June 26, 2014

Food manufacturing workers in NYC

Feeding New York” is a report issued on June 24 by Brandworkers, a membership organization of workers in the local food production industry in New York City. The report focuses on the New York City food manufacturing industry. Researchers surveyed and interviewed workers and drew upon other government survey data.

With some $5 billion in gross annual sales, New York City’s food manufacturing industry employs 14,000 workers. With 900 employers, the average workforce is 16. According to a 2007 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, 70% of workers in the sector are immigrants, 72% are people of color, and 64% have less than a high school diploma.

Latinos make up 32%; Asians 20%, African Americans 17% and whites 27% of all food manufacturing workers.13 Among frontline workers, Latinos account for 53% of workers, Asians 16%, African Americans 16% and whites 12%.14 Women comprise 38% of the industry’s workers and are a growing segment of the industry.15 According to Census data, frontline workers make on average $12.06 per hour and work an average of 37.4 hours per week.

What the study’s survey found:

Work Safety lapses: 42% have suffered an injury at work. This includes: 15.1% have slipped/fallen; 14.2% have been cut; 11.3% have headaches; 10.4% have a back injury; 7.5% have been hit by equipment; 43.5% reported injury but did not get free
medical care from employer; 9.7% have come into contact with toxic chemicals; 4.9% aren’t sure; More than 1 in 10 report that their employer required them to do something that put their safety at risk

Little training: 44.1% did not receive any [job] training; 72.1% did not receive any training from employer; 56.7% never received training on workplace health and safety.

Limited health insurance: 52.9% don’t have health insurance; 4.7% get their health insurance through their employer; 54.9% have gone to work sick in the past year;
30.7% don’t get any paid sick days; 25.7% aren’t sure if they do or not.

Wages: Survey respondents on average earned $10.48 an hour. On average, undocumented workers made $2 less per hour than workers with legal status.

January 26, 2014

Importance of work safety training in native language

UL Workplace Safety and Health, a company that provides safety training and other human resource tools to employers, posted in late 2013 about the importance of safety training in the native language of the worker.

Teri Hale, who is Operations Manager of Professional Learning Services, wrote the following (this is an excerpt):

Misinterpretation can lead to lower productivity, lost revenue and more seriously, injury and loss of life. This is especially true in high-risk sectors such as manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, and construction. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25 percent of job-related accidents. Moreover, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fatal injury rates were 69 percent higher for foreign-born Hispanic workers than for native-born Hispanic workers (who tend to have a better grasp of English).

In 2010, OSHA announced an initiative in which it directed compliance officers to observe whether employers provide employees safety training in a language they understand. Employers who fail to properly train their employees are subject to citations and penalties.

November 23, 2009

NIOSH Blog on of immigrant worker safety and health

This blog published by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is worth visiting.

May 18, 2009

immigrant carwashers in Los Angeles

Justice for Los Angeles carwash workers – this campaign has its own website here.

The campaign, part of CLEAN, confronts these labor problems of carewashers:

Carwashes routinely violate basic employment laws like those requiring workers be permitted to take rest breaks or have access to shade and clean drinking water.

* Workers frequently work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, often with no overtime pay.
* Workers are often paid less than the legal minimum wage, sometimes earning as little as $30-$40 per day ($3-$4/ hour) or working for tips alone.
* Carwash workers are subject to health and safety hazards such as constant exposure to water and to dangerous chemicals without protective gear.
* Workers in the industry have reported kidney damage, respiratory problems and nerve damage due to their exposure to these hazards.

April 7, 2009

Farm worker rights: time to set right?

A large number of farm workers in American are immigrants. (The Agjobs program, part of the discarded immigration reform effort of 2007, was to address immigrant farm workers mainly in California.) I have read that over half of farm workers in California are illegal immigrants. An editorial in the New York Times addresses the gap in labor protections for these workers – a gap which has been there since the 1930s, when federal labor protections were created. In my field of workers compensation, many states still do not have their workers comp systems cover farm workers.

The editorial:

Farm Workers’ Rights, 70 Years Overdue
Published: April 5, 2009

It is more than bank failures and rising unemployment that give these troubled times echoes of the 1930s. An unfinished labor battle from the New Deal is being waged again.

The goal is to win basic rights that farm and domestic workers were denied more than 70 years ago, when the Roosevelt administration won major reforms protecting other workers in areas like overtime and disability pay, days of rest and union organizing.

That inequality is a perverse holdover from the Jim Crow era. Segregationist Southern Democrats in Congress could not abide giving African-Americans, who then made up most of the farm and domestic labor force, an equal footing in the workplace with whites. President Roosevelt’s compromise simply wrote workers in those industries out of the New Deal.

Continue reading "Farm worker rights: time to set right?" »

September 17, 2008

Occupational risks of Seattle day laborers are very high

A study published this summer in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported on interviews of day laborers in Seattle. The authors estimated that the annual rate of work injuries was 31%,or 31 per 100 workers an extraordinarily high rate comparable to roughly 10% for relatively high risk conventional employment such as construction.

The abstract of the article:

Occupational health and safety experience of day laborers in Seattle, WA
Noah S. Seixas, PhD, CIH *, Hillary Blecker, MPH, Janice Camp, MS, MN, Rick Neitzel, MS
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
email: Noah S. Seixas (

American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 51:399-406, 2008

*Correspondence to Noah S. Seixas, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, 4225 Roosevelt Way, NE, Seattle, WA 98105-6099.

Background: Day Labor is a growing part of the informal economy in the US, and in Seattle, and may entail a high risk of injury and illness at work.

Methods: We surveyed 180-day laborers, at two worker centers and an unregulated Street location concerning their job-specific exposures and injury experience.

Results: Exposures to both health and safety hazards were common at all three sites. After controlling for type of work, immigrant workers were 1.5-2 times more likely than non-immigrant day laborers to report exposure to hazardous conditions. Among the 180 participants 34 reported injuries were classified as recordable. We estimated an injury rate of 31 recordable injuries per 100 full time employees. The three hiring locations had differing job experiences and exposures. Those hired through worker centers had a lower risk of exposures, while the Street workers were more likely to refuse hazardous work.

Conclusions: Day laborers are exposed to numerous hazards at work, resulting in high injury rates. Multiple approaches including community based organizations which may provide some employment stability and social support for protection at work are needed to reduce occupational injury and illness risk among these vulnerable populations. Am. J. Ind. Med. 51:399-406, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

September 2, 2008

Community health centers and occupational injury response

The federal government funds community health centers. These health centers are charged with providing occupation health services to migratory and seasonal agricultural workers, but in practices this mandate is extended to include immigrant and other uninsured, poor urban workers. Thus community health centers can be an important source of medical care work immigrant workers throughout the United States.

I once visited such a center in Boston. A drawback of this, and other centers, is that they do not bill workers compensation insurers for work injury treatment, thus closing as loop iof accountability for these injuries.

I have included below a definition of a Federally qualified health centers, and the actual language from federal legal that mandates their use for occupational health.

FQHCs must provide primary care services for all age groups. FQHCs must provide preventive health services on site or by arrangement with another provider. Other requirements that must be provided directly by an FQHC or by arrangement with another provider include: dental services, mental health and substance abuse services, transportation services necessary for adequate patient care, hospital and specialty care.

Go here for a Frequently Asked Questions page on these centers.

TITLE 42 CHAPTER 6A SUBCHAPTER II Part D subpart i § 254b

§ 254b. Health centers

(D) in the case of health centers receiving grants under subsection (g) of this section, special occupation-related health services for migratory and seasonal agricultural workers, including—
(i) screening for and control of infectious diseases, including parasitic diseases; and
(ii) injury prevention programs, including prevention of exposure to unsafe levels of agricultural chemicals including pesticides

July 25, 2008

High death rate among Hispanic workers

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease control for June 6, 2008, reported that Hispanic workers experience higher death work-related rates than other workers. The MMWR wrote:

Work-related injury deaths among Hispanic workers during 1992--2006 totaled 11,303 (Figure 1), approximately 13% of all U.S. work-related injury deaths during that period. Median age of Hispanic decedents was 35 years, compared with a median age of 42 years for all workers. Approximately 95% of Hispanic decedents were male. The annual work-related injury death rate for Hispanic workers exceeded the rate for all U.S. workers every year during 1992--2006, with the exception of 1995. In 2006, the work-related injury death rate for Hispanic workers was 5.0 per 100,000 Hispanic workers, compared with rates of 4.0 for all workers, 4.0 for non-Hispanic white workers, and 3.7 for non-Hispanic black workers. During 2003--2006, the work-related injury death rate for foreign-born Hispanic workers was 5.9, compared with a rate of 3.5 for U.S.-born Hispanic workers.


