Commemorating workers who died at work are (from left in the second row shown) Steven Puckett, Mike Milner, Terry and Jeannie Newberry, and (from right third row) Randy Clark, Debbie Sisco, Ashford Hughes and Freda Player. Courtesy photo

NASHVILLE, TN — Commemoration of workers killed on the job came this year with distress over a presidential order seen by labor leaders as contrary to Americans’ best interest.

“A new executive order says that for every new protection that’s put into place, two existing safeguards must be removed,” says Vonda McDaniel, president of the Central Labor Council for Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

President Trump’s order “also removes the requirement that employers must keep accurate records of accidents on the job,” McDaniel says, describing a memorial service at the IBEW Local 429 union hall on Workers Memorial Day to honor 116 Tennesseans who died at work in 2016.

“If someone is killed, those have to be reported,” she explains. “If someone is repeatedly injured on the job, those are the records … we want kept.”
Records help track injuries to find danger, help protect workers, continue production, and protect insurance, she says. “My employer is self-insured, so it’s mutually beneficial for him.”

Signed by President Nixon, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 is “to preserve … human resources.” But recent developments are “particularly daunting as the Trump administration attempts to roll back or block regulations that protect workers from serious hazards, like deadly silica dust, chemical explosions and workplace violence, and to slash the job safety budget,” the Labor Council says.

Mayor Megan Barry’s senior labor and workforce advisor, Ashford Hughes, says Barry knows OSHA intends to provide workers the right to job safety, but “thousands of Americans are killed” by injury or disease at work. McDaniel noted Metro Police Officer Eric Mumaw. Feb. 2, Barry said he “gave his life in service to his community in an effort to save the life of a woman in distress.”

Labor leaders also recall Dennis Pinkston’s November death in Nissan’s Smyrna plant. A 0.64-ton counterweight hit him in the head, news broadcasts report. It was “an accident that could’ve been avoided if the [protective ] guard had been put back in place,” WSMV reported, quoting Pinkston’s brother. Tennessee fined Nissan $29,000 for violations related to the accident.

Asked for comment, Nissan spokesperson Parul Bajaj said Monday, “The safety and well-being of our employees is always our top priority. We dedicate extensive time and resources to safety programs and training at the plant. Nissan is working through [Tennessee’s] established process to contest these citations and bring this matter to a close. We also continue to work on determining what can be done to prevent future occurrences.”

Chris Gwin, 56, was another work place fatality. He died at a Fastenal plant near Fayetteville in July when a double stack of skids weighing 1,760 pounds fell on him.
Also among the 50 people attending April 28 were: Steven Puckett, United Food and Commercial Workers; Mike Milner, retired American Federation of Government Employees; Terry Newberry, father of deceased AT&T worker Ashley Newberry and Ashley’s step-mother, Jeannie Newberry; SEIU Local 205 political consultant Freda Player; Debbie Sisco, president of CWA 3808 representing AT&T workers; IBEW 429 Business Manager Randy Clark; Dick Blin, local president of Jobs With Justice; Billy Dycus, president TN AFL-CIO; Vanderbilt divinity student Joe Sheeran; and Sam McClung, Nashville Musicians Union.

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...