Chesterton Tribune

A mill is a terrible place to die: USWA Local 6787 honors the lost

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Local 6787 dedicates memorial: Local 6787 President Paul Gipson has sadly had to tell the Chesterton Tribune too many times that a “steel mill is a terrible place to die.” On Thursday, Local 6787 dedicated a memorial to the 30 brothers and sisters who have lost their lives at the Burns Harbor facility.

 (Tribune photo by Kevin Nevers)


In a solemn, dignified ceremony on Thursday, United Steelworkers Local 6787 dedicated a memorial erected in front of the union hall to the 30 men and women who have died at the Burns Harbor facility.

Almost exactly a year ago, on April 28, ground broke on the memorial. That day was chosen because it coincides with Workers Memorial Day, created 41 years ago by the Occupational and Health Administration Act and a day now honored around the world by trade unionists as an “international day of mourning,” as Local Vice-president Pete Trinidad noted on Thursday.

“Last year, when we broke ground for this monument, there were only 29 names that were to be engraved on it,” Trinidad recalled. “Seven months later, there was another fatality, bringing the total to 30. Thirty of our co-workers who came to work and never made it back home. Thirty families that were torn apart.”

The 30th name: that of Gabriel Rocha, who succumbed to injuries sustained when a high-pressure steam hose ruptured.

“More workers die while at work than those fighting wars,” Trinidad said. “Worldwide, one worker dies every 15 seconds—6,000 people every day. For our honored men and women of the military, the ultimate sacrifice is given valiantly and voluntarily. No one, however, volunteers to sacrifice their lives for a job. Every day, across this country, the lives of 12 workers are taken, not given. No one should die trying to make a living.”

“Decades of struggle by workers and our union have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions,” Trinidad added. “The workers here in this plant, led by our president, Paul Gipson, were instrumental in helping to establish the coke oven standards and OSHA in 1970. These standards have become a shield to protect workers from coast to coast. Large corporations relentlessly attack the standards that we fought so hard for. If OSHA is delayed by bureaucracy, if a law is erased or reversed, that directly impacts the potential for injuries and death. While corporate leaders say that safety is their No. 1 priority, sometimes it just doesn’t seem that way.”

“We need to use every resource available to make our work place safer,” Trinidad concluded. “We need our elected officials to work on creating jobs and not weakening job safety precautions. We need more authority given to OSHA. Safety laws and regulations don’t kill jobs—but unsafe jobs kill workers. We will continue the fight until the promise of safe jobs is a reality.”

The Ceremony

The ceremony opened with a prelude performed by the Lake County Sheriff’s Police Pipes and Drums. Trinidad then presented a plaque of appreciation to Stefan Cervick, chair of the Steelworkers Memorial Committee, whose idea it was to erect a monument, who spearheaded the effort, and who organized funding, to which several Duneland businesses contributed, including Leroy’s Hot Stuff and Pat’s Liquors in Porter.

“Thank you everybody who helped,” Cervick said. “It’s meant a lot to me and I know it’s meant a lot to families who lost loved ones.”

Mark Lopez, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st—unable himself to attend the ceremony—then spoke briefly. “The importance of today is the names behind me,” he said. “They’re not just names etched in granite. They symbolize a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, and in some instances just a damn good friend. We all have a responsibility to ensure that folks’ most important job is not the one they go to but the one they come home to.”

Lopez noted that Visclosky read a statement of his own on the event into the Congressional Record.

A staffer for U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, also spoke, reading a brief statement by Donnelly. “On this solemn day, by this noble monument, we thank them and their families, we remember and treasure them, and we vow to value workers’ lives and safety above profits.”

Trinidad then read each worker’s name, 30 times Cervick tolled a bell provided by the Portage Fire Department, and a detachment of officers from the Porter County Sheriff’s Police fired a 21-gun salute.

Trinidad concluded the ceremony with a prayer. “Merciful God, we gather here today united to honor our co-workers who have fallen here at the Burns Harbor plant. We lift up to you the names placed on this monument. Let their names never be forgotten. . . . Thoughts of this hour are and should be solemn thoughts but they should not be clouded with woe or grief. Rather, they should be of great emotions that are brought to life when we come face to face with the realities that underlie our existence and the realities of working class life. . . . During this time of remembrance let us never forget our shared responsibilities to one another. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Let us live out this mandate each and every day of our lives. Amen.”

In memoriam, Local 6787

The 30 brothers and sisters of United Steelworkers Local 6787 who gave their lives in the Burns Harbor mill:

•Donald Beschinski, died 1967.

•John T. Plavchak, 1967.

•Eugene Barnes, 1969.

•Larry W. Nichols, 1970.

•Daniel Villagran, 1970.

•Richard Neill, 1971.

•George J. Pasa, 1974.

•Jeff Fravel, 1977.

•David Reeves, 1978.

•George Tremmel, 1979.

•Tyron Bolden, 1979.

•Steve Silvasi, 1979.

•Paul J. Shanahan, 1980.

•Henry LaForet, 1982.

•Larry Langman, 1982.

•Robert Fogus, 1984.

•Judy Miller, 1987.

•Leo R. Ford, 1990.

•Bill K. Snelling, 1990.

•Robert Wegner, 1991.

•Joseph Rogers, 1992.

•Donna J. Stearns, 1996.

•James E. Stout, 1996.

•James Soda, 1997.

•Ronald E. Clark, 1998.

•Daniel E. Kado, 2001.

•Randall E. Moehl, 2002.

•Kevin L. Sullivan, 2006.

•Russell L. Payne, 2008.

•Gabriel Rocha, 2011.

The inscription:

“In Memoriam. The years of our departed brothers and sisters are brought to an end. Their cause will never fail. Their memory shall not fade. Others have picked up the struggle for our departed. Steel will no longer reach its temper from their sweat and blood. They remain as our conscience to help us remain consistent with the realities of working class life. Local Union 6787 USW.”



Posted 4/27/2012