Over four hundred California workers per year on average die on the job. Those deaths are largely preventable if proper care is taken according to the law, yet many employers tragically fail to make the safety of their employees their top priority. Workers Memorial Day was established in 1970 by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations to honor those who have lost their lives, and to draw attention to ongoing hazards and issues that workers face day to day in hopes of preventing future deaths.
This year, we wanted to highlight the amazing work in the South Bay with the opportunity to hold an in-person event that would honor the work of the many great community and worker based organizations in the South Bay such as Step Forward, the Mountain View Day Workers Center, the Vietnamese American Roundtable, PAWIS, WPUSA and the South Bay Labor Council.
An event of this nature takes a lot of work. Worksafe worked closely with Ruth Silver-Taube, who has worked tirelessly to coordinate many of the above South Bay organizations as well as the the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition to ensure worker strength and empowerment during the pandemic to gather the above organizations to coordinate the event. It was a joy working together with these wonderful organizations to create a meaningful night.
It all came together beautifully on Thursday, April 28th at the Laborers International Union Local 270, decorated with flowers, photos of deceased workers, and posters sharing information about some of the hazards that have cost multiple workers their lives in the past few years. We had simultaneous interpretation in Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog to make the event as accessible as possible.
We were honored to host several speakers, including Senator Dave Cortese, Jean Cohen, the Executive Officer of the South Bay Council, Alondra Hernandez from Fight for $15, Maria Marroquin from the Day Labor Center in Mountain View, Federal OSHA Oakland Area Representative Matt Kuzemchak, Cal/OSHA Chief Jeff Killip, Reema Jana from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jerome Shaw of the Unhoused Response Group, Cruz Yanez from SEIU-USWW, Rep. Zoe Logren’s Chief of Staff Esther Peralez-Dieckman, Assemblymember Ash Kalra’s Field Representative Juan Rodriguez (who awarded us an Assembly recognition for the event on Kalra’s behalf), Ellen San Felipe from PAWIS, and Dominic Torriano, Business Representative of Sheet Metal Workers.
Many of our speakers very movingly shared their experiences with the challenges workers continue to face every day here in California, from employers stealing their wages, disregarding their injuries and attempting to get out of paying them workers compensation, to the struggle to survive on low wages while doing difficult and vital work on behalf of their communities.
Members of PAWIS prepared delicious Filipino food, which was enjoyed partway through the program, and we had some lovely union folk music provided by Mike Stout and friends throughout the night, which wrapped up the evening rousingly with much of the audience coming up to the stage, dancing and clapping and singing along to the chorus “We are the working class!”