Workers Memorial Day: Walz issues proclamation, unions plan remote observance

St. Paul and Minneapolis Building Trades unions’ Workers Memorial Day observances on the State Capitol grounds, have been canceled this year due to COVID-19. (file photo)

Today is Workers Memorial Day, when unions of the AFL-CIO pause to remember workers who died as a result of workplace injury or illness, and renew the labor movement’s commitment to fighting for safe workplaces.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced unions to cancel their in-person observances, the crisis has given new urgency to the cause of worker safety.

Essential workers in Minnesota and across the country – many of them union members – are working every day to provide health care, emergency services and long-term care; keep our food chain intact; deliver the mail and other goods; care for and teach our children; build and maintain our critical infrastructure and more. And too often, they’ve been asked to do it without the personal protective equipment they need.

In a Workers Memorial Day proclamation issued today, Gov. Tim Walz recognized the importance of keeping Minnesota’s essential workers safe, and joined with unions in honoring their fallen members.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO, meanwhile, planned to livestream a remote Workers Memorial Day ceremony today at 6 p.m from its Facebook account.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Building Trades councils would have held their annual Workers Memorial Day event in the Workers Memorial Garden on the State Capitol grounds last Friday.

The following is a list of names that would have been read at that solemn ceremony – names of union tradespeople who died in the previous year as a result of work-related injuries or illnesses.

  • Cory Buerke, Cottage Grove, age 38, member of Bricklayers Local 1, construction accident.
  • Justin Duerr, Des Moines, Iowa, age 23, member of Laborers Local 563, auto accident
  • Tor Heglund, Waconia, age 43, member of Painters Local 386, auto accident on way to work.
  • Eric Koepp, Litchfield, age 48, member of Operating Engineers Local 49, construction accident.
  • Dennis “Denny” Moore, Clear Lake, age 82, retired Plumbers Local 15 business agent, Mesothelioma.
  • Mark Olson, Browerville, age 44, member of Operating Engineers Local 49, construction accident.
  • Zachary Pumper, Savage, age 34, member of Laborers Local 563, construction accident.

Their names would have been etched into white crosses, and representatives of their respective unions would have draped a black scarf over each cross as the deceased member’s name was called out, followed by the tolling of a bell.

The Dakota County Labor Assembly also canceled its ceremony, held each year at the Monument to Fallen workers in Lebanon Hills Cemetery in Apple Valley.

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