On March 16, 2005, I posted a column answering this question with respect to construction-related deaths, and repost it here:

10 Threads of Huerta's Shroud

Why are Hispanic workers dying on the job at a rate much higher than other workers? On average, every calendar day marks another Hispanic work-related death that confirms this pattern. There are, it turns out, a crowd of culprits.

In 2002, an 18-year-old construction worker, Carlos Huerta, was building low income housing in North Carolina, when he fell to his death from a platform atop the raised prongs of a forklift. The circumstances of Huerta's death reveal what is killing these workers at a higher rate.

One, there are more and more Hispanic workers here. Who are these men? A study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that most Hispanic construction workers were born outside the United States; one-third have been here for less than three years, and one-third speak Spanish only. They are 10 times more likely to have left school before the 9th grade. Two, Hispanic workers have been switching from agricultural to construction work for higher pay and to avoid having to travel to the harvests. Some bring to construction an independent mindset. That might work when it comes to working on the farm. But it's not so desirable when it comes to construction.

Three, Hispanic construction workers are younger, hence less work-experienced. The disparity in construction death rates between Hispanics and non-Hispanics is at its highest in these green years-about double. The disparity declines with age but never disappears.

Continue reading "High death rate among Hispanic workers" »

July 23, 2008

Agriprocessors' worker safety record

The Des Moines Register has been investigating the safety record at Agriprocessors in Postville IA and is not happy with what it found. For instance:

“Agriprocessors' treatment of its workers - and state regulators' treatment of the company - have been a source of controversy since May 12, when 389 workers were detained by federal agents in the nation's largest immigration raid.

A Des Moines Register review of state records indicates that health and safety violations at Agriprocessors rarely result in large fines, although injuries are commonplace there.

The records show that:

• Company officials have repeatedly refused to let state inspectors inside the plant without first obtaining a court warrant. In one incident, inspectors had to go to the courthouse in Waukon and obtain the document. By then, it was too late to return and make the inspection, so the state officials had to book a hotel room and spend the night. They entered the plant the next day, but the delay resulted in company officials getting 24 hours' notice of a planned inspection.

- Unsigned workplace-safety complaints are typically investigated by the state via telephone or fax, rather than by visiting the plant. In one case, inspectors drove to the Postville plant and were denied entry. After realizing the complaint was unsigned, the inspectors drove back to Des Moines without entering the plant.

• Fines for workplace safety violations in Iowa are typically cut by 25 percent to 75 percent from the amounts first proposed. In 2005, after the three amputation injuries at Agriprocessors, a state worker forgot to call company executives for a scheduled telephone conference about a proposed $10,000 fine. After a 45-minute delay, the official told company executives their time was worth a reduction in the fine, and he cut the penalty to $7,500.

• Company executives have failed to give workers protective gear to do certain jobs. For years, the plant didn't provide protective clothing to employees who worked with corrosive chemicals. Protective jackets, pants and boots were available, but they were treated by Agriprocessors as personal clothing that had to be purchased from the plant.”

The article in full:

Agriprocessors escapes big fines for violations

By CLARK KAUFFMAN • • © 2008, Des Moines Register and Tribune Company • July 6, 2008

Carlos Torrez was in the middle of a 60-hour workweek at the Agriprocessors Inc. meat-processing plant in Postville when the mechanical saw he was using to separate chicken parts severed one of his fingers.

Continue reading "Agriprocessors' worker safety record" »

June 10, 2008

Postville, IA: nogoodnik employer

On May 12 ICE raided the Agriproccessors plant in Postville, IA, said to be with its 1,000 odd employees the largest kosher meat processing facility in the world. ICE arrested 389 workers for illegal status. This was heralded as the largest ICE raid ever. As it happened, The state of Iowa Workforce Development’s labor division had fined Agriprocessors $182,000 in October, 2007, for safety violations. In May of this year it reduced the fines to $42,750 as part of a negotiated settlement under which the company promises to remedy its practices. One of the key safety problems was mishandling of chemicals.

According to the Des Moines Register, the owner, New York City based Aaron Rubashkin, is a prime example of an employer who resists any form of accountability. It reported (quote follows):

Aaron Rubashkin blamed his troubles partly on the media, which he compared to the state-run news outlets he saw before he emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1953. He referred to American reporters as 'the lynching press,' and he dismissed their stories. 'Everything is a lie,' he said.

Rubashkin's statements were criticized Wednesday by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has tried to organize the Postville plant.

'We hope that authorities in Iowa, at the federal level and at the kosher certifying agencies, take notice of this company's total unwillingness to accept responsibility for its actions,' union spokesman Scott Frotman said in a prepared statement.

'There is not a slaughterhouse in the country with a more reprehensible record of health and safety violations,' Frotman said. 'The fact that the Rubashkins are now on record accusing state and federal investigators of lying, and the fact that they would say the same thing about their own workers, shows just how morally bankrupt the management of this company is, and how important it is for Agriprocessors to be thoroughly investigated.’

May 15, 2008

Follow up on House of Raeford case

This is the North Carolina - headquartered poultry processing firm which mistreated its injured workers and faked its safety reports. I have posted on this before. I do not know what share of its workforce are immigrants but I expect that a minority or a majority are. This kind of abuse is more easily accomplished with immigrant workers who are uninformed and/or intimidated. the North Carolina Governor is asking for more funds for safety enforcement. It sounds like the state safety regulators are dragging their feet. Thanks to Workcompcentral (subscription required), and to the Charlotte Observer for running the expose.

the Workcompcentral story in full:

Easley Requests More than $1 Million For Poultry Crackdown: Top [05/15/08]

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has included more than $1 million in his 2008 budget to crack down on practices in the poultry industry that include underreporting of crippling injuries and forcing severely injured employees back to work.

Responding to a series of newspaper reports that began running in The Charlotte Observer last year, Easley released a $12.5 billion budget this week that includes $720,000 to replace inspectors and others laid off at the North Carolina Department of Labor because of funding cuts ordered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Easley's proposal calls for spending another $350,000 to hire occupational health nurses and two industrial hygienists for the North Carolina Division of Public Health.

"With the nature of these jobs, poultry plants would be the major focus," Seth Effron, Easley's deputy press secretary, said Wednesday. "He feels very strongly that all workers ought to be treated decently and humanely. There clearly needs to be a way to make sure that happens."

The Observer reported that some poultry plants earned prize-winning safety records by forcing injured workers to return to work quickly enough to avoid the recording of "lost-time" accidents.

Continue reading "Follow up on House of Raeford case" »

May 12, 2008

how illegal farm workers from Mexico get healthcare

The New York Times reports how illegal farm workers obtain medical care for work and non work related conditions under the radar, shying away from clinics where they may be caught and favoring traditional cures. “They may visit a clinic or hospital if they are severely ill. But for many illegal immigrants, particularly indigenous Mexican groups like the Mixtecs, much of their health care is provided by a parallel system of spiritual healers, home remedies and self-medication…. the lack of access to conventional care reinforced a culture of self-medication..”

The story in full:

May 10, 2008

Illegal Farm Workers Get Health Care in Shadows


MADERA, Calif. — The curandera is weary from work. Three, four, five times a day, the immigrant farm workers knock on her apartment door, begging her to cure their ailments.

They complain of indigestion, of rashes, of post-traumatic panic attacks. Then there are the house calls that compel her to crate up her potions and herbs and drive across town, often after midnight, to escape the notice of immigration police.

“I’ve done so many cures that I’m exhausted; it gives me no time to rest,” said Herminia L. Arenas, 55, the curandera, or traditional healer, who has practiced in this Central Valley town since migrating 14 years ago from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. “I want to retire, but I feel like I was sent here to help these people.”

The people need help because they are in the United States illegally and because they are poor. Few have health insurance, but the backbreaking nature of their work, along with the toxicity of American poverty, insure that many are ailing.

Continue reading "how illegal farm workers from Mexico get healthcare" »

December 9, 2007

Records of Hispanic deaths on the job

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) records with brief analysis every occupational death in the country. One of its reports deals only with deaths of Hispanic workers. Here it is.

