'A time to understand both the cost to laborers and the blessing laborers provide'

Editor's note: Click here to read an Evansville, Ind., Courier &-Press story that tells about the mine tragedy and its aftermath. The Henderson Workers Memorial Day service is Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Henderson County Courthouse.


One of the events I attend every year is Workers Memorial Day in Henderson.

The Tri-County Council of Labor pays tribute to workers killed in the line of duty each year. Most of us take for granted the production of goods and services in this society, but few of us think of the true cost.  

Each year a number of individuals are killed in factories, on the road or in law enforcement.  Too many feel that the deaths are acceptable losses in the production process.  

I talked to Tom Skinner yesterday. Tom is a friend I went to high school with 55 years ago.  He told me that when he worked at Pyro [Pyro Coal Company's William Station mine in Webster County near Wheatcroft] he told the boss that what he was doing was dangerous.  

Tom said the very next day [Sept. 13, 1989] the ventilation system that the boss had had workers to obstruct failed to keep the gas from accumulating.  There was an explosion and ten men were killed.  He said that man went to prison.  All ten miners left families that needed their fathers and should have had their fathers come home from work.  For a few dollars of savings the company destroyed ten families.

One summer I worked at Pepsi Cola in Evansville on the third shift.  Our jobs was to service the machines during the third shift.  

One of our crew looked like Grizzly Adams.  He had to clean the machines.  He was told he had to wear gloves, but he could not get the bulky gloves into the small opening that he had to service.

One night he cut his hand badly. The plant manager gave him a warning that if he ever serviced the machine without gloves, he would be fired.  

"Grizzly" said to me, "Roy, I can't serve the machines if I wear the gloves.  If I don't service the machines I get fired.  If I don't wear the gloves and get hurt, they will fire me.  What in the hell am I supposed to do?"  I had no answer.

Workers Memorial Day is a somber time.  With the reading of each name, they ring a bell.  It will be stone quiet as the reading takes place.  The people at the memorial are workers that put their lives on the line each day so that we can have the lives we enjoy each day.  It is appropriate that the ceremony will be Sunday.  It is a time to understand both the cost to laborers and the blessing laborers provide.