At memorial for fallen workers, victims of building collapse recalled
At a Friday memorial honoring workers who died on the job last year, Philadelphia labor leaders called last year's fatal Salvation Army building collapse a catastrophic example of the danger to public safety if worker safety is ignored.
The 26th Workers Memorial Day honored 121 people from Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, including two workers and four shoppers killed in the thrift store disaster.
Last June 5, the brick wall of a four-story building being improperly demolished fell onto the Salvation Army store at 22d and Market Streets.
Multiple safety violations and missed opportunites to correct them were uncovered in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
Barbara Rahke, director of PHILAPOSH, an umbrella labor organization that focuses on workplace safety issues, said the thrift-store tragedy was the "center stone" of connecting occupational issues with protecting the safety of the general public.
The families of two victims - Anne Bryan, 24, an art student; and Rosaline Conteh, 52, a nurse - attended the breakfast event and memorial march to Penn's Landing.
In remarks, Nancy Winkler, Bryan's mother and Philadelphia city treasurer, said her grief was deepened by the fact that "the death of our loved one was avoidable, preventable because safety was not the first priority."
She said people who were aware of the danger and in positions of power and responsibility to protect the public did not.
While criminal and civil investigations continue, Winkler said she would continue to advocate for improved regulations and oversight to prevent another disaster.
"My husband Jay and I believe it is our duty to stand up, to make sure what happened to our daugther and to the others on June 5 is not forgotten," she said.
The couple is spearheading an effort to turn the collapse site into a memorial park. The Salvation Army has donated the land to the city and a committee has launched an online campaign to raise $125,000 to build the park.
Also speaking at the PhilaPOSH event, a City Council lawyer, Stacey Chapman, said a special investigative committee has come up with 70 specific recommendations since the tragedy.
Chapman, general counsel to City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., said the initiatives include reforms to demolition rules and better enforcement.
To that end, she said, City Council has approved increasing by $6 million over two years the budget for the Department of Licenses and Inspection.
"These are important first steps," she said. "Unfortunately, we lost lives in the process of getting here."