Community members hold rally for Workers Memorial Day

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN photo: Alexandra Townsend a member of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union, speaks out about Senate Bill 202 at a Workers Memorial Day gathering in Veterans Park on Thursday.

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN photo: Alexandra Townsend a member of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union, speaks out about Senate Bill 202 at a Workers Memorial Day gathering in Veterans Park on Thursday.

Members of the community and surrounding areas gathered in Veterans Park Thursday for Workers Memorial Day to sound off on issues regarding workers’ rights.

Paula Hodges of Jefferson City told those gathered that they needed to stand together against “corporate powers that are totally taking over the capitol.”

Hodges is a member of the Missouri National Education Association union. She said corporate-backed politicians in Jefferson City are pushing legislation to “suppress unions” and “mute the workers.” One piece of legislation Hodges referred to is Senate Bill 202, which requires authorization for certain labor unions to withhold fees from paychecks to make political contributions.

“This is a preemptive move to try and silence middle class Americans to make more money,” she said of the businesses and politicians backing the bill.

A coalition of labor union members and community activists organized events around the nation Thursday to honor workers who were injured or killed on the job, address concerns over continued workplace hazards, and bring awareness to legislation union members see as threatening.

“This is an annual remembrance of people who left for work and were never able to make it home to their families,” said Cathy Sherwin, field communications director with American Federation of Labor—Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Sherwin attended the state memorial event at the Capitol in Jefferson City Thursday. She said it was a chance for people to speak out on the importance of worker safety and legislation that supports it.

“Although things have gotten better, there are still far too many people who have gotten injured on the job or killed even,” Sherwin explained.

Shannon Swoboda works as a security aide at Fulton State Hospital and is a member of AFSCME. Swoboda attended the gathering in Fulton, saying she feared the intent of SB 202 was to do away with unions. She explained that AFSCME works to make FSH a safer place to work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 there were 4,340 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries, 142 of those in Missouri, and 4.1 million occupational illnesses or injuries nationwide, 83,600 in Missouri.

Swoboda said the number of workplace deaths in the U.S. was high enough.

“I would hate to see (the fatality number) if we didn’t have the protections of the unions,” she said.

Retired kindergarten teacher Luana Gifford of Jefferson City said bringing awareness to people about workplace safety is one of the most important reasons for Workers Memorial Day. Gifford — a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers union — went to the noon gathering at the Capitol. She said, as a lobbyist, she continues the fight to ensure schools are safe from hazards such as lead paint and asbestos.

“We still have schools that need to be cleaned up,” she said. “As a teacher, I always wanted to make sure the classroom was safe for the teachers and the children.”

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