Health & Wellness

New Brunswick Demands Workplace Safety, Mourns the Dead

Demonstrators march through the streets of New Brunswick
Pro-union singers perform for New Brunswick's Workers' Memorial Day event
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People recently marched through New Brunswick, calling for workplace safety.
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People recently marched through New Brunswick, calling for workplace safety.
a27017ed8a2b19208714_IMG_20170423_141535.jpg

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Not one more death.

That was the rallying cry that led hundreds of activists, workers, union leaders and residents as they marched through the streets of New Brunswick on Sunday. The event, a tribute and demonstration for Workers’ Memorial Day, honored those who’ve died on the job and called for greater protections for those who still strap on boots and break a sweat for a paycheck.

“We really shouldn’t have to be here at all,” Lou Kimmel, executive director of the New Brunswick-based workers’ rights group New Labor, said before a crowd in the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple on Livingston Avenue. “People don’t go to work to die. They go there to make a living.”

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The issue isn’t an intangible one.

Last year in New Jersey, 45 people died due to work-related incidents, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nationwide, 4,000 people died in 2016 from work-related injuries and illnesses that could’ve been prevented.

“Let us continue to work together to accomplish this mission of saving workers’ lives,” Patricia Jones, a local director for OSHA, said, “as we pray for the dead and fight for the living.”

Prior to hitting the streets, people assembled to hear from labor and government leaders and family members of people who died on the job. Jones, for example, read the 45 names of New Jersey’s dead.

A choir of musicians called the Solidarity Singers, backed by acoustic guitar, sang in favor of union organization and against President Donald Trump. Adults and children—many of whom were dressed in orange, the color of New Labor—banged snare drums and raised their fists.

They paid tribute to people like Daniel Comerie, a refinery worker who bled out after being crushed by a concrete slab in Linden, and Alvaro Esteban, a 22-year-old Freehold resident who was killed in December by a trash compactor.

“I miss him,” Esteban’s brother wrote in a letter that was read during the ceremony. “I feel so proud of him because he lost his life working and fighting to become someone with a better future.”

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Some of the gathering took on a decidedly anti-Trump tone. Advocates admonished the president for proposed funding cuts to OSHA and other worker-safety mechanisms.

But it didn’t stop there. Most of the crowd consisted of Latinos, with each spoken word also being delivered in Spanish.

The organizers pledged their commitment to Latino workers—undocumented or not. That point was especially significant in the wake of federal immigration raids that had swept through New Brunswick just three days before.

“We are going to stand hand in hand, side by side against these vicious attacks on people who come to this country, who work hard and try to work safely,” John Shinn, a district director for the United Steelworkers union, said.

When the demonstrators took to the streets, they carried sweeping banners and orange fists constructed from poster board. A few men, including one dressed in a suit, quietly pushed a black, wooden coffin through the crowd.

New Brunswick police, meanwhile, cleared a path for the peaceful marchers. A cop on a quad led the way, while officers in cars and trucks temporarily shut down intersections.

It was a warm, sunny day. Some city streets were already closed to traffic due to Ciclovia, the event that encourages residents to ride bikes or walk around their neighborhoods. Many people sat on their porches or stood on sidewalks—and most appeared captivated by and supportive of the workers’ march.

“Everywhere we go, people wanna know who we are, so we tell them,” the marchers chanted at one point. “We are the people, the mighty, mighty people.”

The march began at the intersection of Delavan Street and Livingston Avenue before progressing down Sandford Street and onto Joyce Kilmer Avenue. The demonstrators hit Townsend, French and George streets, ultimately circling back to Livingston.

For most of the march, three children led the way. A small boy used capped black markers to beat his toy drum. A girl rode her tricycle as her older friend walked nearby.

“No hate, no fear,” the marchers shouted at one point. “Immigrants are welcome here.”

But through it all, the slogan that kickstarted the event repeatedly returned: Not one more death. Ni una muerte mas.

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