On Friday, June 17th, Railroad Workers United calls on all railroad workers in North America to observe Railroad Workers Memorial Day to honor and remember those railroaders killed on the job this past year. All railroad workers are urged to wear black shirts to work and to “Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living,”
Railroad Workers United is a solidarity grouping of railroad workers from various crafts, drawn from all rail carriers, represented by a number of unions across the continent. According to RWU Co-Chair Robert Hill, “Railroad Workers Memorial Day is a time for all railroaders to pause and reflect, to remember our brothers and sisters who have perished on the job this past year, and to commit ourselves to the fight to build real safety programs at work.”
On Mother’s Day, 2009, a young conductor Jared Boehlke was killed on the job in Selkirk, NY while working a single-employee remote-controlled job in the rail yard. Like so many other railroad fatalities, RWU believes that Jared’s death could so easily have been avoided had the carrier maintained a safe workplace. In response, Railroad Workers United called for a national day of remembrance a few weeks later, on Father’s Day Friday. Urging all railroaders to wear black shirts to work that day, RWU proclaimed the day “Railroad Workers Memorial Day,” and according to RWU Co-Chair Jon Flanders, “we have pledged the organization to observe this day every year in honor and remembrance of those railroad workers who died on the job.”
Last spring, RWU observed the day by honoring and remembering the increasing number of brothers and sisters who were killed on the railroad in the previous 12 months. Despite the recession and the decrease in rail employment by more than 10%, the number of fatalities had risen dramatically. In fact, twenty employees lost their lives on the railroad between Mothers’ Day 2009 and 2010.
This year’s action was originally designed to focus on the March 23rd fatal crash in Longview-Kelso, WA. which took three lives, while a fourth rail employee lies in critical condition. “While the company flails about wildly searching for workers to blame,” states RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow, “their actions beg the question: why was such a dangerous railroad crossing — an obvious hazard, an accident waiting to happen — allowed to go unprotected year after year? Help us to make a statement to the carriers that we will not go along with business-as-usual corporate-sponsored safety programs that only look at our behaviors and fail to take an interest in alleviating these sorts of hazards.” RWU is selling T-shirts to railroaders in the Pacific Northwest to heighten awareness of the issue and to raise funds for deceased engineer Tommy Kenny‘s surviving family members.
Since the above mentioned incident, five more rail workers have been killed while at least four others have sustained critical injuries, including two amputations. RWU believes that the rail carriers’ failure to alleviate existing and known hazards — together with their penchant for simply blaming worker behavior — is what lies behind many of these and other rail accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
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