Since 1989, Spokane unions and workers have observed Workers' Memorial Day to remember those who have died on the job or as a result of work-related illness. The Workers' Memorial here at Mission Park was dedicated on April 25, 1993. Held each year on April 28, the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the names of those who have died are read.
President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 after a decade of public outcry about the increase in occupational injuries and illnesses. In urging the passage of the bill, members of the House of Representatives argued passionately. "In only 4 years time, as many people have died because of their employment as having been killed in almost a decade of American involvement in Vietnam. Over 2 million workers have disabled annually through job-related accidents," stated Representative Carl D. Perkins. Representative William S. Broomfield argued, "When 75 out of every 100 teenagers now entering the workforce can expect to suffer a disabling injury sometime in his working career, I believe it is time that we face the goal of occupational safety and health not as a matter for partisan politics, but as a challenge to the science and technology of our country." In addition to the loss of life, proponents of the bill added that in addition to the pain and suffering for workers and their families, the injuries cost billions of dollars in medical expenses, lost wages, and production.
Spokane has long been a workingman's town. It served as the hub of employment for mining, lumbering, railroads, and agricultural jobs, some of the most dangerous jobs. After decades of struggle and organizing by unions, improvements have been made in working conditions. However, deaths and injuries are still high. In 2004 more than 56,000 workers died from workplace injuries and illnesses, and another 6 million were seriously injured.
On April 28, 2012 people gathered here to remember "a young construction worker, a veteran firefighter, a grandmother working a sales job, a popular corrections officer - these were among the 69 people honored at 2012 Worker Memorial Day ceremonies around Washington state," said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council.