The Knox Area Workers’ Memorial Day Committee has taken the lead in holding observances in
Knoxville since 2012, and it offers technical support and assistance to other groups interested
in holding observances in other parts of Tennessee. Since 2013, the Committee has been an
Associate Member of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health.
Workers Memorial Day in Knoxville:
MOURN FOR THE DEAD, FIGHT FOR THE LIVING
April 28, Workers’ Memorial Day, is a date now observed by people all over this country and the world. Its purpose is twofold: to honor men and women who have died as a result of work-related injury or illness, and to press for the changes needed to assure safe conditions on the job. Some famous words taken from Mother Jones, renowned organizer and ally of embattled coal miners in the early 20th century, capture well the spirit of these dual aims: we aim to “mourn for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
Workers' Memorial Day took on added significance in Knoxville in recent years after a shocking series of five fatal incidents on publicly funded bridge projects in Tennessee – two of them in Knoxville, four of the deaths involving a Latino immigrant, and every one of them taking place on a project that involved the same family of low-bid, low-safety construction contractors. This unacceptable state of affairs led to a campaign called Bridges to Justice (a joint effort of Interfaith Worker Justice, the Iron Workers Union, Jobs with Justice of East Tennessee and the Laborers Union), and then to an on-going organization, the Knox Area Workers’ Memorial Day Committee.
Photo by Holly Rainey
Since 2013, in addition to holding a memorial ceremony, the Committee has issued an annual report that identifies known Tennessee worker fatalities by name, analyzes trends, and compares Tennessee to national patterns. Each year the report also makes recommendations about ways government and the private sector can better assure the safe and healthy workplaces that are supposed to be the right of all who labor in our state, regardless of race, gender, national origin or immigration status. For links to these annual reports see below.
The past year's observances in Knoxville included two events. First was the screening of a film called “Day’s Work," a documentary about Day Davis, a young African-American man killed on the first day of his first job. Investigators found that crucial lock-out and tag-out procedures were not followed at the facility where Day was sent by the temp agency that hired him. Through a focus on Day's story, filmmakers David Garcia and Dave DeSario open a window onto the world of the blue-collar temporary staffing industry, where new hires are all too often sent with little or no training to do dangerous jobs in factories and on construction sites. The film screening was co-sponsored by the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and held on April 28 at its beautiful facility.
Later in the week, on April 30, families and supporters gathered for the annual observance to honor fallen workers and to call for safer and healthier workplaces. The event convened this year at the Knoxville Oak-Ridge Area Central Labor Council, where we welcomed family, close friends and co-workers of a cable-television employee who had died in a fall from a residential roof in Knoxville in 2015. Returning a second time to the memorial was the daughter of a coal miner who died in the 1980s from black-lung disease. This year she brought two of her sisters with her to help honor her father, who before his death had been a leader of the United Mine Workers Union in his home community in East Tennessee. She also helped conclude the program by leading the assembled group in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Click here to read the 2016 report: Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job, a Report on Worker Deaths, 2014-2015.
For the 2015 report: Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job, a Report on Worker Deaths, 2013-2014.
For the 2014 report: Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job, a Report on Worker Deaths, 2012-2013.
For the 2013 report: Tennessee Workers: Dying for a Job, a Report on Worker Deaths, 2011-2012.