Workers’ Memorial Day celebrated in Lewiston

Richard Grandmaison, State Representative Ryan Fecteau and Darlene Zupancic attend the Workers’ Memorial Day and May Day dinner Sunday at Davinci’s Eatery in Lewiston. Each received a prize. Andree Kehn

LEWISTON — Returning as an in-person gathering for the first time in two years, the 16th annual May Day Dinner, hosted by the Western Maine Labor Council, was held Sunday evening at Davinci’s Eatery to honor workers lost to the aftermath accidents and illnesses, and those who lobbied for better working conditions.

Waiters carrying trays of beer and food rushed in and out of the restaurant’s back room, which was bustling with activity and conversation as union members and their families gathered to mark Workers Memorial Day , which is recognized nationwide every April 28.

“We are going to recognize some people here tonight for what they have done for the community as a whole, as well as people who have lost their lives on the job and the more we can reduce that by doing it right and having the right legislation ahead of us to help make this a reality, the more workplace fatalities we can reduce,” said Don Nazaroff, a union and management representative for Sheet Metal Workers Local 17.

According to information provided in this year’s “Death on the Job” report compiled by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), 20 Mainers died in workplace fatalities in 2020, which ranks the Maine ranked 20th in workplace fatalities in the nation.

About 16,700 workplace injuries and fatalities occurred in private industry in 2020, giving a rate of 4.3 workers per 100, which far exceeds the national average of 2.7.

The report lists a national average of 120,000 workers who died of work-related illnesses in 2020, and more than 4,764 workers were killed on the job, with black and Latino workers at higher risk of dying from work-related injuries.

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Employers reported nearly 3.2 million work-related injuries and illnesses, although due to under-reporting the actual number of reported cases is actually between 5.4 and 8.1 million, according to officials.

After dinner, three awards for champions of workers’ rights and workplace safety were announced, followed by a prayer for fallen workers led by Reverend Holly Morrison of the Phippsburg Congregational Church.

Richard A. Grandmaison, a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 545, received the Bruce D. Roy Award, named after a former Maine AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer.

“I didn’t do what I did to get awards,” said Grandmaison, 79.

A sheet metal worker by trade, Grandmaison eventually became a representative of the US Department of Labor, before retiring in 2006.

The Worker Solidarity Award went to the Bates Educators & Staff Organization, which was accepted by Darlene Zupancic on her behalf.

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“I am very honored on behalf of the organizing committee,” said Zupancic, 55, of Greene. “What an incredible reward. We have worked very hard as a group to take the high road and be very compassionate to one another as we earn our solidarity together and this award represents everything we have worked for.

State Representative Ryan Fecteau, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, received the Frances Perkins Award for his efforts to “pass laws that improve the lives of Maine workers,” according to the Western Maine Labor Council.

“I’m incredibly grateful,” Fecteau said. “It is the culmination of my legislative work and the defense of workers who have not had the chance to be recognized.”

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