WORKER’S MEMORIAL WEEK 2021

Leading the Fight for Safe & Healthy Workplaces

This is Workers’ Memorial Week. April 28th is the day when people around the world remember and honor the many workers who go to work in the morning but do not return home in the evening.

Investigations of these workplace fatalities invariably show that few of them result from pure “accidents.” Most could have been prevented by adherence to OSHA Standards, health and safety training and employer mandated safety protocols.

As expected, COVID-19 deaths dominated workplace fatalities in the Southern Tier and southern Finger Lakes in the last year. At least four are known: Garrett Blackwell, Margaret Allen, Judith Hughes and Ron Byron. They all died from COVID-19, three contracted the virus while providing patient care or related services.

Yet another farmworker, Jesus Salucio Alvarado, was killed on the job in Lisle in Broome County, reportedly when a chain from another vehicle that was being used to pull his tractor from the mud released and struck him in the head. There is an ongoing OSHA investigation into that incident at Glezen Farms.

Judith Hughes was a nursing aide for Bethany Nursing Home in Horseheads who contracted COVID-19 while providing care for patients. An OSHA investigation resulted in Bethany being assessed two serious violations for lack of medical evaluation and fit testing of respirators. Bethany was fined $13,653 for the resulting fatality.

Garrett Blackwell was an LPN at Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital in Endicott who contracted COVID-19 while providing care for patients. An OSHA investigation into the 10/13/20 fatality is ongoing. Another OSHA complaint against the hospital was filed in January of this year; that case is also pending.

Margaret Allen was an LPN at the Elcor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Horseheads who contracted COVID-19 while providing care for patients. An OSHA investigation into the fatality is ongoing.

Ron Byron was a former union member who worked part-time in transportation at the Corning Center for Rehabilitation & Health Care. He contracted COVID-19 while operating a transport van on the job and later died. An OSHA investigation into the fatality is ongoing.

Gulraj Gill was a long-haul tractor trailer driver from California. In March, deputies from the Broome County Sheriff’s Office said the tractor-trailer was traveling north approaching Trim Street in Kirkwood, Broome County when the truck went off the pavement on the shoulder of the roadway and struck an embankment causing it to overturn. He died two days later in the hospital.

Cole Wood was a tractor-trailer driver for Richard Gray Trucking. As he rounded a curve on a country road in Seneca County, he encountered a slow-moving farm tractor on the same road. Cole swerved into a ditch to avoid hitting the farm vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.

It is impossible to estimate the total number of individuals who died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. Although federal agencies are not collecting data on workplace transmissions and fatalities, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have been analyzing death certificates in the state for years. They estimate excess deaths in the past year indicate significant increases in mortality from COVID-19 in the following occupational categories:

  • Food & agricultural workers – 39% increase
  • Transportation & logistics workers – 28% increase
  • Health & emergency workers. — 19% increase

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), workers of color are three times more likely to become hospitalized from COVID-19. The risk of dying is also twice as high for these workers. Moreover, low-wage workers account for disproportionately higher rates of severe outcomes per capita. The evidence clearly suggests workers need more support and protection. Ultimately, COVID-19 is proving just how difficult life is for working families in America.

For more information on COVID-19 in the workplace, visit the National COSH website.

Although Workers’ Memorial Week began on April 28th, workers around the world also recognize May 1st as May Day. You can read more about May Day at the International Workers of the World (IWW) website. Its origins go back to martyrs who died fighting for basic workers’ rights at the Haymarket Massacre over a century ago. Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers’ Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in over 50 countries around the world but not here in the U.S. In the earlier part of the 20th century, the U.S. government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public’s memory by establishing “Law and Order Day” on May 1. We can draw many parallels between the events of 1886 and today. President Biden made a Presidential Proclamation naming May 1st this year as “Loyalty Day.” In his proclamation, the American people are asked to pledge “allegiance to the project of this great Nation and the democratic ideals woven into the fabric of our Constitution.” As Workers’ Memorial Week draws to a close this year, let us all remember the importance of labor solidarity in the face of hardship and opposition.

This great nation is only as strong as its workers.

Midstate COSH encourages families of those killed in workplace incidents to be in touch with United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities. USMWF, a national organization, offers support and advocacy for families and can be contacted through Tonya Ford at tonyaford@usmwf.org.