Remembering the Past, Fighting for the Future

Duronda Pope

Duronda Pope

Editor’s note: The Department of Labor will host a Workers’ Memorial Day event at 10:30 a.m. ET on April 28. The author of this guest post, Duronda Pope, will participate. Watch at dol.gov/live.


May 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day, a day set aside to mourn the dead and fight for the living.

But that’s every day for me.

For 10 years, my job with the United Steelworkers has been to jump in to help when a member of the union has been killed or permanently injured on the job. I’ve been there for hundreds of families at the lowest times in their lives, when they have to imagine going on without their wife or husband, parent or child.

Earlier this month, a 32-year-old was checking fire extinguishers when he walked into a room full of deadly nitrogen. He and his wife had just lost a child, and then she lost him, too.

Before that, a member was crushed by a falling steel door. She was a mother and a grandmother, and was just six months into the job.

I went to the home of a member who died after falling 75 feet into a pit, and I met his two sons, Jason and Josh, 6 and 7 years old. They were telling me about a fishing trip with their dad when his truck pulled up and they ran over to it, so excited. But it wasn’t him behind the wheel, and we had to explain why.

I’ve seen too much pain, all of it unnecessary, because no matter what the cause of death turned out to be, there was always a way to prevent it.

Our union alone deals with dozens of members’ workplace deaths annually. In total, more than 4,000 workers die on the job in this country every year — far too many.

I’m proud to work with the Steelworkers’ Emergency Response Team, which now has 42 volunteers across the country. We do anything and everything we can to help. That might mean filling out insurance forms, arranging for coverage of medical bills, or finding inexpensive lodging near a hospital for a family member. We help victims and families find legal representation when they need it, and put them in touch with therapists who understand trauma and loss.

With my faith as a foundation and support from colleagues at the local and district level, I get great satisfaction from the work that I do. Still, I wish my job did not exist.

That is why the second part of Workers’ Memorial Day is so important. Along with mourning the dead, we must continue fighting for the safety and well-being of today’s workers, so that no more families have to hear that their loved one is never coming home from work again.

 

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This has been reposted from the Department of Labor Blog.

Duronda Pope is an emergency response team coordinator for the United Steelworkers.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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