September 27, 2007

Global Workers Justice Alliance – update

I posted some time ago on this unique New York City-based NGO, which promotes what it calls "portable" labor rights – the right of a foreign worker to enjoy, back in her or his home country (such as Mexico), the right to claim labor rights for an infraction incurred while working in another country (such as the United States.)

Cathleeen Caron has been tirelessly promoting the concept of portability, focusing on the rights of Latin American workers whose rights were violated while in the United States. Below is a typical posting on her blog at her website:

Huetuetenango, Guatamala April 17, 2007 --

Global Workers traveled to the northwest state of Huehuetenango, the biggest migrant-sending state, to strengthen contacts with lawyers willing to collaborate with the program and identify some new ones. The goal is to have two advocates from three Guatemalan states selected for the initial training, which will likely occur in September. With the newly empowered advocate network trained and in place, Global Workers will be able to facilitate a heavy case load of labor cases for Guatemalan migrants.

A likely ally will be the Catholic Church’s Human Mobility Pastoral Service. The network, especially in Huehuetenango, is impressive. They have an educational, empowerment training program for pastoral lay agents. The program, which already includes information on migrant rights, commits the lay agents to conduct workshops in their parishes in order to pass on or multiply the new knowledge. With representatives in 30 of the 32 counties in Huehuetenango, the potential to reach out to migrants about their rights, is astonishing. The church also has a legal department to provide free legal services. Discussions are under way about the church’s formal collaboration with Global Workers in Huehuetenango.

While in Huehuetenango, Global Workers met with the Ministry of Labor’s local office to discuss the guest worker recruiter abuses. Although the local supervisor expressed keen interest in the issue, the lack of resources (the office does not even have a telephone) will likely limit their ability to investigate and halt the illegal recruitment practices.

September 21, 2007

Working on Faith: failures to protect workers in the Katrina cleanup.

In the summer of 2006, I reported on three studies on Katrina cleanup workers. In the last few months, a fourth one was been published.

In early summer of this year, Chicago-based Interfaith Work Justice published a report called Working on Faith. It addressed worker rights and protections among Katrina cleanup workers. Many of these workers were migrant workers.

Interfaith Work Justice interviewed 218 Katrina cleanup workers in mid 2006. It found that 47% did not receive all the wages they were promised, 55% were not paid overtimes after 40 hours a week, 58% said they were exposed the hazardous substances, and virtually all workers were unaware of the U.S. Department of Labor as a source of information about work rights and protections. IWJ called up the federal government to expand DOL’s resources to protect these workers.

IWJ maintains a network of 16 worker centers located in 13 states.

Partnership between DOL and Interfaith Worker Justice

Per the public interest organization:

In the past few years, the Interfaith Worker Justice and local interfaith committees have been building partnerships with local, state, and national Department of Labor (DOL) staff. These partnerships have sought to:

* Inform workers, especially low-wage and immigrant workers, of their rights in the workplace. At the national level, bulletin inserts were jointly created in nine languages that have been and continue to be distributed to workers through congregations. In local communities, DOL staff have provided educational workshops to workers.
* Train advocates to better support workers in seeking justice in the workplace. Because many worker advocates—pastors, social workers, immigrant advocates, and community organizers— are unfamiliar with the basic labor laws, they often don't recognize basic law law violations that workers experience. Local DOL staff have partnered with local interfaith groups to train advocates about labor laws, so they can be more effective advocates.
* Create safe spaces and ways for workers to file complaints with DOL offices. Many workers, especially immigrant workers, are fearful of government agencies. And no one would suggest that the DOL procedures are particularly user-friendly. Thus, DOL staff and religious advocates have partnered to find new ways to support workers in filing complaints. Some groups are testing new simplified complaint forms. Other groups are forming workers' centers, where workers can drop in for help. Others are looking to revive parish-based labor schools that create a safe space for workers to both file complaints and learn to organize.

The best time to begin developing partnerships between the religious community and the DOL is now. More importantly, low-wage workers need the joint efforts of the religious community and government agencies in order to challenge unjust employers.

Contact your local DOL Wage and Hour office. Invite the director or deputy director to talk with members of your interfaith group, local congregation or union local. Ask the director to describe local industries with particular problems in your area. Discuss ways that the religious community might help meet the goals described above.

For more information

Contact Kim Bobo at

Department of Labor
The Department of Labor has a website that provides many of its background information sheets. To visit, go to If you have a specific wage and hour question, you can call the new Wage-Hour toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone at 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Interstate Labor Standards Association (ILSA)
This is an organization of the state labor standards agencies that enforce such issues as child labor, wage and hour, prevailing wage, and some workplace safety. For a list of the state contacts and an overview of the issues covered by state labor organizations, visit

Young Worker Safety and Health Network
This is a network of organizations working on young worker safety and health issues. For a list of all state labor agency child labor contacts, visit

July 29, 2007

Refugio: OSHA - Hispanic worker joint safety project in NJ

According to this report, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and El Refugio of Newton, N.J., signed an alliance to develop workplace safety and health training programs to promote construction safety among Hispanic workers and employers.

El Refugio is a nonprofit outreach center for Hispanic families.

Under the alliance, OSHA will work with El Refugio to develop workplace safety and health training programs to educate the organization's clients about fall, amputation, electrical, struck-by and crushed-in hazards and emergency response issues.

OSHA also will deliver its 10-hour construction and general industry courses to Hispanic employers and employees in both English and Spanish.

The agreement will remain in effect for two years.

"This alliance will expand our ability to protect employees who are often at risk because of a language barrier," OSHA Parsippany, N.J., area office director Phil Peist said.

"OSHA looks forward to working with El Refugio and the state of New Jersey to accomplish this critical goal," Peist added.

Safety and health alliances are part of the Department of Labor's efforts to improve the health and safety of employees through cooperative partnerships with trade associations, labor organizations, employers and government agencies.

OSHA currently has more than 450 alliances throughout the nation with organizations committed to promoting safety and health in the workplace.

June 17, 2007

Coaching Mexicans on labor rights in the U.S.

Thanks for Bill Zachry for bringing to my attention this San Francisco Chronicle article about training Mexican workers, in Mexico, about their employee rights. “Started in September, the Center for Migrant Rights is a small nonprofit group based in the central state of Zacatecas, which provides free legal aid to guest workers seeking compensation for injuries or missed pay. The workshops -- this one was conducted in the central city of Celaya in Guanajuato state -- emerged after some 20 workers who had returned from the United States decided to educate would-be migrants about the ins and outs of toiling in the United States.”

the Global Workers Justice Fund is trying to do something about ensuring legal representation of Hispanic workers in the U.S. when they have returned to their country of origin.

Mexico courses teach migrants American ways

(06-12) 04:00 PDT Celaya, Mexico -- On a recent Sunday morning, a dozen burly men sat in a cinder-block garage, fixing their attention on the acronyms "OSHA," "EPA" and "DOL" written on large pieces of paper.

"Why is it that we Mexicans only know about the migra (U.S. immigration officials) and the police?" asked Jesus Rojas of the Center for Migrant Rights. "Why not the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees workplace safety? Why not the Department of Labor, which looks out for wage violations?"

Next, Rojas passed around a pay stub from his job in Delaware when he worked as a landscaper on a guest-worker visa. "Don't trash these, file them away," he said. "Being organized can help if you or your fellow workers are underpaid or not paid at all."

Call it Immigration 101.

Started in September, the Center for Migrant Rights is a small nonprofit group based in the central state of Zacatecas, which provides free legal aid to guest workers seeking compensation for injuries or missed pay. The workshops -- this one was conducted in the central city of Celaya in Guanajuato state -- emerged after some 20 workers who had returned from the United States decided to educate would-be migrants about the ins and outs of toiling in the United States.

Since then, the center's immigration attorneys have organized crash courses on U.S. labor law, the role of U.S. government agencies and previous civil rights struggles. The lawyers then accompanied the budding activists to workshops in their home states of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Queretero and Veracruz, among others.

As the U.S. Congress remains indecisive on immigration reform, one thing is sure in the poor and dusty outskirts of Celaya -- migrant workers, whether illegal or not, will remain vulnerable to exploitation by some U.S. employers.

"I wish somebody had told me about all of this before I left Mexico," said the 52-year-old Rojas.

Continue reading "Coaching Mexicans on labor rights in the U.S." »

May 25, 2007

Edgar Velázquez: Maimed at work, then deported

The Providence Journal featured a troubling story this past Sunday, which was just brought to our attention. For those of us who work in workers comp, the terrible story of Edgar Velázquez: Maimed at work, then deported* is one that is played out all too frequently in the nation's workplaces.

