the right of every Worker to a safe workplace - and let us not give up until that promise is fulfilled.’”

Among those others who delivered remarks were:  

WNYALF President Richard Lipsitz: “The ‘way forward is a little murky, but we must focus (on this) like a laser and redouble our efforts.’  We are going through an ‘unprecedented and national’ health crisis.  ‘First and foremost, we are concerned about the health and welfare of our Front-Line Workers.’  ‘We pledge to continue providing information and working with’ our Governmental Officials, as well as the State AFL-CIO and the National AFL-CIO.  ‘We are determined to do what we can to save lives.’ ‘We will keep fighting and get through this - together.’”

WNYCOSH Executive Director Germain Harnden: “As we join Workers around the world to remember those who have been killed on the job or died from workplace illnesses - we are ‘honoring’ Western New Yorker’s we’ve lost during the past year, ‘and those who have never been recognized.’  We’re also here to ‘fight for the protection of Workers who are put at risk every day when they leave home to go to work.’  When employers ‘fail to take their legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace seriously - Workers are forced to take unnecessary risks to do their jobs.’  ‘In times of crisis, all too often that negligence extends to the Federal Government as well, when they choose to relax or suspend Workplace Safety and Health Standards.’  In the name of ‘sacrifice and solidarity, Workers are asked to put their lives at risk to compensate for the lack of crisis planning.’  This has led to an ‘unprecedented increase in the number of Worker deaths - in particular with Front-Line Essential Workers,’ including Health Care and Homecare Workers, Farm Workers, Workers in food processing plants, Cleaners, Grocery, Delivery, Transportation and Postal Workers, First Responders and other Workers ‘providing the necessary services during this time of crisis.’  While Essential Workers ‘are taking risks every day to do their jobs and to keep our country functioning, businesses are lobbying to reduce their own obligations to provide a safe and heathy workplace for their Workers.’  ‘Sadly, OSHA (the U.S. Occupational, Safety & Health Administration) has taken a hands-off approach during this time of crisis.’  ‘We need to learn the lessons from the past so when another crisis situation occurs, similar mistakes are avoided and the safety of Workers becomes our top priority.’  During the ‘midst of this crisis we are constantly reminded how much we are relying on our Essential Workers’ – ‘we need to take every measure to keep them safe.’  On this Workers Memorial Day let’s continue to ‘fight like hell for the living, even as we remember and pray for the dead.’” 

United Steelworkers (USW) District 4 Rapid Response Coordinator Mark McDonald: “(Action from the Federal Government) ‘has been inconsistent, at best.’  The ‘reckless deregulation’ (of so many Federal Agencies) by the Trump Administration has (resulted) in (providing the American People) with ‘bad advice.’”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1342 President Jeff Richardson, whose Unions represent a couple of thousand Members here in Western New York, many employed by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said: “Only (80%) of our Members have PPEs right now.  Our Union purchased (16,000) pairs of gloves.  Our employer ‘finally bought’ (50,000) masks for our Members.  Eight of our Members ‘have tested positive (for COVID-19) and many more are quarantined.’  ‘It is a scary time right now.’  ‘We need to get everyone tested.’”

CWA Local 1168 Health Care Worker and Nurse Sarah Buckley said: “We ‘have not had proper gear, but Health Care Workers have made a lot of noise about that’ (in an effort to get the PPEs that they need).  This is a ‘very dangerous virus and everyone’s scared.’  What we thought was it ‘was going to be the elderly (who were the ones hit hard the most by the Coronavirus), but we’re seeing those much younger’ (who are getting it).  ‘We’ve seen a lot of death.’  ‘Still, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Union Health Care Worker.’”

Meghan Van Alstine, a local Gas Station Employee, also spoke: “I am a forty-year-old Mom with three kids and I’m an Assistant Manager at a local gas station.  ‘I’m afraid that I will infect my children.’  I think (employers) view us as ‘expendable’ Crew Members.  The ‘big question is why did it take so long’ (to pinpoint the problem and begin to take concrete action against COVID-19)?  ‘I think we (Essential Workers) are valued, but we’ve always been taken for granted.’”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins of Buffalo and New York State Senators Timothy Kennedy and Patrick Gallivan also joined the event via Zoom, as did several other local Labor Movement and Worker Advocate notables.

To Watch The Video Presentation Of The Ceremony, Go To:

Screen Shot Photos Taken By During Tuesday’s On-Line Ceremony.



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