Kelley Magill didn’t know there was a Workers Memorial monument near the Indiana Statehouse until tragedy struck her family.
On Monday, she made her first visit to the memorial to honor her brother, Daniel Weger, a 31-year-old husband and father of three from Terre Haute who was killed in a work-related accident last June. Weger was one of more than 100 Indiana workers whose job-related deaths in 2011 were remembered at a Statehouse ceremony attended by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and many grieving family members.
Weger’s name, like many of the names read out loud at the ceremony, isn’t well-known to the general public. But he was hailed as a hero to his family, a gesture much appreciated by Magill.
“He was a good man who took good care of his kids,” she said. “And he was my best friend.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by many others who sat stoically through the ceremony, waiting for their loved one’s name to be called. Of the work-related fatalities in Indiana last year, the victims’ ages ranged from 17 to 81. The youngest was killed after he fell out of truck at his family’s business; the oldest died in an accident on his family’s farm.
Grantland Gallion, 9, attended the service with his brother, Winston, 6, and parents, Jason and Stephanie Gallion, to remember his cousin, Chase Marshall, who was 18 when he died. Chase, a construction worker, was killed in a car accident driving home after a long day at work.
“He was a good cousin. I miss him a lot,” said Grantland.
The annual memorial service to honor workers who’ve died in work-related incidents was organized by the Indiana chapter of the AFL-CIO. Held in the Statehouse because of threatening weather, it was originally scheduled to take place by the Workers Memorial, a limestone and bronze sculpture installed in 1995 on the west side of the Indiana Government Complex. It’s inscribed: “In memory of all Indiana workers who have died at work or as result of their labor.”
Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana chapter of the AFL-CIO, and former commissioner of the state Department of Labor, described those who were remembered Monday as “modern heroes” whose contributions have gone unrecognized by many.
“None are more noble than the man or woman who goes each day to work and toils to build the places, the things, and the ideas from which this country’s true power comes,” Guyott told the crowd gathered for the ceremony. “The worker who donates his body and mind for eight or more hours a day simply so a family can be fed and nurtured is the very backbone of this country and this state.”
Guyott made a veiled reference to Indiana’s new “right to work” law, signed by Daniels in March, that outlaws labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues. She said labor had been “under attack” in recent months.
After the ceremony, Daniels told reporters that Guyott’s assertion wasn’t true. But he also said Indiana had work to do to keep workers safe. “ The numbers have been going down every year but we’re chasing zero and nothing short of zero is acceptable,” Daniels said.
There were 115 work-related deaths in Indiana in 2010, the latest official figure available. There were 123 work-related deaths in Indiana in 2009; 143 in 2008, and 127 workers killed in job-related incidents in 2007.
Maureen Hayden can be reached at email@example.com