The Jackson Elks Lodge #1713 shows support for the workers exposed to COVID-19. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Tuesday was Workers’ Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. Workers’ Memorial Day occurs on April 28 because it is the anniversary of the date in 1970 when the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect.

Workers’ Memorial Day is an opportunity to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and ill health and to promote campaigns that fight for improvements in workplace safety. The slogan for the day was “Remember the dead — Fight for the living.”

The number of occupational fatalities in Wyoming rose from 20 in 2017 to 31 in 2018 (a one-year increase of 11 deaths, or 55%). Sadly, Wyoming had a workplace fatality rate of 11.5 per 100,000 workers — the worst incidence rate in the entire country. The national average in 2018 was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers. For most of the last two decades, in fact, Wyoming has had the worst or second worst workplace fatality rate in the nation. Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming was honored to represent two of the families who lost a loved one in 2018. 

Traditionally, Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, a nonprofit public interest law firm, has organized Workers’ Memorial Day commemorations at the Capitol building in Cheyenne, as well as in Casper and Jackson.  Legislators and/or the governor, Department of Workforce Services officials, worker safety advocates, community leaders and grieving family members come together to describe their efforts, share stories, remember those who were lost and advocate for a renewed and greater commitment to workplace safety. 

This year was neither traditional nor normal and, in accordance with Gov. Mark Gordon’s directives, no public event took place. Instead, we privately mourned the loss of those who went to work and never came home. We  also reinforced our determination to continue to fight for the living in Wyoming and throughout this country. For LAW, this included contributing $3,100 to state and local charities on the front lines of the Wyoming response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

To properly honor workers and their families, we reflected, with gratitude and admiration, on the essential workers who are keeping our state and country moving forward during this pandemic. We are thankful for grocery store workers and truck drivers; for dedicated nurses and physicians doing everything within their considerable powers to treat those afflicted with the coronavirus; for educators and school administrators teaching millions of children from their homes; for meatpackers and farmers and ranchers doing all they can to keep our food supply stable; to scientists working on treatment regimens and vaccines, to epidemiologists and public health officials; to first responders and law enforcement; to the many millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and livelihoods; and finally, to the general population sheltering in place to avoid subjecting essential workers to even greater risks than they are already taking by performing their jobs every single day.

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Mark Aronowitz has been a practicing Wyoming attorney since 2006 and was appointed as the executive director of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming (L.A.W.) in 2008. He is proud to have had the opportunity...

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