Local union leaders gathered in Market Square on Monday with the families of workers who have died on the job in Allegheny County, honoring them with a Workers' Memorial Day.
According to the event's organizers, 12 people died on the job in Allegheny County from May 2012 to the current month.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik offered a prayer to begin the ceremony. Then, after remarks from a series of speakers, the announcement of the fatalities began. A somber crowd stood silently as the names were called one by one, with the toll of a bell to honor each fallen worker. At times, family members stepped forward to ring the bell for their loved ones.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler gave the keynote address, emphasizing the role that unions have played in the gradual improvement of workplace safety. She said the Obama administration has also bettered working conditions by increasing employer penalties and improving whistleblower protections.
"But congressional extremists are stalling progress," Schuler said. "They're claiming that regulations and protections kill jobs. Well, let's get real, people. These regulations and protections keep jobs and employers from killing workers."
Schuler called for legislative action to improve workplace safety.
UPMC physician Donna Puleio, whose brother Gary Puleio died at a cement factory in 2001, said Americans are 270 times more likely to die from a workplace accident than through an act of terrorism.
"Yet the Department of Homeland Security is funded with billions of dollars, while OSHA and (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) remain underfunded and understaffed," Puleio said.
The Workers' Memorial Day also took a moment to honor the "Stogie Women" of Pittsburgh, who a century ago this year fought against workplace health hazards in cigar factories, including risks of tuberculosis and respiratory illnesses.
While writing about the situation in her work "Women and the Trades" in 1908, activist Elizabeth Beardsley Butler contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis, according to retired labor relations professor Charles McCollester.