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Story and photo from brand publisher UCOMM
Surrounded by hundreds of supporters, Mrs. Cook, wife of fallen construction worker Gary Cook, wiped tears from her face as her husband’s name was read. Gary Cook was one of twelve Long Islanders who went to work but never came home.
He joined over 4,000 other Americans whose lives were cut short as a result of a workplace accidents within the past year. The 9th Annual Workers Memorial Mass, celebrated at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bay Shore on May 1st, comes just days after the anniversary of the enactment of OSHA. OSHA was passed on April 28th in 1970, and that day is recognized by unions as Workers Memorial Day.
Mrs. Cook received a letter from the Workers Memorial Mass Committee inviting her to join them at a service where hardhats are blessed, and prayers are offered for every type of job. This Mass receives little fanfare as prayers are offered for Teachers, Journalist, Truck Drivers, Nurses and Utility linemen just to name a few. Cook’s mailing address was provided to the Committee by OSHA, along with the names of 11 other victims who accidents ranged from falls, explosions and contact with moving vehicles.
May 1st is known as Labor Day across the globe, but in 1894 Congress moved Labor Day to the first Monday in September in fear of the rise of radical workplace militancy in the United States. In 1955, the Catholic Church made May 1st a feast day in honor of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers. St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ was a Carpenter, and scripture read at Workers Memorial Masses celebrate that story, reinforcing the Church’s poor, working class roots.
For years, this Mass was the greatest story never told. In its first year, only 45 people attended. Over the years, it’s popularity grew. In 2017, Archbishop Richard Henning, then a Monsignor, took a liking to the Mass, encouraging the Diocese of Rockville Centre to be more involved. In 2018, the Nassau Suffolk Building Trades Council elected a new leader, Matthew Aracich who made it a point to be more hands on, taking over the responsibility of organizing turnout and fundraising.
St. Patrick’s Church operates a Soup Kitchen that serves over 1,500 people a month. Unions are encouraged to bring requested food items to the service and this year’s collection exceeded all expectations. The Soup Kitchen, in constant need of gift cards so parents can purchase prescriptions for their children, received $1,200 in cards from grocery store unions UFCW Local 1500 and RWDSU Local 338.
This year’s Mass welcomed participation from law enforcement unions. Leadership from the NYC PBA including President Patrick Lynch attended. The names of six police officers who called Long Island their home were read. Out of the six, four died from 9/11 related illnesses this past year.
Like most efforts involving organized labor, there’s always a political element. Invites were sent and Governor Cuomo and Congressman Suozzi sent representation. The Building Trades revel at the notion that Apprenticeship Programs save lives by training the next generation of construction workers on life saving safety procedures. Apprenticeship requirements on large scale projects is their constant request of elected officials.
Islip Town, where St. Patrick’s is located, is the only town on Long Island that does not have Apprenticeship requirements. Islip Town officials did attend, and a prayer for Apprentices was read but only time will tell if their prayers will be heard. The goal of the Workers Memorial Mass is not just to pray for the dead and fight for the living, but to finally hold a Mass on May 1st were no names get read, because losing your life should never be a job description.