On Workers Memorial Day, unions remember the fallen

Building Trades union members hold crosses bearing the names workers who died on the job in the previous year.

In Workers Memorial Day ceremonies held across the country April 27 to 30, union members paused to remember the men and women who died on the job or as a result of work-related injury or disease in the previous year.

In St. Paul, Building Trades unions from the Twin Cities metro area held a ceremony April 27 in the Workers Memorial Garden on the State Capitol grounds, honoring 11 men who died as a result of workplace accidents or work-related diseases. The ceremony also honored a Laborer, John Biersach, who fell to his death Oct. 20, 1898, during construction of the Capitol building.

Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, presided over the noon ceremony. About 50 people watched as, one by one, crosses bearing the names of all 12 fallen workers were draped with black sashes.

“In our industry we like to say, ‘Let’s make sure we get to work on time, and let’s make sure we all leave together,’” Melander said. “These are Minnesotans who didn’t make it home.”

Workers Memorial Day serves as a reminder for union members to continue the fight for safer workplaces, Melander added. “In that building behind us, the Capitol, Minnesotans are bringing closure to another legislative session. We need to remind our elected officials that workplace regulations regarding safety save Minnesotans’ lives.”

Workers honored at the memorial service were:

• Ake Larsson, 82, of Pipefitters Local 455, who died Dec. 12, 2011, as a result of lung disease.

• John R. Slagle, 60, of Pipefitters Local 455, who died March 18 as a result of mesothelioma.

• Denny White, 60, of Cement Masons 633, who died Dec. 3, 2011, as a result of mesothelioma.

• David B. Eckstrom, 72, of Heat & Frost Insulators Local 34, who died July 15, 2011, as a result of asbestosis.

• Gary B. Benson, 71, of Heat & Frost Insulators Local 34, who died Jan. 19 as a result of asbestosis.

• William H. Stille, 93, of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, who died March 3 as a result of asbestosis.

• Thomas Gamboni, 47, of Operating Engineers Local 49, who died Oct. 12, 2011, as a result of electrocution.

• Douglas Stoffel, 51, of Operating Engineers Local 49, who died April 21, 2011, as a result of electrocution.

• Craig D. Carlson, 47, and Ronald J. Raikowski, 44, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 292, who died Oct. 13, 2011, in an accident during road construction on Interstate 35W.

• Tom Stich, 50, of Laborers Local 132, who died Aug. 12, 2011, in an accident on the job.

St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper remembered signing Stich up for the union during his days as an organizer with Local 132.

“We honor the memory of workers like my brother Tom Stitch, who died on the job, and we remember the men and women lost as a result of unsafe working conditions,” Kasper said.

“But those of us gathered here today know that workplace safety is not just important on Workers Memorial Day. Many of us here today are working every day of the year to make our jobs safer for workers.”

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