Edgar Velázquez is an undocumented Mexican worker who crossed the border after paying a coyote $1800. He found his way to Rhode Island to join family. According the this story, William J. Gorman Jr., owner of Billy G’s Tree Care, hired Velázquez despite knowing that he was an "illegal immigrant," paying him an hourly rate under the table. Velázquez says that he was not provided any protective equipment to handle the chain saws that he used on his job, yet here's what OSHA recommends for chainsaw safety: head protection, face/eye protection, hearing protection, leg protection, foot protection, hand protection.

Had Velázquez been wearing head or face protection, perhaps the injury he sustained when the chainsaw bounced off a fence and sliced through his face might have been prevented or mitigated. The surgeon who performed emergency reconstructive surgery on Velázquez, called the injury "devastating."

Since the injury, Gorman has flatly denied that he employed Velázquez when family and treating physicians tried to find out about insurance. Gorman also denied any knowledge of Velázquez when contacted by the reporter who wrote this story.

When Velázquez showed up at the hearing that was scheduled to determine his eligibility for workers comp to cover his medical care and wage replacement, immigration agents were waiting for him. He was arrested and within a few days, driven over the Mexican border and dropped off. The story states that his former employer was on hand for the hearing, and approached Velázquez' attorney Maureen Gemma, saying, "You’ll never guess what happened ... I just saw your client walking up to the courthouse and Immigration snatched him up. … I think it was Immigration. It had to be." Gemma said Gorman was obviously amused.

Perhaps Mr. Gorman is less amused now that this story is coming to light.

According to RI law and the law in most states, worker immigration status is not a bar to workers compensation benefits. But Billy G's Tree Care isn't insured for workers compensation, according to state records, and never has been. Mr. Gorman's attorney thinks that his client may not be required to carry workers compensation. We are not so sure about that, but we do think it's a good idea that Mr. Gorman has an attorney. If the facts are correct, he is violating a host of other federal and state employment laws and avoiding payroll taxes. Mr. Gorman's attorney thinks that the relationship between Velázquez and Gorman was not one of employee and employer, but independent contractor and sole proprietor. We are not so sure about that, either. Mr. Gorman, on the other hand, apparently disagrees with this assessment since he has denied any relationship with Velázquez whatsoever.

This is a fairly clear example of the exploitation that immigrant workers face at the hands of unscrupulous employers. They are hired with a nod and a wink and paid under the table. Safety precautions are ignored and labor laws are violated. Statutory benefits are denied. This type of exploitation is no small problem - many think it as nothing short of modern day slavery.

The debate about immigration is so heated that even matters of basic human decency and common sense are often jettisoned. We've heard the argument "...but he was illegal" ad nauseum. Whether worker status is legal or illegal is a separate issue entirely. Employers should not be allowed to exploit and abuse employees, period. This matter should be of concern to all, if not on the grounds of morality, then just good business sense. Velázquez is the first and most obvious victim of injustice here, but not the last. By avoiding taxes, benefits, and insurance, unscrupulous employers have an unfair competitive edge over honest employers who do the right thing. Workers have no records, no benefits, and no protection. And when workers are injured or killed on the job, somebody else pays the bills. The rest of us bear the financial burden that exploiting employers shirk.

Because his situation has come to light, many people are advocating for Velázquez and trying to see that he gets justice. For every story that gets this attention, there are untold more that will never receive a public airing. There is quite a lot of passion around the issue of "illegal immigrants," but far too little passion around the issue of "illegal employers."

Thanks to Karen Lee Ziner for her good reporting on this story and to Cathleen Caron of the Global Worker Justice Alliance for alerting us about the article.

* If you have trouble accessing the article, try this link from MIRA.

April 27, 2007

Can OSHA protect low wage immigrant workers?

This is a question we have to ask after its abject failure to address toxic exposures in microwave popcorn plants, as described this week in the New York Times. “The people at OSHA have no interest in running a regulatory agency,” said Dr. David Michaels, an occupational health expert at George Washington University who has written extensively about workplace safety. “If they ever knew how to issue regulations, they’ve forgotten. The concern about protecting workers has gone out the window.”

Sure, OSHA has made efforts, including some alliances with local organizations close to immigrant-driven industries such as home building. I have posted on some in the past. But like much of America, OSHA seems to be unable to grasp the significance of the huge multi-lingual labor presence in our economy. Mentally, the country thinks as if a tiny fraction of workers are immigrants. Well, over 12% are, and in numerous job sectors the percentage is over 50%.

A main reasons I strongly support the introduction of a guest worker program is that it will provide a foundation for more focused attention to work protections of immigrant workers – not just currently undocumented workers, but all low wage immigrant workers.

March 8, 2007

sweat shop in New Bedford MA busted, 350 illegal workers out of work

Workers Comp Insider, the best workers comp blog in the country, reports on and analyzes a story in the Boston Globe about a raid on a sweast shoop which made military supplies.

According to jon Coppelman of Workers Comp Insider, "Affidavits allege that Insolia preferred to hire illegal immigrants because they were desperate for jobs and willing to put up with atrocious working conditions. He even helped them secure forged identity papers, referring them to vendors who would produce the documents for about $120. As for the working conditions, workers were routinely denied overtime pay, docked 15 minutes for every minute late and fined for talking on the job or spending more than two minutes in the plant's "squalid" rest rooms. Sure, but at least the vests and backpacks were made in America!"

March 6, 2007

Live-in domestic foreign in workers in the U.S.

Human rights Watch issued in June 2001 a 58 page report on the tens of thousands of foreign born workers to come to work in America as au pairs and maids. I am posting about it with thanks to Julie Ferguson for having brought it to my attention. These workers come under one of the following visa programs: A-3 if hired by diplomats, G-5 if hired by international organizations, and B-1 if hired by other foreigners or American citizens. Human Rights Watch finds that these workers are without legally enforceable work contracts, are not protected by American labor laws, and can easily be threatened with deportation by their employers. This report is a stunning expose of the problems these workers experience.

March 4, 2007

Digging into abuses of H-2A and H-2B temporary worker programs in U.S.

The Global Worker Alliance, about which I have posted in the past, is evolving into the leading advocate of temporary worker rights, especially for H-2A (agriculture) and H-2B (forestry, landscaping, etc.) workers. I have placed below its March 2007 report on a visit to Guatemala. The Aliiance is now training workers before they come, and documenting abuses of recruiters.

Reducing Guest Worker Exploitation in Guatemala

Global Workers has been persistently encouraging the United States Embassy in Guatemala and the Guatemalan Labor Ministry to take steps to reduce the rampant exploitation of the Guatemalan people who work in the US guest worker program. On a recent trip to Guatemala, both entities pledged to take major steps forward.

Global Workers met with the US Ambassador and the US Consul General in Guatemala and secured a commitment to change the practice of not informing guest workers about their rights or where to seek assistance. Soon the embassy should be providing the workers with a know-your rights hand out that Global Workers and Southern Poverty Law Center jointly crafted.

The Guatemalan labor ministry has invited Global Workers to provide a training on the US guest worker program. Building on the training, the ministry is pledging to crack down on the abuses by Guatemalan contractors. One such example is the procurement of false loans. Contractors force workers to sign contracts stating they have received loans, when in fact they have not. The contract is a form of bondage to guarantee the worker’s return.

February 28, 2007

Recruiter abuses in H-2A agriculture guest worker program

“Low Pay and Broken Promises Greet Guest Workers” in the New York Times reports abuses on the United States guest worker program for agricultural workers, the H-2A program. I have posted on H-2A workers before, and also on a special H-2B forestry workers program. The articles focuses on recruitment abuses. “The guest worker program is not for contractors who feel they might be able to find work for other people,” said Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s for people who have a compelling need to bring in workers from abroad. There’s an enormous incentive for contractors to bring in as many people as possible, even when there isn’t enough work, because they often make money from recruitment fees.”

The article says, “Each year 120,000 foreign workers receive visas to do farm work or other low-skilled labor, usually for three to nine months. These programs grew out of the World War II bracero program, in which hundreds of thousands of Mexicans worked on farms and railroads, often in deplorable conditions.”

Labor experts say employers abuse guest workers far more than other workers because employers know they can ship them home the moment they complain. They also know these workers cannot seek other jobs if they are unhappy.

