Local Unions, Elected Officials Recognize Essential Workers Who Died In Pandemic

May 3, 2021

A memorial to essential workers who died in the pandemic was dedicated at Howard Park in South Bend.
Credit Justin Hicks / IPB News

Labor unions and local officials across Indiana recognized an annual Workers Memorial Day on Wednesday. One event in South Bend unveiled a memorial to essential workers who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Services honored those who died on the job and celebrated labor unions who have historically pushed for safety regulations. This memorial day also marked the 50th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is currently drawing criticism for being more than a month past President Biden’s deadline to produce an emergency safety standard related to COVID-19. 

Dennis McCafferty, president of the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation, said he’s confident that under the new administration it will happen.

“It’s like turning a ship around, you don’t stop on a dime and just turn the wheel, it takes a long time” he said. “Unfortunately there’s so much damage that’s been done to organized labor and working people.”

Labor groups also took the opportunity to pressure the U.S. Senate to support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. It aims to make it easier for workers to form and join unions at their jobs.

Indiana union membership is at a two-decade low, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. McCafferty said that's not only due to Indiana's so-called "right to work" laws, but lax enforcement of businesses who rely on undocumented workers or those "misclassified" as independent contractors.

“Anybody that’s using these people – abusing these people – the conversation should start with companies being fined back into the stone age for it,” he said.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.