This Workers Memorial Day, We Honor Those Who Died at Work, Including From COVID-19

Roxie Nelson remembers her father, Ed Nelson, as a caring and passionate man who often put the needs of others before his own.

“When I was around him his phone was always busy, and he would take calls from people all the time,” she recalls. “He was always working to help somebody, whether it was at the union or friends or family. He would take care of people whenever they needed help.”

Ed Nelson, who was president of Hurley Medical Center Employees, AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25), died earlier this month at the age of 65. He succumbed to complications from COVID-19 at the Flint, Mich., hospital where he built his career, starting out as a janitor, working as a carpenter and, most recently, serving as the local union’s full-time president.

Edward Nelson (gray jacket) with his children (from left to right, Nakia Darrough, Roxie Nelson and Jacquetta Stephen)

Pictured: Edward Nelson (gray jacket) with his children (from left to right, Nakia Darrough, Roxie Nelson and Jacquetta Stephen). Member-provided photo.

“He would say he was going to retire ‘once we get through this next contract,’ because he felt the work wasn’t done yet,” Roxie Nelson says. “He wasn’t a person that was comfortable leaving something undone or unfinished. And you never felt slighted because of his union work. It wasn’t like he couldn’t be my dad and president at the same time. He did both very well.”

Ed Nelson is one of several dozen AFSCME members who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Today, on Workers Memorial Day, we honor and mourn them, as well as celebrate their lives of service.

Workers Memorial Day marks the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act as well as the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is charged with ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for American workers.

This year, it seems particularly important to observe this day, not only because it is the 50th anniversary of the law taking effect, but because the safety, health and well-being of workers on the job has been national news since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Trump administration’s OSHA has been slow to do its job during the pandemic, failing to protect workers whose employers are ignoring social distancing recommendations. Instead, workers who have a voice on the job through their union have relied on their collective strength to seek workplace protections and the equipment they need to stay safe on the job.

AFSCME has called on government at every level to provide more resources to front-line workers, including personal protective equipment, and to do more to keep workers safe.

Today, we must renew the fight for safe and healthful workplaces. AFSCME members who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic – from nurses to janitors, from child care providers to domestic violence workers, from paramedics to unemployment specialists – are putting their safety and the safety of their loved ones on the line to protect our communities.

They deserve more than just praise or empty words. They need real support.

That is why we will continue to call on Congress to provide state and local governments with an additional $700 billion in aid, consisting of at least $300 billion in unrestricted aid to state and local governments and $200 billion each in education and health care funding. Nothing short of that will allow public service workers to continue to provide the essential services that keep communities across America healthy and safe.