“I’d say a substantial majority of U.S. guest workers experience some abuses with their paycheck,” said David Griffith, a professor in the anthropology department at East Carolina University and author of the new book “American Guestworkers: Jamaicans and Mexicans in the U.S. Labor Market.” “It’s the recruitment process especially where they get cheated.”

The abuses take many forms. Guest workers often pay exorbitant fees and are frequently given fewer weeks of work and lower wages than promised. Many employers fail to make good on their commitment to pay transportation costs. The Thai workers, who were supposed to be paid $16,000 a year for three years, ended up earning a total of just $1,400 to $2,400. Most of the Thai workers had their passports taken away after they arrived, leaving them trapped.

“The program has been rife with abuses, even during the best of times,” said Cindy Hahamovitch, a history professor at the College of William and Mary, who is writing a book about guest workers. “There will never be enough inspectors to check every labor camp, contract and field.”

The article in full:

Continue reading "Recruiter abuses in H-2A agriculture guest worker program" »

February 26, 2007

California labor law enforcement in the underground economy

There are at least two enforcement efforts at work in California to protect low wage immigrant workers, including illegal workers, from employer abuses. One I have already posted on here – an initiative to combat workers comp fraud. Another is the Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition. Both of these initiatives enforce state and/or federal employment laws without necessarily closing down the targeted businesses.

Workcompcentral reported today an EEEC action: “Garment Industry Sweep Nets $454,600 in Fines.” The report: “A garment industry enforcement sweep by California's underground economy task force netted $454,000 in fines and found five employers who lacked workers' compensation coverage for 95 employees, the state Department of Industrial Relations announced Friday. The Economic and Employment Enforcement Coalition's (EEEC) Feb. 7-8 sweep resulted in 24 of 32 businesses inspected receiving a notice to discontinue and $454,600 in citations and projected penalties. Inspectors found five businesses that lacked comp coverage for workers.

Those businesses and other garment manufacturers were also cited for a variety of labor law violations.

After the sweep, Korean Garment Industry Association President Steve Kim initiated an outreach seminar to answer labor compliance questions and to help local garment manufacturers into compliance, the EEEC said. The seminar was held Thursday in Los Angeles.

The EEEC presentation included expert speakers from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The Employment Development Department and U.S. Department of Labor were also on hand to answer questions and provide information on workplace safety, wage and hour, payroll taxes, registration and other labor-related issues, the coalition said in a press release.

Below is a desription of the EEEC from its website:

Continue reading "California labor law enforcement in the underground economy" »

February 21, 2007

OSHA and regional business association join forces to train Hispanic workers

The following is a press release by OSHA about this training program. Delmarva Safety Association works with Delaware, Maryland and Virginia employers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Delmarva Safety Association (DSA) recognize the value of establishing a collaborative relationship to foster safer and more healthful American workplaces. OSHA and DSA hereby form an Alliance to provide DSA members and others with information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help them protect employees’ health and safety, with a specific focus on reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths among the Spanish-speaking workforce. In developing this Alliance, OSHA and DSA recognize that OSHA’s State Plan and Consultation Project partners are an integral part of the OSHA national effort.

OSHA and DSA will work together to achieve the following training and education goals:

* Develop training and education programs on occupational safety and health issues specifically targeted to employers of Hispanic workers.

* Deliver information for inclusion in safety and health training for supervisors that addresses important cultural considerations and sensitivities.

* Deliver or arrange for the delivery of safety and health training which address these cultural considerations.

See below for the complete press release:

Continue reading "OSHA and regional business association join forces to train Hispanic workers" »

February 9, 2007

Human trafficking suit in CT

The Associated Press today reported a federal suit by Guatamalan workers in Connecticut alleging a nursery engaged in human trafficking. The suit goes after both the nursery, Imperial Nurseries, and the labor contractor. If the suit is half true, it's still 100% awful. Yale Law School students helped to prepare the suit. The labor contractor, who appears to have been fired some time ago by the nursery, seems to agree with the suit but denies it know anything about it.

Story follows:

Continue reading "Human trafficking suit in CT" »

Tidbits from the first year of this blog

In passing into the second year of, I have compiled some notable entries from the first year -- Peter Rousmaniere

Relative role of U.S. in transborder migration

Number of cities in world with at least one million foreign born residents: 20
Number of these cities in the United States: 8
Number of these cities in India or China: zero
Size of foreign born population in the world today: 200 million out of 6.5 billion (3%)
Size of foreign born population in U.S. Today: 35 million out of 300 million (12%)

Relative role of China in intraborder migration

Number of internal migrants from rural to urban areas in China: 150 million out of total population of 1.2 billion.

Off-shoring of work and the polarization of the American workforce

MIT professor David Autor argues that highly routine mental and manual jobs are being outsourced overseas or eliminated by automation, but that mental and manual jobs involving a level of irregularity in decision making and face to face servicing are growing. This concept explains why some manual jobs are expected to grow in the future along with the growth of high end mental jobs.

Impact of all immigrant workers on American workforce

Share of new jobs 2002 – 2012 to be filled by an immigrant: one out of eight

Size of illegal workforce

Illegal workers in U.S. as of early 2006: about 7.3 million

Illegal workers as % of total U.S. workforce: 4.9%

Illegal workers as % of total U.S. workforce in jobs requiring less than high school degree and without strict documentation requirements: 9/7%

Where do illegal workers work?

Per the Pew Hispanic Center:

Some 55-60% of these undocumented workers are in formal employment and are paying social security taxes

About 3 million of the 7.2 million illegal workers are in occupations in which undocumented workers account for at least 15% of total employment in that occupation. These include construction labor (25%), cooks (20%). Maids and housecleaners (22%), and grounds maintenance (25%). among roofers, 29% of the total workforce is estimated to be undocumented workers.

One half of undocumented working men here are single. But a phenomenal 94% of undocumented men work compared to 83% for native Americans.

Economic impact of illegal population in U.S.

A Texas study says that illegal household payments of consumer and property taxes (via rent or home ownership) exceeds by about 30% the taxpayer burden for education, healthcare, and incarceration.

Do illegal workers displace American workers?

Some say yes, others say no.

It appears that illegal worker compensation is about 30% below what it would be with 100% worker protections afforded to Americans. Go here for a case study.

Waves of Hispanic work immigration since 1980s

1980s: agricultural workers, mostly on farms
1990s: meat processing workers, mostly in rural; towns
2000s: urban work including residential construction: in cities and suburbs

Employment of Indians in the U.S.

They own 20,000 hotels, or 50% of all economy hotels in the U.S.
There are 40,000 Indian physicians in the U.S, or about 4% of all doctors

Role of foreign born entrepreneurs in the U.S.

They are involved in one quarter of all technology start-ups.

Is there a nursing shortage?


Percentage of Philippine nurses working outside the Philippines


Foreign nurses in the U.S.

300,000, or about 11% of all nurses.

Mexican population in U.S.

Percentage of Mexican workforce that is working in the U.S.


Remittances from Mexicans in U.S. to Mexico

$25 billion in 2006

Total remittances from all parts of world to Latin America

$54 billion in 2005

Number of community-based immigrant worker centers

upwards of 200

Foreign day laborers in the U.S.

Estimated number on any particular day:

117,600 at 500 sites in the U.S.

Percentage who speak English very well:


Mexican Government guide for illegally entering the U.S.

I am just now getting around to posting this guide, here in English translation, and available in original comic book format here.

Guide for the Mexican Migrant

Distributed by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations


Esteemed Countryman:

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with practical advice that may prove useful to you in case you have made the difficult decision to search for employment opportunities outside of your country.

The sure way to enter another country is by getting your passport from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the visa, which you may apply for at the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to travel to.

However, in practice we see many Mexicans who try to cross the Northern Border without the necessary documents, through high risk zones that involve grave dangers, particularly in desert areas or rivers with strong, and not always obvious, currents.

Reading this guide will make you aware of some basic questions about the legal consequences of your stay in the United States of America without the appropriate migratory documents, as well as about the rights you have in that country, once you are there, independent of your migratory status.

Keep in mind always that there exist legal mechanisms to enter the United States of America legally.

In any case, if you encounter problems or run into difficulties, remember that Mexico has 45 consulates in that country whose locations you can find listed in this publication.

Familiarize yourself with the closest consulate and make use of it.


