Three years after the death of a Burmese employee on the job, a local worker movement group came together Sunday to remember him and demand accountability from his employer.
Officials say Kyaw Kyaw collapsed and died in February of 2016 during his shift at Nishawaka Cooper’s Fort Wayne plant. Some co-workers allege the company didn’t treat him fairly, and waited two hours before calling an ambulance.
Fort Wayne has one of the largest Burmese populations in the United States.
Tom Lewandowski, director of the Worker’s Project, says his organization is partnering with local Burmese to make sure they have a voice in the workplace.
Lewandowski says, “So just being in public, being able to talk about it and raising issues that otherwise are hidden away behind factory walls, that’s important.”
He claims a Nishawaka Cooper employee was fired after petitioning for an investigation into Kyaw Kyaw’s death. Another, he alleges, was fired when that employee and several others wore black in remembrance of Kyaw Kyaw late last month.
Lewandowski and others who gathered Saturday say they’re not out for vengeance against the company. They just want to send a message that, “Burmese rights are human rights.”
“There’s a lot of problems over there,” says Tun Oo with Burmese Workers’ Cycle, referring to Nishawaka Cooper’s plant. “To them, Kyaw Kyaw has no value. So also that means our Burmese people have no value.”
Lewandowski adds that giving these workers a voice is critical to democracy. “The issue is people being able to speak out on issues that concern their lives,” he says. “That ought to be a concern for not just Burmese workers, but all workers, and all Americans.”
In a statement from Nishawaka Cooper, the company denies any wrongdoing in Kyaw Kyaw’s death.
They claim IOSHA was notified, as required by regulations, and issued no safety orders in regards to the company’s response or working conditions.