Workers Memorial Day a reminder that more needs to be done to protect workers

Tim Drea and Pat Devaney
Posted 4/23/24

Jay Larson’s co-workers stepped in for his mail route in Rockford earlier this month when Jay’s final deliveries ended in unspeakable tragedy. 

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Workers Memorial Day a reminder that more needs to be done to protect workers


Jay Larson’s co-workers stepped in for his mail route in Rockford earlier this month when Jay’s final deliveries ended in unspeakable tragedy. 

On March 27, Jay was senselessly murdered, the victim of a horrendous attack while on his mail route in which he was stabbed and run over by a vehicle – one of four victims of a 22-year-old man now behind bars and facing charges. But his colleagues refuse to let that day define his career and life.

Members of the National Association of Letter Carriers #245 came together in early April to honor Jay Larson, driving his postal route in his honor and watching as blue balloons rose from mailboxes and candles burned at a memorial for his legacy. They noted he served Rockford residents and businesses for 25 years, never took a sick day, and always pitched in to help others – on his route, and with others’ routes.

“Delivering mail was not just a job for Jay, it was a means by which he used to take care of his fellow citizens through caring smiles, thoughtful conversation, kind gestures, and the occasional giving furry friends a treat. Jay was truly a gentle giant, loved by his family, friends, and so many in the Rockford community,” read his obituary.

Lawrence Steward, president of the letter carriers union and a fellow carrier, remembered Larson made “everyone feel like you were the most important person in the world at the time that you had him in your life.” 

On this Workers Memorial Day,  stories like Larson’s are a sad reminder of the challenges facing working people on the job.

Mail carriers point to the attack on Larson as motivation for legislation in Congress to better protect carriers with more federal prosecutors to send a clear message: Harm a postal worker, and you will pay a heavy price. The National Association of Letter Carriers, in its push for stronger federal legislation, highlighted the more than 2,000 crimes have been committed against letter carriers just since 2020. Robberies of letter carriers topped 643 nationally last year – an increase of nearly 30 percent – with injuries resulting from those robberies doubling.

More than 50 years after the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) made a promise to every worker that they had the right to a safe job, Workers Memorial Day is a time to honor devastating losses of dedicated workers like Jay Larson and recognize their loss as evidence that we have more work to do to achieve those safety goals.

Mother Jones once said, “We mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Workers Memorial Day is a time to redouble our efforts to fight for those left behind. Attacks like those on Larson are thankfully rare. Hundreds of others die from work related injuries and the lack of robust mental health support that help to prevent aimless killings like the ones committed in Rockford. Thousands of others are injured each year from workplace dangers that could and should be prevented, often upending a career or resulting in long-term health impacts. 

Workplace hazards too often go unregulated or under-regulated. When violations are found, the penalties are too soft. Some employers avoid responsibility by contracting out unsafe work. Workers step up to protest and are met with discipline – punishments that are unfair and sometimes include firing.

Together, workers in unions can negotiate good, safe jobs and working conditions through collective bargaining. While large business interests look for ways to roll back the safety and health protections we fight for and to block new efforts to make work safer, Workers’ Memorial Day is a reminder that we cannot accept workplace fatalities or injuries as the status quo. Workers go to work to earn a living, not to have their lives upended.

On this Workers Memorial Day, we stand united behind the memory of Jay Larson and all other Illinoisans who have died in our workplaces and recommit to ensuring others’ lives will not be placed in the same jeopardy. Each workday should end where everyone makes it home safely. 

Tim Drea is president and Pat Devaney is secretary-treasurer of Illinois AFL-CIO in Springfield.