Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living

PITTSBURGH – The chilling clang of the metal bell stilled the spring air April 28 as hundreds of workers gathered to remember their brothers and sisters killed on the job and to recharge their batteries to defend and advance workplace safety by defeating Bush in November. The bell rang once for each worker killed at work in Allegheny County. It rang 13 times.

“We have to stop this low-wage economy where dead workers are an accepted cost of doing business,” declared Dr. Donna Puleio Spadaro, whose brother Gary, a truck driver, was killed at work. Spadaro’s voice trembled as she began her story, but then resounded off the downtown skyscrapers as she condemned corporate and Bush administration policies that peg a worker’s life at $6,000 and “trivialize injuries.”

“It is (only) a misdemeanor to kill a worker,” she said. “Companies need to be held criminally liable when they willfully violate safety laws.” Spadaro works closely with the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor in its campaign to enforce and strengthen health and safety standards from coal mines to offices.

On Workers Memorial Day, April 28, unions sponsored nine events across the state. Throughout May, labor will host seminars, lobbying efforts in Harrisburg and Washington and a public crusade to save worker’s lives and limbs.

State AFL-CIO President Billy George, himself a steelworker and former local union president of USWA 1211 at LTV’s Aliquippa mill, said it would take Pennsylvania’s 68 Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) inspectors 94 years to complete one initial round of safety inspections at the state’s workplaces. It is little wonder, despite the massive plant closings, that 13 workers in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) alone did not return home from the job from March 2003 to March 2004.

“Today is the first day to start our campaign to focus on the issues of working families. It is time to put George Bush in that unsafe line, the unemployment line.”

State, county and city elected officials all gave support to the unions’ efforts.

Murder in the name of profit and government neglect has a long history in coal, construction and heavy manufacturing in Pennsylvania. That memory was rekindled that evening when over 100 union leaders and members, clergy, students and residents filled the hall in Springdale to honor 186 miners killed in an explosion 550 feet beneath the ground 100 years ago. On Jan. 25, 1904, the Harwick coal mine owned by Duquesne Light Company blew up when a spark ignited methane gas.

Sean Patrick George, steamfitter and member of Local 449 who suffered serious injuries in a more recent explosion that killed his buddy, John Rodgers, 28, summed up the day’s events.

“We can change a system that cares more about profits than America’s working men and women beginning in November,” he said. “If we speak as one, we can silence the bell.”

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com.