Working people gather at Veterans Park in Pittsfield for memorial, then join Verizon picket line
Photo Gallery | Worker's Memorial Day ceremony at Pittsfield Veterans Park
PITTSFIELD — While picketers marched around the Verizon store on Hubbard Avenue on Saturday, steelworkers, carpenters, nurses, service workers, engineers and other working people gathered in a two-part demonstration downtown.
The actions began at the Veterans Park on South Street and followed Worker's Memorial Day — the anniversary of the April 28, 1971, effective date of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
"Today is about what most folks don't pay attention to: The unseen worker, the working hero," Tim Craw, business representative and organizer of Local Union 108 New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said. "You drive by a construction site and think, 'Oh, that's a pretty building going up,' not about the people toiling every day, leaving their house at 5 a.m."
He added, "This is one small part of exposing it to the public."
Part one saw the crowd of more than 50 pay somber respect to the 63 workers who died on the job in Massachusetts in 2015 — up 14 over 2014 — and 11 who died so far in 2016.
The dead varied widely in occupation. They were construction workers, carpenters, firefighters, police, mechanics, musicians, plumbers, bakers, chefs, electricians, truckers, a cell phone store clerk, a pizza delivery driver and a cardiac surgeon.
Brian Morrison and Liz Recko-Morrison took turns reading the names while the stood around them in a semicircle, heads down and holding signs emblazoned with workers' slogans.
Reading the names was a "humbling" "sacred" experience, Morrison said.
"Everyone has a right to return home from work safe at the end of the day," he said.
The crowd cheered for a bolstering of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA regulates employer practices and labor conditions with enforcement powers to fine, but its fines are very low compared to other government agencies.
The AFL-CIO has produced reports showing OSHA can only inspect workplaces once every 131 years on average given its staffing levels, and has found an average of 13 workers die each day and another 137 per day succumb to occupational diseases.
"I remember well [when OSHA was established]," Mike Florio, executive director of Western Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said. "I was working at the Northfield Mountain. It was a big joke. There was cartoons of an OSHA-approved cowboy."
He added, "It's absolutely no joke when you have to go to a loved one, a family — like I've had to — and tell them that their loved one is not coming home from work. Or, that their loved one has lost a limb, is in the hospital fighting for their life. Today, we need OSHA more and more and more, and stronger fines and more agents to enforce the laws. And more laws."
OSHA employes a total of 2,265 and has a budget of $552 million.
Art Butler, a former U.S. Department of Labor employee and OSHA business agent, said Berkshire County almost never gets a routine inspection.
"Most of the time they show up only after there's a fatality," Butler said, citing a worker death at Williams College that occurred in recent years.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, brought a heartfelt message based on painful experience to Saturday's demonstration. When Mark was 30, in 2011, his father died on the job while working for Verizon.
"One day my father went to work and never came home," Mark said. "No one should ever have to deal with that, to live through that."
He added, "We have to take it upon ourselves to make sure we stand up to people who are trying to make us work too fast, to work unsafely, that we're never doing something that puts ourselves or our coworkers in jeopardy. Our families want us to come home."
Part two of Saturday's gathering saw the crowd march down South Street to Park Square, where they demonstrated in solidarity with striking Verizon workers.
A mass of 39,000 landline and cable employees of the company are currently participating in the strike — the largest in the U.S. in four years. Strikers are protesting the company's practice of outsourcing call center jobs overseas while other telecommunications companies do the opposite.
"They're striking for job security, not a raise," Mark said. "What they're doing is important. They're one of the last, large, unionized workforces, and we're hoping the stand strong for the sake of labor everywhere."
He added, "It's going to have an effect on their stores. I wouldn't break a picket line to go inside."
Craw said, "Worker abuse is extremely prevalent, even here in liberal Massachusetts, and it's not limited to the undocumented."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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