BURNABY—CUPE members throughout B.C. joined district labour councils, other unions, elected officials, WorkSafe BC representatives, and the public on April 28 to mark the Day of Mourning.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill spoke in Delta about the increasing number of worker deaths last year. “It’s a national disgrace that 1,055 workers lost their lives in Canada last year. One hundred and sixty workers in B.C. died because of accidents and occupational disease.”
O’Neill commented on how crucial it is that CUPE and other unions commemorate this national day and fight for workplace safety. “It’s totally off the radar screen in the media,” explains O’Neill. “There is no shortage of reports on the 27 cases of Swine flu reported so far in B.C., yet 160 worker deaths can hardly make it to the second section of most papers.”
O’Neill was speaking at Delta City Hall where CUPE 454 members (municipal workers in Delta) have been commemorating the Day of Mourning for 10 years. The ceremony was held at a special outdoor area that was designed and constructed by Delta’s outside workers. Bill Davyduke, an executive shop steward and member of CUPE BC’s OH&S Committee, emceed the event and shared history with the 60-plus folks in attendance. Everyone was given a yellow carnation – the workers’ flower. After a minute of silence, two widows of CUPE members placed their carnations at the memorial and others attending followed suit.
Elsewhere in Delta, CUPE 1091 (Delta schools) president Colin Pawson and members Ian Reade and Patti Price, along with safety officer Vanessa Ezaki, raised the CUPE Day of Mourning flag in front of the Delta School District Board office.
The Day of Mourning is based on a 1984 resolution written by CUPE’s National Health and Safety Committee, who recommended the creation of a remembrance day for workers killed or injured on the job. CUPE also proposed and adopted the canary in a cage as the internationally recognized symbol for the Day of Mourning, based on the canaries taken into coal mines in the 19th Century. Because canaries are more sensitive to airborne hazards and the absence of oxygen in the air then humans, if the canary died, miners knew they had to evacuate the mine quickly.
In Vancouver, 2009’s Day of Mourning started at 7 a.m. at the Vancouver Art Gallery with 160 coffins parading through the streets, signifying the 160 workers who lost their lives in B.C. last year. This event was hosted by the BC Federation of Labour, along with both the Vancouver and New Westminster district labour councils.
CLC president Ken Georgetti told the crowd of 500 that in B.C. there are more wildlife inspectors than there are safety inspectors.
Carolyn Rice from the New Westminster Labour Council said, “Gordon Campbell may be tossing and turning all night because of his deficit budget but I predict that he has not lost one minute of sleep since he cut one-third of WCB regulations, slashed loss of earning benefits, or cut rehabilitation services for injured workers.”
CUPE 402 (Surrey municipal employees) held a service at the City Parks Works Yard that was attended by over 150 workers, the mayor and council, senior staff and a representative from WorkSafe BC. Members of CUPE 402’s OH&S committee – Tom Wiebe, Rick Tanaka and Laurie Larsen – spoke about the history of the Day of Mourning, read the workers’ statement, and ended with information put out by the BC Fed on the 2009 theme, “Is today the day you die at work?”
Marlene Kantz, a member of CUPE 608 who also sits on CUPE BC’s OH&S Committee, was quoted on the front page of the Penticton Herald, “The number of workers killed in B.C. last year is more than the fallen Canadian soldiers (118) during seven years of fighting in Afghanistan.” Kantz noted that it is vital that employers provide a safe work environment, and it’s equally important for employees to obey all safety procedures and to report any hazards to their employer. Kantz spoke at Penticton’s Day of Mourning event.
In Penticton, CUPE 523 (Okanagan Valley School Employees) and CUPE 608 (Penticton civic workers) joined the South Okanagan labour council for a ceremony at the memorial tree at the McLaren Park Arena. The arena is dedicated to the memory of a young worker, Edwin Malcolm McLaren (1948-1965), who died in an industrial accident. Young workers, like all workers, have a right to a safe and healthy workplace. Last year in B.C. four young workers died while at work.
In Victoria, CUPE 2081 (Camosun College support staff) president Jerry Oetting led the ceremony at their Day of Mourning memorial. Oetting observed that at Camosun College members enjoy the benefits of a proactive Health and Safety Committee made up of representatives from all the work groups. “Health and safety is an important part of training for many of our students, especially in the trades and technology areas,” Oetting noted, “Today our students learn the value of health and safety in the workplace and our instructors and support staff are diligent in ensuring that students use appropriate safety equipment and practices.”
In Abbotsford, a crowd of almost 300 turned out for the unveiling of a monument in tribute to city workers Frank Hart and Joe Kuntz, who lost their lives in the mid-70’s. The black marble monument was designed by CUPE 774 past-president Scott Mason and built in North Vancouver. CUPE 774 president Ron Hunter explains, “I’m proud that we have finally recognized our fallen brothers with this monument. We hope that no more names are ever added.”
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April 2009 Occupational Health and Safety Newsletter
CUPE BC Occupational Health and Safety information