Continue reading "Mexican Government guide for illegally entering the U.S." »

February 5, 2007

2/5/07 update on Swift raid

The Washington Post ran this article quoting the president of Swift as saying the raids were for show.

Meatpacker: Immigration Raids Were Show
The Associated Press, February 2, 2007

Greeley, CO (AP) -- The head of meatpacker Swift & Co. said federal officials wanted a high-profile example of an immigration crackdown when they staged raids at its plants in six states in an identity theft investigation late last year.

President and CEO Sam Rovit said the government rejected the company's offer to help in the investigation months before the Dec. 12 raids.

'They were looking for a marquee to show the administration it was tough on immigration,' he told the Greeley Tribune for a story published Friday.

Rovit denied knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and told the newspaper his company complied with federal hiring practices to check applicants' immigration status.

Rovit and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages from The Associated Press Friday.

ICE arrested 1,282 workers during raids in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Iowa and Minnesota. Of those, 246 now face state or federal identity theft charges and the rest face immigration charges.

Greeley-based Swift says it is the world's second-largest processor of fresh beef and pork, and employs about 20,000 people, including about 15,000 in the U.S.

January 25, 2007

NYCOSH online library on immigrant work safety

NYCOSH -- the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health -- has created a library online with many reports, news articles, and other materials about the work safety and health of immigrant workers. Most of the material is from 2002 through 2004. It was last updated in 9/06.

NYCOSH was instrumental in making sure medical assistance and worker rights counseling was made available to the 8,000 odd immigrant workers engaged in the rescue and recovery from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

November 22, 2006

Construction accidents in New York City up 61%

The New York Times reported today a jump in construction accidents, with a high participation of Hispanic workers in small non-union jobs. I have posted often on the higher rate of fatalities and injuries sustained by Hispanic construction workers. I have written an article on this problem for Risk & Insurance Magazine. Part of the problem is the grey labor market that exists with illegal working immigrants. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that, nationwide, 29% of all roofers are illegal workers. This kind of work safety problem is exactly the kind of problem which a guest worker program will help to overcome.

The story:

Continue reading "Construction accidents in New York City up 61%" »

November 21, 2006

“Independent contractor” abuses among immigrant construction workers in Boston

The Boston Globe has run an article titled “An underground economy of improperly classified workers cheats laborers and taxpayers alike.” The Senate's guest worker legislative language prohibiting independent contractor status is designed to prevent these abuses.

The article summarizes the problem:

The undocumented workers are part of an underground economy fueled by fast-paced growth in the region. But this underground economy poses particular problems for both the workers and the Commonwealth's taxpayers.

Because the laborers' unidentified employer is classifying them -- in violation of state labor law, union officials say -- as independent contractors, they are not eligible for the benefits and safeguards available to regular employees. They are paid no overtime and are not eligible for health insurance or worker's compensation.

A 2004 study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University concluded that one in every seven construction workers was misclassified as an independent contractor and estimated that the illegal practice cost the state $7 million a year in worker compensation premiums, $4 million a year in payroll taxes, and $4 million a year in unemployment insurance payments.

More from the article, by Robert Knox 11/16/06:

Continue reading "“Independent contractor” abuses among immigrant construction workers in Boston" »

November 2, 2006

Spanish language barriers increase hazards on construction sites

At a recent construction industry conference an executive in charge of safety for a large industry firm spoke on the need to address more forcefully work safety among Hispanic workers. “The bilingual workforce is ‘an issue we need to deal with because it's a hazard. That's not unkind, it's the truth…and it needs to be dealt with effectively,’ Mr. Carter said….. Enacting workplace policies requiring employees to speak only English is not the solution, Mr. Carter said. Federal appeals courts have upheld "English only" rules in the workplace, but there must be a "business necessity" for it, Mr. Carter said. If employers cannot prove the workplace policy is a business necessity, they may be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said.”

This will be a BIG issue in the implementation of a guest worker program,. I predict.

The full text of the 10/23 article published in Business Insurance is below:

SAN DIEGO—While there are many hazards on a construction site, employers cannot overlook the hazard associated with a bilingual work force, according to a health and safety expert.

Hispanic workers die at a greater rate each year in U.S. workplace construction accidents than African-Americans and Caucasians, and within the next five years or so, Hispanics could represent nearly half of the construction workforce, said Tim Carter, vp-health, safety, security and environmental for Trammell Crow Co., an Irvine, Calif.-based commercial real estate services company.

Lack of effective communication within a bilingual workforce raises a number of safety issues, but implementing an English-only workplace policy is not the answer. Instead, he said, the focus should be on effective communication and training.

Continue reading "Spanish language barriers increase hazards on construction sites" »

October 13, 2006

Major study of low wage immigrant workers in California

The California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers Compensation, a highly visible state agency, has released its study of “Barriers to occupational health services for low-wage workers in California.” This is the largest scope and best investigated study of its kind. I have previously posted on numerous other more limited studies about garment, hotel and meat processing workers, and day laborers. I have copied below the entire Executive Summary. Go here for the CHSWC's website, where you can get a .doc version of the study.

This study says several important things either explicitly or by omission. First, work safety and access to workers compensation protections present pervasive problems among low wage workers -- in particular, immigrant workers. The authors are effectively confirming other studies, in greater depth and more nuance.

Second, the authors say by their silence that the California state agency with the greatest practical influence over correcting these problems is, well, useless. The authors appeared to have never even interviewed executives at the massive state run State Compensation Insurance Fund. SCIF is by far the largest workers comp insurer in the state, in fact the largest in the world, and whose seven person board includes three union representatives. I queried the Commission last summer about why SCIF was not even mentioned in an earlier draft. I did not receive a direct answer. I am left with the feeling that one state agency, CHSWC, decided that SCIF was useless as either a source of information or as a promoter of work safety and workers comp improvements. SCIF is likely by far the largest insurer of low eimmigrant workforces in the state.

Who are these low wage workers? The authors write, “Officially, over 3.7 million Californians are employed in occupations whose median wage is less than $10 an hour, the definition used in this report to classify workers as “low-wage.” Perhaps as many as two million more may be employed in California’s expanding underground economy. The majority of low-wage workers are nonwhite and immigrants. Typical low-wage occupations in California include restaurant and food service employees, health aides, cashiers, janitors, hotel cleaners, assemblers, security guards, farm laborers, retail clerks and sewing machine operators, among others.

“Overall, nearly two-thirds of the 25 leading occupations reporting non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses are low-wage occupations. Heavy physical exertion, exposure to toxic substances and blood borne pathogens, repetitive motions performed bent over or in awkward postures for hours and slips, falls and other accidents are some of the common risk factors.”

The Executive Summary:

Continue reading "Major study of low wage immigrant workers in California" »

Barriers to occupational health services tolow wage workers in CA

The California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers Compensation, a highly visible state agency, has released its study of “Barriers to occupational health services for low-wage workers in California.” This is the largest scope and best investigated study of its kind. I have previously posted on numerous other more limited studies about garment, hotel and meat processing workers, and day laborers. I have copied below the entire Executive Summary.

This study says several important things either explicitly or by omission. First, work safety and access to workers compensation protections are pervasive problems among low wage workers -- in particular, immigrant workers. The authors are effectively confirming other studies, in this broad and deep examination.

Second, the authors say by their silence that the California state agency with the greatest practical influence over correcting these problems is, well, useless. The authors appeared to have never even interviewed executives at the massive state run State Compensation Insurance Fund. SCIF is by far the largest workers comp insurer in the state, in fact the largest in the world, and whose seven person board includes three union representatives.

I queried the Commission last summer about why SCIF is not even mentioned. I did not receive a direct answer. I am left with the feeling that one state agency, CHSWC, decided that SCIF was useless as either a source of information or as a agency of work safety and workers comp system improvements.

Who are these low wage workers? The authors write, “Officially, over 3.7 million Californians are employed in occupations whose median wage is less than $10 an hour, the definition used in this report to classify workers as “low-wage.” Perhaps as many as two million more may be employed in California’s expanding underground economy. The majority of low-wage workers are nonwhite and immigrants. Typical low-wage occupations in California include restaurant and food service employees, health aides, cashiers, janitors, hotel cleaners, assemblers, security guards, farm laborers, retail clerks and sewing machine operators, among others.

“Overall, nearly two-thirds of the 25 leading occupations reporting non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses are low-wage occupations. Heavy physical exertion, exposure to toxic substances and blood borne pathogens, repetitive motions performed bent over or in awkward postures for hours and slips, falls and other accidents are some of the common risk factors.”

