GARY | The dozens of names engraved on the waist-high, three-sided wall on the U.S. Steel Gary Complex Workers’ Memorial date back to 1908 and are a stark reminder that not everyone who leaves home to work returns to loved ones.
The Workers’ Memorial Day ceremony Friday outside the steel mill’s gates focused on safety to prevent more names from being added to that wall, as well as honoring those who have lost their lives at the steel mill in the past 105 years.
“We come together today not as individual employees of U.S. Steel Gary Works, but as members of a tight-knit family,” said Matthew Perkins, general manager of the Gary steel mill complex. “In 1912, the motto at U.S. Steel became ‘safety first.' Each day doesn’t end with product, but with people.”
So far 2013 has been the safest year at the Gary Complex, Perkins said, “but we still need to protect each other as we would our family members.”
Union leaders echoed Perkins’ sentiments about safety and honoring workers who died on the job.
Rodney Lewis, president of United Steelworkers Union Local 1014, reminded the hundreds gathered for the ceremony that Workers’ Memorial Day “is the most solemn of day in our calendar, when we reaffirm our dedication to safety.”
Although great strides have been made in workplace safety, Lewis said, “We still have a long way to go.” Of the millions of Americans who go to work each day, more than a dozen don’t return to their families, he said.
“We honor our dead, but we never, ever want to bury another worker,” he said. “Making a living should never involve dying.”
Greg Garcia, safety chairman of USW Union Local 1066, said investing in workplace safety is “investing in the greatest asset our country has.”
Garcia also saluted the efforts of management and union representatives for having the names of fallen workers engraved on the memorial for this year’s ceremony.
“Now it is a true memorial,” said Garcia. “Remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
Doris and Ken Richards of Jackson, Mich., attended the memorial service for the ninth time since their son, Karl David Richards, of South Haven, died from overexposure to carbon monoxide at the Gary Works No. 13 blast furnace on Dec. 21, 2004.
Karl Richards’ name is one of two engraved on the wall under the year 2004.
“Every one of you is part of our family,” she told the crowd during final remarks. “It is great to come here this year and see only one name added to the wall.”