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IFT president honors fallen workers on Workers' Memorial Day

4/29/2015
IFT President Dan Montgomery attended the Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council's Workers' Memorial Day ceremony on April 28 to honor fallen workers, support their grieving families, and recommit our unions to making workplaces safer and healthier.


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IFT President Dan Montgomery offers moving remarks to guests and families at the annual Workers' Memorial Day ceremony at the Illinois State Library in Springfield on Tuesday.

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President Montgomery (l) is joined by State Treasurer Mike Frerichs (center) and Scott Saunders, president of the Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council.

 

President Montgomery delivered the following remarks:

"Brothers and Sisters, my name is Dan Montgomery and I am the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. We represent 103,000 dedicated men and women who work in our state’s schools, colleges, universities, and state agencies around Illinois. I am privileged to be here with you on this very important day - Workers' Memorial Day.

Each year, we gather to honor the women and men, our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, our brothers and sisters, who have lost their lives on the job. And to show our support for the families who continue to grieve for and love them.

We’re honored to have some of those families here today, and I want to recognize them: The Edwards Family joins us today in memory of their loved one, Richard Durbin, a member of the Paperworkers, Local 26. Rosella, Robert, and Rebecca Adams are here to remember their loved one, Ronald Adams. Ronald was a member of the United Mine Workers, Local 12. And Mary Louise Catteau joins us in memory of her loved one Senei Catteau, who was a member of IBEW Local 1361.

Your pain is unimaginable, and our hearts go out to you and all the families of the workers who lost their lives on the job. It is for Richard, and Ronald, and Senei and so many others that we gather here today to pay our respects, and we want you to know that we will never forget them. Thank you for being here today as we remember them and grieve with you for your loss.

While today is a day to remember, it is also a day we pledge to ACT to prevent more loss of life on the job. Today we come together to recommit ourselves to the fight for safe jobs and healthy workplaces for ALL workers.

Since the first job safety laws were passed, we’ve made great strides in making workplaces safer. Fewer workers are losing their lives on the job, and we celebrate that.

But these improvements didn’t just happen because they were the right thing to do. They happened because workers and our unions organized, fought, and demanded action from employers and our elected public officials. We stood up and we spoke out. We would not be silenced.

These safety improvements weren’t handed to us by generous employers who were putting our best interests ahead of their own profits. No - virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because working men and women like me and you joined together in our unions to demand these protections.

In the days of Mother Jones and before, for Illinois miners in Virden and Pana and Mt. Olive and elsewhere, they worried about bad top, bad roads, bad shots, and bad air. The safety issues might be different today, but the issue of safety remains.

It was solidarity and collective action that helped to secure the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the mine safety law we have today.

It was working people, through our unions, who demanded and won stronger standards to protect workers from chemical hazards on the job.

Through our unions, we have made jobs safer and saved lives—not just for union members, but for all workers. But our work is far from done.

Despite the progress we’ve made over the last four decades, in 2013, 4,400 workers were killed on the job in the United States. Right here in Illinois, 176 workers lost their lives. Every day in this country, 12 workers die on the job as a result of workplace injuries.

But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, another 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. That’s a total of 150 workers dying each and every day in our great country. It is unacceptable.

The workers we’ve lost were men and women no different from any of us here today, who simply got up each day to do their job and support their families. But one day they went to work and never returned home to those who love them.

Every single life lost on the job is one too many. We must do better. And by working together, we will.

We will demand even stronger protections and safer workplaces, and stand up against corporate-minded elected leaders intent on taking away our collective bargaining rights and returning us to the dark ages of workplace safety.

We will stand up against employers who try to cut corners to increase profit and put workers in harm’s way.

We will fight for protections against the growing threat of workplace assault, which disproportionately impacts women in healthcare and service jobs.

We will demand protections against the new and emerging hazards that threaten healthcare workers, including pandemic flu and infectious diseases like the deadly Ebola virus.

Just as Mother Jones fought for children and the first child labor laws, we who teach must speak strongly against the gun violence that claims the lives of our children on the streets, and, horrifically now, even in our schools, where it has also claimed the lives of teachers and other school workers.

We will demand an update to OSHA standards to protect construction workers from deadly hazards like silica dust, which causes lung disease and cancer. The Obama administration has proposed a new standard to reduce exposure to this deadly hazard, and we will make fight to make it law.

We will increase workplace protections for Latino workers—particularly undocumented immigrant workers—who work in some of the most dangerous jobs, often with little or no protection, and have a much higher risk of being killed on the job than other workers.

And in our own state today, unbelievably there are still those who seek to weaken unions and our ability to protect workers. Today is a day when we should strengthen our resolve to move toward greater voice and greater protection, not less.

Similarly, across the country, there are those in politics and business whose goal is to take away workers’ rights for the sake of corporate profits.

We must fight back. We can’t allow greed to put workers in danger.

We must educate, mobilize, and organize union members and join with our allies in our communities to lobby and bargain for the stronger safety and health protections needed to save workers’ lives.

So today, let us pay tribute to those who have lost their lives on the job or who have been injured or made sick.

Let us call for an end to the unnecessary deaths and avoidable illnesses of our brothers and sisters.

And let us pledge to continue to fight through our unions for our right to have a powerful voice in our workplaces to protect all workers from harm.  

Down the highway a bit in Mt. Olive, Illinois, is the Mother Jones Memorial. It's a beautiful place, a peaceful place to honor mineworkers and Mother Jones, who fought so hard on their behalf.  We pray for the same kind of peace, "the peace which passeth all understanding,"  for the souls of those who have perished, and peace for those left behind.  

Today, let us honor those we have lost and who we celebrate here today by committing to what Mother Jones told us to do:  “Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”

Thank you."


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