The Executive Summary:

Continue reading "Barriers to occupational health services tolow wage workers in CA" »

September 13, 2006

Many immigrants working at WTC cleanup

As reported in Newsday, “experts estimate that [among the 40,000 workers engaged in the cleanup] between 3,000 and 10,000 Ground Zero workers were immigrants, of which half -- between 1,500 and 5,000 -- were in the country without papers, said Carmen Calderon of the Manhattan-based nonprofit New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.” Another estimate can be derived from the Sept 2006 Mt. Sinai Medical Center medical study of 9,000 cleanup workers. It reported that 17% of examinations were in languages other than English: 10.3% in Spanish, 3.3% in Polish, 0.3% in other. Per the Mt. Sinai study, 23.8% of those examined had Hispanic ethnicity. So assuming that 20% of the workers were immigrants, Let's estimate that 75% of Hispanic workers, or 17.8% are immigrants. Adding the Polish speaking we come to about 20% of all workers, or 8,000 workers.

How many were undocumented? 1,500 seems to be too low, and 4,000 - 5,000 conceivable if you assume that 75% of Spanish speakers are undocumented and 75% of Polish speakers are undocumented. I don’t have a way to make a better estimate.

The Newsday article goes on:

Interviews across the region show that some of the undocumented immigrants who worked at the site are, in fact, now seeking treatment offered by Stony Brook, Mount Sinai and other regional facilities.

In February, Calderon's group opened an office in Hauppauge to search out these workers on Long Island and to offer assistance. Meanwhile, Stony Brook's monitoring program is planning to hire a Spanish-speaking doctor and social worker to cope with what they expect will be a growing number of undocumented immigrants coming for help at the Islandia clinic.

Experts and activists say that many of the undocumented immigrants have not come forward because of language barriers. Others fear deportation, although government officials say they don't plan any such crackdowns. Calderon said most of the undocumented immigrants are from Poland, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

September 8, 2006

Throwaway workers: dangerous jobs take toll on illegal immigrants

Thanks to Jason Barab of Confined Space for alerting me to the publication of this report by Stephen Franklin and Darnell Little of the Chicago Tribune on the occupational injury and death risks of immigrant labor, especially illegal workers. This is not the first not the last news article to be written on this topic. The authors present case studies from around the country. Excerpts:

Over the last decade, Latino workers' fatality rates have soared, outstripping their share of the workforce. With more Latinos on the job, many suffer a hefty dose of injuries from some of the most dangerous jobs, according to government statistics and interviews with union, workplace safety and public health experts, as well as workers. They are vulnerable because many are immigrants who are illiterate in English, have little understanding of American culture and are grateful for any job, no matter how dangerous. And because many are undocumented immigrants, afraid of being deported, they often don't ask questions and don't challenge the boss.”

Since 1997, Latino workers in Illinois have had an injury rate twice that of others, said Dr. Linda Forst at the University of Illinois at Chicago, relying on figures from the Illinois Trauma Registry. Latino workers' rate of amputations for fingers or hands is three times that of others.

When Antonio Cabrera, a 25-year-old Guatemalan, was badly injured in a Chicago construction accident, he was so petrified he hid instead of getting immediate help. Eager for work and in debt $6,000 to the "coyote" who had smuggled him to Chicago, he took a painting job on the North Side last spring. The pay was about $7 an hour. Back home in rural Guatemala, where his wife and four children still live, he had earned $4 a day as a farmer. It had started to snow, and he was the last of the painters to quit, suspended in a swing three stories aboveground. Usually, his team would use a backup rope for safety, but this time, for some reason, he said there wasn't one for him.
As he began to lower himself, the rope broke, and Cabrera plummeted to the street, landing first on his left foot. Passersby called police, but his co-workers, hearing the approaching sirens, panicked and hid him in a nearby car. A bone was sticking out of his foot, so they covered it with a blanket. When police arrived, he and his co-workers insisted he was OK and did not need any help. They feared being turned over to immigration officials. "I was afraid, and they were afraid too," he recalled. Cabrera was lucky because he did go to the hospital, and his medical bills were covered by the painting company's health insurance. Contacted by the Tribune, the painting company owner would not discuss the incident.

July 6, 2006

Third study out on labor rights violations on Katrina cleanup

The Advancement Project issued today its report, "Worker exploitation in New Orleans is running rampant." I have not studied it yet but conversations with people involved or who know the study inform me that the researchers found -- as did those involved with the two other studies I have posted on -- violations of workers comp standards. I will post more as I dig into it. to find these other studies, type "katrina" in the search box.

July 5, 2006

New Mexico Workplace Safety for Immigrant Workers From Mexico (2005)

The workers comp regulators in New Mexico have been way out in front in recognizing and trying to address the work safety issues that are distinctive to Hispanic immigration workforces (legal or not). The regulators have worked up some programs in collaboration with the Mexican consulate. The program includes Spanish language wallet cards and safety videos.

I have posted below an article which appeared in the Journal of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). I visited the state regulatory agency and the state-sponsored worker comp insurer, New Mexico Employers' Mutual Insurance Corporation, in December, and found both to be very attentive to the problems of under-reporting of injuries and poor medical treatment.

Workplace Safety for Immigrant Workers From Mexico: Perspectives for Workers’ Compensation Administrators

By James M. Mullen, Safety Technical Advisor, Office of the Director, New Mexico Workers' Compensation Administration, Phone: 505-841-6807 E-mail:

IAIABC Journal Fall, 2005

Continue reading "New Mexico Workplace Safety for Immigrant Workers From Mexico (2005)" »

June 24, 2006

Second report on breakdown of worker safety in Katrina cleanup

Two study teams have told me that workers compensation coverage has pretty much disappeared for the estimated 5,000 undocumented workers engaged in the Katrina cleanup. I have already posted about the study conducted by Tulane University and UC Berkeley. I spoke with Phuong Pham, a professor at Tulane and one of the leaders of that team. She told me she was not aware of any injuries being treated within the workers comp system. The second study was supported by the
NDLON - the National Day Labor Organizing Network -- and UCLA, and the main researcher was Tomas Aguilar. He told me the same thing.

June 20, 2006

Jim Platner's analysis of higher construction deaths among Hispanics

I have found on the net a powerpoint presentation of Platner's important analysis of higher hispanic construction fatalities.

It was originally published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine and must be purchased.

An analysis of post construction fatality data extending through 2003 can be found here.

June 16, 2006

Awareness of workers comp, safety regulation is troublingly low among immigrant workers

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health asked people at community health centers about workers compensation and OSHA. They drew from a sample of 1,428 persons who had worked within the past year. Average age was 34.8; 66% were born outside the United States. Their employment fairly represents the distribution of immigrant work in Massachusetts.

Findings, as reported by Letitia Davis, of the Occupational Health Surveillance Program, who ran the survey, were:

Nearly 39% of CHC patients reported that they had never heard of workers' compensation. Awareness of workers' compensation varied by self-reported race, ethnicity, and place of birth...... Hispanic and Black workers had the lowest reported awareness of workers' compensation - over 48% of both groups reported never having heard of workers' compensation before the date of their interview. White workers were the least likely to report (21.1%) that they had never heard of workers' compensation.

Cross-tabulated by place of birth, workers born in countries other than the United States or Puerto Rico included the highest percentage of persons (51.8%) reporting that they had never heard of workers’ compensation, followed by respondents born in Puerto Rico (41.6%) and the mainland United States (15.3%).....Awareness also varied by occupational category: lack of awareness of the workers' compensation system was highest among operators, fabricators and laborers (47%). Managerial and professional specialty workers were least likely (17.0%) to report that they had never heard of workers' compensation.

The overall percentage of respondents reporting no awareness of OSHA was 62.7%. Awareness varied somewhat by race; over 70% of those reporting their race as Hispanic/Latino had never heard of OSHA. White workers, however, were most likely to report awareness of OSHA (37.7%).

Contact info for Dr. Davis:, (617) 624-5626.

June 14, 2006

Illegal immigrant workers face serious risks in Katrina cleanup

A new study by researchers at Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley reveals that undocumented workers are being abused even as they provide critical help to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the most costly natural disaster in American history. This according to the press office of Tulane University. It goes on:

The comprehensive study of more than 200 workers surveyed in March 2006 by researchers at the Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer at Tulane University and the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley discovered vulnerability of undocumented workers, including severely reduced access to health care, wage discrepancy and unsafe working conditions.

