TORONTO & PICTOU COUNTY, Nova Scotia, May 09, 2022 – In the early morning hours of May 9, 1992, an explosion ripped through the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, N.S. The explosion took the lives of 26 miners and forever changed the lives of the people of Plymouth and many surrounding communities.
Today marks 30 years since the devastating disaster where an entire shift of workers perished and 11 bodies were never recovered. Those miners remain entombed in the underground wreckage of the mine, now covered by a memorial park where a monument stands as a lasting tribute.
Leaders and members of the United Steelworkers union (USW) are in Pictou County, N.S., to mark the 30th anniversary of the Westray disaster, joining the families and community to remember the miners who were killed.
“Today, on the 30th anniversary of the Westray disaster, Steelworkers are in Pictou County to vow to continue our fight for justice for the 26 miners and their families. Our union recommits to fighting for safer workplaces until no worker, family or community has to experience such tragedy. We will not stop until there are no more Westrays and no more deaths on the job,” said Marty Warren, USW National Director for Canada.
“In 1992, our union committed to the families to never back down on our efforts to hold employers accountable. I’m proud of our union’s work in shining a light on this terrible disaster. As we join again to take a walk to the Westray memorial, we will take a moment to reflect and remember those we have lost. We will never forget these workers as the memorial reminds us that their light shall always shine,” said Ken Neumann, former USW National Director for Canada.
The USW has never stopped fighting for justice for the Westray families and the thousands of families across Canada whose loved ones have been killed at work. In 2004, Steelworkers successfully had the Canadian government introduce the Westray Bill, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada to hold corporations criminally accountable for causing preventable death and injury on the job.
“In Canada, we continue to see about 1,000 workplace fatalities every year, as well as thousands of deaths from occupational disease that go unrecognized, and hundreds of thousands of serious, often life-altering workplace injuries. Proper use of the Westray Law would go a long way in showing employers that ‘business as usual’ could mean a jail term for a CEO,” said Myles Sullivan, USW District 6 Director (Ontario and Atlantic Canada).
Today, the struggle continues as the union fights to have that law better enforced across the country. Too many employers still get away with practices and negligence that result in workers being killed.
“While progress has been made, governments in Quebec and across the country must recognize their responsibility to ensure worker safety and prevent workplace deaths and injuries. We continue to advocate for strong prevention mechanisms for all workplaces and will mobilize to achieve this. Quebec must establish new occupational health and safety regulations. We must raise the level of prevention, not lower it,” said Dominic Lemieux, Director of USW District 5 (Quebec).
“Our union continues to fight to ensure employers are held criminally responsible because families of workers killed at work expect justice. Governments must provide ongoing training to police and crown prosecutors to ensure workplace fatalities are investigated with a criminal lens and prosecuted under the Westray Law. Workers’ lives are not expendable and simply a cost of doing business, so if you kill a worker, you go to jail,” said Scott Lunny, USW District 3 Director (Western Canada and Territories).
The USW’s national campaign, Stop the Killing, Enforce the Law, targets all levels of government, law enforcement, attorneys general, and Crown prosecutors. The campaign’s goals include increased training for law enforcement and Crown prosecutors in using the Westray Law and the appointment of dedicated police officers and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute workplace fatalities when gross negligence is involved.
The USW represents 225,000 members in nearly every economic sector across Canada and is the largest private-sector union in North America, with 850,000 members in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
Each year, thousands of workers choose to join the USW because of our strong track record in creating healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces and negotiating better working conditions and fairer compensation – including good wages, benefits and pensions.