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Mock funeral procession in L.A. seeks to draw attention to worker fatalities

April 24, 2010 |  1:59 pm
A mock funeral procession made its way through L.A.’s Pico Union and Koreatown neighborhoods Saturday as part of a “memorial day” rally honoring workers injured or killed in the workplace each year.
 
Labor activists and area unions helped put together the annual event, held this year outside the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, across the street from MacArthur Park.
 
“The idea is to bring awareness of worker fatalities and injuries across the United States,” said Peter Greyshock, coordinator for Southern California Coalition for Occupational Safety, a nonprofit group.

Worker safety has been in the news with the recent deaths of 29 people in a West Virginia coal mine and the explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that left 11 missing. But most occupational deaths receive little notice.
 
“A lot of workers die alone, and only their friends and families know,” Greyshock said. “They may fall off a roof or suffer from heat illness.”
 
Speakers, including Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach), urged passage of stronger state and federal occupational safety laws. Many said existing laws were outdated.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, thousands of U.S. workers are injured or killed on the job each year as a result of “preventable incidents.” Latino workers suffer higher rates of workplace injuries and deaths than all other workers.

Earlier this month, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis convened a two-day summit on Latino occupational health and safety in an effort to improve workplace safety.
 
On Saturday, a flower-bedecked altar set up outside the labor center paid tribute to a number of fallen workers, and displayed snapshots and brief biographies. Among those memorialized were Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, a pregnant farm hand who died in 2008 after collapsing in the heat while pruning vines in California; and Carlos Rivera, 73, a dock worker who was killed in an accident at the Port of Long Beach in 2008.
 
Attending Saturday's rally was Aura Lopez, 29, a former car wash worker who now walks with a crutch and says she is permanently disabled. She said she fell and injured her spine in 2008 while working at a Los Angeles car wash shop. She says she has filed a civil claim against her former employer, who has since gone into bankruptcy. Fellow car wash workers who attended said their workshops suffered from a chronic lack of safety equipment.
 
“I want to avoid that what happened to me happens to anyone else,” said Lopez, 29, a native of Guatemala who is the mother of two daughters.
 
Vehicles in the mock procession proceeded from MacArthur Park on an almost four-mile route through central Los Angeles, with posters written in English and Spanish conveying messages such as “No job is worth more than our lives” and “Remember the dead -- fight for the living.”

-- Patrick McDonnell
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