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Long Island

At worker memorial, a cry for labor standards

Dr. Ben Luft, director of the World Trade

Dr. Ben Luft, director of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, speaks in Hauppauge during a Workers' Memorial Day service honoring Long Island workers who have died as a result of workplace injury or illness. (April 28, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

On a rainy Sunday evening last August, veteran Long Island Rail Road car inspector Russell DeCeck, 48, of Coram, was killed after touching the electrified third rail while working at a rail yard in West Islip.

Nearly nine months later, family members and fellow laborers lit candles and planted flowers in memory of DeCeck and other Long Islanders who have died in workplace-related accidents.

"He was a hard worker and a great husband and father," said DeCeck's sister-in-law, Jamie Ward, at the 11th annual Long Island Workers Memorial Day service in Hauppauge. "He loved his family more than anything in the world."

Last year, eight Long Islanders died from injuries suffered at work, said Anthony Ciuffo, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Long Island office.

Nationwide in 2010 -- the most recent year statistics are available -- 4,690 workers were killed on the job, he said.

The grim tally includes construction workers, landscapers, truck drivers, machine operators and police officers.

"They went to work every day to make a living and support their families," said John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor. "And did not have the opportunity to come home."

The event also served as a rallying cry to improve labor standards and workplace conditions for low-wage laborers, including those being paid less than the minimum wage.

"We have dishwashers getting paid $2 per hour," said Irv Miljoner, district director of the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor. "Gas station attendants getting maybe $3 an hour. Guys working in car washes often getting paid zero wages and working for tips that may or may not be taken by the owner. And many workers not getting paid at all for months at a time."

Among those remembered Saturday was Charles Donohue, 53, of Amityville, a mechanic crushed to death in 2010 by a dump truck inside an auto repair shop in Roslyn Heights.

Friends also lit a candle for Jose Berrios, 38, of Wyandanch, killed in a construction accident at Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream in 2007. Berrios was operating a lift when the machinery pushed him against a ceiling column.

"Jose was a real good guy," said James Eagan, training officer for General Building Laborers Local 66. "A terrible accident took his life. Let's hope that in the future there's not any more like it."

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