this year, day of mourning carries great urgency and great sadness

Each year on April 28, we recognize and remember workers who have died, been injured, and become ill through their work.

In 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, this day carries profound and urgent meaning.

Health care workers, emergency workers, supermarket workers, and others put their health at risk and their lives on the line daily.

Most poignantly, health care workers risk illness and must isolate from their own families in order to save the lives of others.

Low-wage workers like supermarket cashiers and couriers, already working physically demanding and monotonous jobs, suddenly find themselves in potentially life-threatening danger.

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The canary is a potent symbol and a powerful reminder. Not so long ago, this small, fragile bird was the only thing that stood between miners and a suffocating death. The world over, workers are little more than canaries in their own workplaces.

No worker should ever be killed or injured because of work, yet it happens on a regular basis. In our current climate of precarious work, it is happening more frequently.

When workers do not have guaranteed work, or don’t get enough hours, or earn too little to survive, they are much less likely to speak up about unsafe working conditions. Employers know this. In the precarious workplace, all too often there is scant attention given to health and safety standards.

Privatization of services also causes workplace injuries and death, as companies -- with no public oversight -- cut corners to squeeze more profit out of services that should not be generating profit.

Under-staffing also causes injuries and deaths, as workers are required to do work previously assigned to two or more workers.

Working alone has become commonplace in many fields, including mine. Working alone means there is no one to administer CPR, to help if an accident happens, to call for help if there is a violent confrontation.

Injury and death on the job are not facts of life that just happen. All too often, they are the result of precarious work, austerity measures, and privatization. All too often, worker deaths are preventable deaths.

On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, while we pause to mourn our losses, we must renew our commitment to ending these tragedies.

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