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COVID-19 crisis puts new spotlight on workplace safety issues raised by annual Workers Memorial Day ceremony
Building Trades cancel annual ceremony at State Capitol

Darrell Ray, retired Carpenters union business agent, rings a bell for each name read at the 2018 Workers Memorial Day ceremony.

Adpated from the Minneapolis Labor Review, April 24, 2020

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

SAINT PAUL — Among the events canceled due to the COVID-19 public health emergency: the annual Workers Memorial Day ceremony organized by the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. This year’s event had been scheduled for April 24 at the Workers Memorial Garden at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Observed nationwide, Workers Memorial Day honors the memory of workers who lost their lives as a result of work-place accidents or work-related illnesses. The day is also a day to renew calls for stronger workplace safety protections.

In the  midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for stronger workplace safety protections is now in the public spotlight like never before. Health care workers, transit workers, grocery store workers, public employees and others are among the thousands nationwide contracting COVID-19 — and dying.

However, instead of implementing stronger protections, the federal government under President Donald Trump has continued its dangerous rolling back of safety standards and was too slow to mobilize the nation’s resources to provide Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers risking their lives every day to serve their communities.

As in past years, the Building Trades’ Workers Memorial Day event would have included reading the names of workers who died in the past year due to workplace accidents or work-related causes.

Here are the names for this year:
Cory Buerke, Cottage Grove, age 38, member of Bricklayers Local 1, construction accident.
Justin Duerr, Des Moines, IA, age 23, member of Laborers Local 563, auto accident.
Tor Heglund, Waconia, age 43, member of Painters Local 386, auto accident on way to work.
Eric Koepp, Litchfield, age 48, member of Operating Engineers Local 49, construction accident.
Dennis "Denny" Moore, Clear Lake, age 82, retired Plumbers Local 15 business agent, Mesothelioma.
Mark Olson, Browerville, age 44, member of Operating Engineers Local 49, construction accident.
Zachary Pumper, Savage, age 34, member of Laborers Local 563, construction accident.

Now, take a quiet moment with this list. Honor the memory of these workers who lost their lives this past year, for whom a bell would have sounded Friday, April 24 at the Workers Memorial Garden.

“We wish we could be there in person for every single one of our members,” commented Dan McConnell, business manager of the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council.

Missing this year’s  gathering is especially poignant, McConnell said, because it also surely would have included an additional memorial for Darlene Ray, wife of retired Carpenters union business agent Darrell Ray. “He’s the one who has been helping to make this ceremony happen for years,” McConnell noted. “As Darrell has helped us mourn our losses, we share in mourning his loss.”

Darrell and Darlene Ray were married for 61 years. Darlene, age 80, died April 11 after a fight with cancer. A celebration of her life will be planned at a later date. Memorials are preferred to Children’s Hospital in Darlene’s name.

Darrell and Darlene Ray.

The Building Trades honored seven members who died at last year’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony at the Minnesota State Capitol.

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