New Brunswick, New Jersey: More than 300 hundred members and supporters of New Labor, the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC), and allied organizations, collectively demanding “Safe Workplaces for All,” marched in New Brunswick on April 24, 2022 to honor workers who have been killed or become sick or injured on the job.
The march, with coffins, handmade signs and chants to remember fallen workers, began and ended at New Labor headquarters in downtown New Brunswick. It is one of many events taking place around the country and around the globe as part of Workers’ Memorial Day, which brings together workers, families, unions, and allies to honor those affected by unsafe working conditions and to advocate for better protections in the workplace.
“At least 57 New Jersey workers lost their lives in 2021 and will never come home to their families again,” said Debra Coyle, executive director of WEC. “Many more died from COVID-19 after exposure to COVID in the workplace, but most of those fatalities are not being tracked or documented.”
Fatalities from sudden workplace trauma in New Jersey in 2021 included workers who were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning, blunt force to the head and neck, heat exhaustion and falls from a height. In such cases, workers would be alive today if their employers had followed well-known and well-established safety protocols. 2022 has not fared better. Just this month, a New Jersey worker, Holger Molina, was killed on a construction site with a history of safety issues. And just three days ago, a worker was crushed to death by a granite slab.
“At workplaces where these preventable tragedies happen,” said Coyle “can employers look family members in the eye and say – honestly – that they did everything possible to keep workers safe?”
Demands from participants at today’s march include health and safety committees in every workplace, the right to refuse unsafe work without retaliation and labor protections for workers who speak out about unsafe working conditions, as well as worker driven co-enforcement of workplace safety.
“Workers are the eyes and ears of the workplace. They are the experts of their realities and know what is needed to be safe. Their voice needs to be heard. Workers should have to choose between working unsafely and potentially getting injured or dying just because they feel they could be retaliated against. We need lasting change in New Jersey. We need workers to be part of the solution, and one of the ways to do that is ensuring workplace health and safety committees for ALL!” said Lou Kimmel, executive director of New Labor.
“Safe workplaces are spaces where we don’t die or get injured. They’re spaces where we are respected as workers! I got injured on the job and my employer still hasn’t taken responsibility. We need our voices to be heard,” said Isabel Cruz of New Labor.
“Our mental health is essential for job performance, yet corporations view mental health as a weakness and burden,” said Mike Acchione, strategy team member of NJ21 United. “We are here today to demand safe and healthy working conditions and will just continue to organize towards the working conditions that we deserve!”
In addition to WEC and New Labor, United Steelworkers District 4, New Jersey Education Association and Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War are co-sponsors of today’s march and rally.
Organizations that endorsed the march include: The Labor Institute, NJ 21 United, Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), HPAE Local 5094, The Labor Institute, AFTNJ, 1199 SEIU UHWE, UFCW 888, Greater NJ CLUW, CWA 1037, Unity Square, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, 32BJ SEIU, Teamsters Local 469, Rutgers USAS, GreenFaith, New Brunswick Area Branch NAACP, Ironbound Community Corporation, Food & Water Watch, NJ Working Families Alliance, Workers Justice Project, Make the Road NY/NJ, New Jersey Citizen Action AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, Casa Freehold, Esperanza Neighborhood Project, Unidad Latina en Accion, USW 4-406, Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Society (East Brunswick), New Brunswick Education Association, Unidos por Escuelas, Jobs with Justice, Unitarian Universalist (East Brunswick), Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo (DIRE), Reformed Church, Peoples Organization for Progress, Hopewell Starbucks Workers United organizing Committee, and St. Stephan’s Grace Community Church.