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Workers Memorial Day: Mourn the dead, fight for the living

The following comments were delivered at Thursday’s Workers Memorial Day commemoration at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater.



(April 28, 2023) — To the families who have lost loved ones due to work-related injuries or illnesses in Washington, no words can sufficiently express our sincere condolences.

We have a saying in the Labor Movement. It’s attributed to a great trade union activist from more than a century ago named Mother Jones. Mourn for the dead, but fight for the living. Llorar por los muertos y luchar por los vivos. 

We’re here today to do both of those things, starting with honoring Washington’s fallen workers. We must remember them — not only as grandparents, parents, sons, daughters and siblings — but also by acknowledging the impact their loss of life, or serious injury, has on their families and their livelihoods.

That’s why we have a workers’ compensation system. That’s why the law sets the following goal: “to provide sure and certain relief for workers, injured in their work, and their families and dependents.”

I know that system isn’t perfect. It requires constant attention to make sure it delivers on that promise. 

I want to thank the hard-working employees here at the state Department of Labor and Industries for making it their mission to achieve that goal. I also want to thank you for your other mission: to strive to prevent these work injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place.

Together, we continue to make progress on that front. For example, as temperatures continue to rise, labor strongly supports our state’s new heat rules that are protecting agricultural, construction, and other workers exposed to these dangerous outdoor temperatures on the job.

Obviously, more must be done to protect Washington workers.

That’s why unions will continue to raise our collective voices to win stronger safety and health protections in our workplaces — and stronger job safety and health laws that protect all workers.

We will continue to hold employers accountable when they have unsafe working conditions.

And we will continue to fight for workplace conditions that ensure everyone goes home to their families at the end of a shift – alive, uninjured, and without the chronic illnesses caused by work exposures.

Hoy nos volvemos a dedicar hasta la lucha. 

Today, we mourn the dead and rededicate ourselves to fighting for the living.


Cherika Carter is Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.



ALSO at The Stand:

Workers Memorial Day: Organizing for safe workplaces saves lives — Because of the pandemic, many Workers Memorial Day commemorations haven’t been held in person since 2019. But this year, events are planned throughout Washington state.

Death on the Job: ‘Americans should be alarmed, outraged’ — the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor federation, released its 32nd annual report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, a national and state-by-state profile of worker safety and health. Key findings from the report point to a troubling rise in worker deaths, particularly among Black and Latino workers, and illustrate the urgency of funding and support needed for critical job safety oversight and enforcement.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!