USW Members Mourn Fallen Co-Workers

Day two of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Conference included perhaps the most somber moment of the weeklong event, as the more than 1,600 attendees paid tribute to 46 co-workers who lost their lives since the last conference in March 2018.

The audience in the Pittsburgh convention center stood in silence for several minutes as the names of fallen workers slowly scrolled past on video screens. The memorial included a poetry reading by USW member Connie Brown and a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” by USW Emergency Response Team (ERT) Coordinator Duronda Pope.

Seeing the names, ages, local numbers and workplaces of the dead “brings importance to the work that we do here,” said International President Tom Conway as he welcomed company safety representatives for the first day of joint labor-management workshops. 

Coming to a consensus on health and safety issues is a good foundation on which union members and bosses can build a collaborative relationship that extends to other issues, Conway said.

When a worker dies or suffers a catastrophic injury, it doesn’t matter whether that worker was union or non-union, management or contractor, said ERT Director Al McDougall, whose team responds immediately any time a USW workplace suffers such an event.

McDougall encouraged all locals to contact the ERT as soon as they experience a tragic incident using the 24-hour ERT hotline: (866) 526-3480. 

Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn said he has seen firsthand why preventing such incidents must be the union’s top priority, recalling the day he witnessed his best friend lose his life while on the job in a glass plant.  

“When you experience that, you never forget about it,” Shinn said. “That’s why we are so dedicated to what we do.”

International Vice President Fred Redmond said that coming up with solutions to safety issues is easier when management takes a proactive role.

Redmond cited as an example the 40-year battle the USW waged to implement stricter federal standards for workplace beryllium exposure.

For decades, companies opposed a new standard, and action was delayed. Then the USW partnered with Materion Brush, one of the world’s largest producers of beryllium, and change became a reality. New standards began taking effect in 2017. 

“Collaboration isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary,” Redmond said.

Another issue for which labor-management cooperation is key is the problem of workplace violence, he said. Redmond noted that health care workers in particular are vulnerable due to violent outbursts from patients or family members. The USW represents 50,000 workers in health care fields.

Redmond urged members to contact their congressional representatives and tell them to vote for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309/S. 851), which would require workplaces to develop and implement violence prevention plans.

“The health care industry needs to get this message,” he said.

Ultimately, the most successful workplace health and safety programs are those in which every member is involved, said International Vice President David McCall. 

“We are our co-workers and our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers,” McCall said. “This is work that can never stop.”


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