CAT workers to strike over work conditions after tragic employee death
The price of the life of Steven Dierkes was worth a mere $145,027 fine which the company is ordered to pay to the family of the deceased.
39-year-old Steven Dierkes died on June 2 after he fell into an 11ft-deep pot of molten iron at Caterpillar’s foundry in Mapleton, Illinois.
The worker, who was hired just nine days prior, immediately died due to "thermal annihilation", according to Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood, adding that it took his team several hours to “sort through the metal fragments and find his remains” after the metal was cooled off.
Workers are now blaming the company over the death of the father-of-three, citing poor safety measures, lack of training, and unbearable working conditions.
Workers at the foundry, who are represented by the United Auto Workers, are anticipating a possible strike in March 2023, when the current union contract expires.
It was my pleasure to welcome striking Caterpillar workers to my office this morning. In the middle of a cost of living crisis these workers have shown the way by taking strike action against one of the biggest and wealthiest corporations in the world. pic.twitter.com/PlCxM62q51— Gerry Carroll (@GerryCarrollPBP) June 29, 2022
Earlier this month, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a report on Dierkes' death.
According to the report, "If required safety guards or fall protection had been installed, the 39-year-old employee’s ninth day on the job might not have been their last."
The price of the life of Steven Dierkes was worth a $145,027 fine which the company is ordered to pay to the family of the deceased.
"My children are left without their father, I am left without my fiancee, my partner, my best friend, all because they didn’t want to take better safety precautions for that type of work," Dierkes’ fiancee, Jessica Sutter, said, adding that CAT has not provided any assistance to her and her daughters since Dierkes passed away.
She now has to struggle to look for another income to relocate elsewhere as her current landlord is neglecting crucial repairs on her home.
The family was already suffering financially for two months prior to Dierkes' death as the deceased was looking for employment.
"As far as Caterpillar, I feel that they are murderers. It’s a slaughterhouse. No one should have to lose their life like this," she said.
"They do not have any compassion for human decency at all, they are a company of no humanity."
Other serious safety concerns raised by former and current employees at the Mapleton foundry include the smoke and dust workers breathe from six to seven days a week.
One of the employees who requested to be reported anonymously by The Guardian said Dierkes was working as a melt deck operator and fell into the melter while trying to obtain a sample.
"When he died they only had us off work for two days and then told everyone to come back. The air literally still smelled like his burning body,” a worker said.
"There were no guard rails, no harness procedures and nothing to ensure you wouldn’t fall into the massive holes filled with iron. As he was collecting a sample of iron with the spoon, he fell in and churned up."
"I’m very surprised this is the first time it’s ever happened. When I worked up there, there were numerous times I thought, ‘Man, are they really gonna have me do this?’ For instance, if the iron level was low, they wanted you to try to get a sample or temp anyways, which would require you to lean over the hole a bit to be able to reach the iron. The melters are always around 2,400-2,600F, so if you fall in one there is zero chance of survival."
This was the second fatality at the Mapleton foundry in six months as in December 2021, 50-year-old Scott Adams, an electrical contractor, fell to his death through a hole in the floor that reportedly was not properly covered, according to The Count.
It is standard practice in capitalist societies to easily replace workers when they die. The value of their lives is only relative to the amount of wealth they can generate for a company.
But capitalism is a worldwide system of exploitation wherein some 2.3 million women and men around the world are killed by work-related accidents or diseases each year.
This totals about 6,000 deaths every day, according to the International Labour Organization.