Labor vigil calls for improved worker safety

By December 21, 2016December 13th, 2017Workers' Compensation

About 70 laborers and their families gathered outside the State House Tuesday night to call for tougher workplace safety standards in Massachusetts, after a commercial diver drowned last week after being trapped inside a municipal water tank in Braintree.

Speakers at the vigil, organized by the Massachusetts Coalition For Occupational Safety and Health, also demanded the passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would extend safety protections for public sector workers to those in the private sector.

The diver killed in Braintree, 47-year-old David Scott, was a private contractor from Texas. He died in the presence of his 14-year-old son.

He was one of several workers killed on the job this year in Massachusetts. Brian Caron, a 43-year-old of Peabody, was killed last March in an ammonia leak at a Stavis Seafoods warehouse in South Boston.

Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, noted during brief remarks that Boston officials can deny city permits to any company with a poor safety record.

“This is what we have to have across the state,” Tolman said to applause from the crowd, which included workers dressed in safety vests, union iron workers, elected officials, and labor advocates.

Speakers delivered emotional pleas, standing in front of an empty holiday table, meant to symbolize the fallen workers.

Relatives recalled their loved ones’ deep devotion to their jobs.

“My son was a very, very proud ironworker,” said Mona Morse, whose son, Ronald “Moose” Morse, 40, died in an elevator crash in Somerville about 18 months ago.

Her son was grateful for extra money he earned for his family working overtime, often telling her, “Not bad for a kid who never went to college,’” she said.

At the same time, Morse said, he was acutely aware of the perils of the job and would tell her whenever a co-worker died, “’Mom, we lost another one today.’”

“We certainly don’t want it to happen to anybody else,” Morse said, to affectionate shouts of “Moose!” from her late son’s friends and fellow ironworkers.

The parents of Colleen Ritzer, the Danvers High School teacher who was raped and murdered in 2013, also attended.

Peggie and Tom Ritzer of Andover watched as an official of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, read a statement on their behalf.

“School is a place where Colleen and all teachers should be safe, not only from external threats” but also threats posed by troubled students, the statement said, in part.

The vigil, which lasted about 45 minutes, also included the singing of holiday carols with lyrics changed to call for better work place safety.

During a spirited rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” the crowd sang the refrain, “Health and safety is our call/Job protection for one and all.”

After the vigil ended, many in the crowd stepped forward to sign a placard calling for the passage of the pending workplace safety bill.

“This holiday season, too many families will be missing a loved one who lost their life due to dangerous work conditions,” the sign read.

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