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Remembering Workers Memorial Day

Shawn McDonnell, WCFLC President
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Today, April 28th, we honor Workers Memorial Day, a day where we remember all those killed or injured needlessly on the job and continue the fighting for strong safety and health protections. From the preventable death of 5 workers when molten slag fell upon them almost 5 years ago at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach to the hundreds of workers exposed to toxic levels of lead at the Gopher Resource lead smelter in Tampa to the countless frontline workers who served through the pandemic with or without personal protective equipment (PPE), workers suffer when profit-seeking corporations go unchecked and policy-making and enforcement fall short.

This past legislative session, Tallahassee failed to pass a bi-partisan Heat Illness Prevention bill (SB 732 / HB 887) that would have enacted protections for workers exposed to heat, including access to water, breaks, and shade while also providing training for workers and supervisors to recognize and treat heat stress. As temperatures continue to climb, instances of heat stress are only going to rise. Failure to pass this critical safety legislation shows how Tallahassee prioritizes worker safety.

With the support of Tampa City Council, the West Central Florida Labor Council obtained an Apprenticeship Ordinance last year which requires that major public construction projects use 12 percent of their labor from state-registered apprenticeship programs. This mirrors an ordinance recently passed in St. Petersburg.  Apprenticeships programs are the industry gold standard for construction safety and skill level, and they put locals to work with our tax dollars.  However, ordinance compliance has been a challenge as we ensure that general contractors such as DPR on the Hanna Ave project in Tampa obey the law and utilize apprentices to ensure high-quality building and safety standards.

We can do better to protect workers on the job, not just on Workers Memorial Day but every day. According to the AFL-CIO’s Death on the Job Report, a yearly study of worker deaths and injuries, 5,333 died on the job nationwide in 2019, including 306 here in Florida. Every worker lost is a tragedy, and as a nation and state, we need to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all working people. They deserve nothing less.

Shawn McDonnell
President – West Central Florida Labor Council, AFL-CIO