Dying to Work

It is 9 pm on a very cold Philadelphia night as I sit down to write this. I've just returned from a closed casket viewing of my 19-year-old union brother Mark Keely who was blown up in a gas main explosion three nights ago. Three other union members of his work crew were burned from head to toe.

Brother Mark was 19 and had been on the job just five months.

Death and horrible injury is a daily possibility for members of the Utility Workers Union of America. Our members are the first of the first responders cutting off the electricity and gas so firefighters and police officers can so their jobs.

No one knows how many lives Brother Keely and his crew saved with their ultimate sacrifice.

Hundreds and hundreds of union members were at St. Cecilia's Catholic Church tonight -- gas workers and utility workers and cops and fire fighters and machinists and on and on.

I cried as I hugged Mark's Dad and Mother and greeted member after member with Local Union President Keith Holmes.

Mark's death is a stark reminder that America's workers go to the job every day risking their health and their lives.

17 of us die every week.

My mother died of a massive heart attack in her classroom six months before her retirement.

Yet those who blather and blabber about how American workers live too well and how we have to compete with the poorest and most exploited workers in the world and how we have to raise the Social Security retirement age never have to get off their asses at their desk with the best view of whatever city they are in.

Mark Keely worked hard every day of his working life. He deserved to live a full, rich life like all other workers. But until we realize that working families deserve the best of life--not material riches but dignity and respect and safety, too many of us will die before our time.