The study found that almost half of the reconstruction workforce in New Orleans is Latino, and 54 percent of that group is undocumented, meaning 25 percent of all workers are undocumented Latinos. In the aftermath of the storm, the federal government allowed special waivers of immigration laws, which made it easier for employers to hire undocumented workers. Two-thirds of Latino construction workers have moved to the area since Katrina hit in 2005. But 87 percent of the undocumented workers were already living in the United States before they moved to New Orleans. This means that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not cause an influx of illegal immigrants across the US border as many have reported.

The study, Rebuilding After Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans, finds:

On average, documented workers received significantly higher wages than undocumented workers peforming the same work ($16.50 per hour average for documented vs. $10 per hour for undocumented.).

Construction workers frequently report experiencing problems receiving wages owed, especially undocumented workers.

Further findings:

Continue reading "Illegal immigrant workers face serious risks in Katrina cleanup" »

June 8, 2006

Working conditions in a 800 person poultry plant in Iowa

In May The Forward carried a story, “In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher 'Jungle' Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay”. It is about work for 800 workers starting at $6.25 an hour in one of the largest kosher chicken processing plants in the country. The plant is located in Postville, a 2,500 population town in the rural northeastern part of the state. Writes the author Nathaniel Popper: “The company's business model has been economically successful. AgriProcessors is the only kosher slaughterhouse in America producing both beef and poultry. While AgriProcessors has been expanding steadily, its closest competitor in the poultry industry, Empire Kosher, recently fired employees and cut back operations. Union leaders at Empire Kosher said that the cutbacks were necessary because Empire pays its lowest-ranking unionized employees close to $3 more an hour from the outset than AgriProcessors' lowest employees, and provides full benefits.

Even among nonunion plants, experts say AgriProcessors' salaries are low. "I have not heard of a six-dollar wage since I started working in Nebraska in 1990," said Lourdes Gouveia, director of the Office of Latino Studies at the University of Nebraska, where she studies working conditions in the meat packing industry.

He goes on: “Juana and other employees at AgriProcessors — they total about 800 — told the Forward that they receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough. In addition, employees told of being asked to bribe supervisors for better shifts and of being shortchanged on paychecks regularly.”

Thanks to Jason Barab of Confined Space for alerting me to the story.

May 20, 2006

Mistreatment of H-2B immigrant guest forestry workers

In late 2005 the Sacrament Bee published the best expose of occupational dangers for immigrant Hispanic labor in some time. The focus: works who despite the supposed protections of so-called H-2B forest guest worker program for agriculture were exploited in the common fashion: exposed to job risks for which they were unprepared, cheating on payroll, and generally deficient working conditions. Some 10,000 works have come to the U.S. to “plant trees across the nation and thin fire-prone woods out West as part of the Bush administration's Healthy Forests Initiative.” The Bee reports: “A nine-month Bee investigation based on more than 150 interviews across Mexico, Guatemala and the United States and 5,000 pages of records unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act has found pineros are victims of employer exploitation, government neglect and a contracting system that insulates landowners - including the U.S. government - from responsibility.”

Confined Space has summarized the Bee’s articles. In this posting and future ones, I will excerpt extensively from it, starting with….

…in the backwoods, where pineros often lack adequate training, protective gear or medical supplies, where they sweat, struggle and suffer, the current forest guest worker program casts a shadow across its future…..Across Honduras and Guatemala, 14 guest workers lay in tombs, victims of the worst non-fire-related workplace accident in the history of U.S. forests.

Continue reading "Mistreatment of H-2B immigrant guest forestry workers" »

May 18, 2006

"Blood Sweat and Fear" - Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005)

The following is the executive summary of a 185 page report issued by the Human Rights Watch in January 2005. The report is entitled Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants. (The Summary is also available in Spanish: Sangre, sudor y miedo: Derechos de los trabajadores en las plantas cárnicas y avícolas de Estados Unidos.

This is probably the most referenced report on working conditions of immigrant workers in the huge meat processing industry. It is unfortunately light on injury and fatality data, but is worth looking at as it puts the problem of occupational health and safety of these workers into a broad, international context.

The Executive Summary:

Workers in American beef, pork, and poultry slaughtering and processing plants perform dangerous jobs in difficult conditions. Dispatching the nonstop tide of animals and birds arriving on plant kill floors and live hang areas is itself hazardous and exhausting labor.1 After slaughter, the carcasses hurl along evisceration and disassembly lines as workers hurriedly saw and cut them at unprecedented volume and pace.

What once were hundreds of head processed per day are now thousands; what were thousands are now tens of thousands per day. One worker described the reality of the line in her foreman’s order: “Speed, Ruth, work for speed! One cut! One cut! One cut for the skin; one cut for the meat. Get those pieces through!” Said another: “People can’t take it, always harder, harder, harder! [mas duro, mas duro, mas duro!].”

Constant fear and risk is another feature of meat and poultry labor. Meatpacking work has extraordinarily high rates of injury. Workers injured on the job may then face dismissal. Workers risk losing their jobs when they exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in an attempt to improve working conditions. And immigrant workers—an increasing percentage of the workforce in the industry—are particularly at risk. Language difficulties often prevent them from being aware of their rights under the law and of specific hazards in their work. Immigrant workers who are undocumented, as many are, risk deportation if they seek to organize and to improve conditions.

Continue reading ""Blood Sweat and Fear" - Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005)" »

April 2, 2006

The Farmworker Justice Fund

This organization, now in its 25th year, promotes improvement in working and living conditions of farmworkers, especially immigrant migrants. It has backed AgJobs legislation, the topic of a future posting.

It’s “Pro-Farmworker Agenda” focuses on

1. Farm Labor Housing and Housing Development Capacity: Farmworkers’ low wages, reluctance to allow farmworker housing in some communities, failure to maintain existing housing, inadequate government funding and other causes have led to a crisis-level shortage of housing and inadequate sanitation.

2. Workers’ Compensation: Farmworkers continue to be discriminated against in many state regarding access to workers’ compensation for work-related injury and illness.

3. "Right to know" about toxic occupational chemicals. Farmworkers have been denied coverage under the hazard communication program of the Occupational Safety and Health Act ….We suggest a federal pilot program in several states to examine whether granting farmworkers the right to know about occupational chemicals reduces the incidence and severity of work-related illness and injury.

4. Farmers’ transition away from toxic pesticides to safer pest control methods would substantially benefit farmworkers by reducing their exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

5. Freedom of Association: Farmworkers employed in an industry substantially supported by government deserve the right to join and organize labor unions free from retaliation, but they presently lack that right. The federal National Labor Relations Act grants that right to other workers but specifically excludes farmworkers. We suggest amending the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the principal federal employment law regarding farmworkers, to grant workers the right to organize, join and participate in labor unions without being discharged or discriminated against in any way by their employers or labor contractors.

6. Unemployment compensation benefits: Business difficulties and the nature of seasonal agriculture prevent many farmworkers from working year-round. Most workers in seasonal industries, such as construction and tourism, can rely on unemployment compensation if they cannot find other jobs during the off-season. a minimum, a business receiving government support should provide unemployment insurance.

7. Transportation to and from work: Many farmworkers do not own their own motor vehicles and live or work in rural areas where there is not public transportation. In many locations, a dangerous business practice has developed. Contractors take money from farmworkers and deliver them to the work site, often in dangerous vehicles, many of which are minivans that lack seats and seat belts.

8. Overtime Pay: Federal law excludes agricultural workers from the payment of time-and-one-half for work in excess of forty hours per week. In California, state law grants overtime to farmworkers after ten hours of work in a day and California remains a highly productive, profitable agricultural state.

9. A Living Wage: The federal minimum wage is utterly inadequate as a minimum wage rate, especially for seasonal employees like farmworkers, whose annual earnings average only about $7,500. A government-supported business should be expected to provide decent work, which includes compliance with all labor laws and a living wage.

March 16, 2006

Why Hispanic workers have higher work fatality rates

According to federal statistics, “The number of fatal work injuries involving Hispanic or Latino workers was sharply higher in 2004 after declining for the two previous years.” That came from a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. BLS researcher Scott Richardson wrote an article showing that the fatality rate for Hispanic construction workers was higher than for non-Hispanic workers, even after adjusting for age, education and work experience.

I have posted below a short article I wrote on this topic in April 2005 for Risk & Insurance Magazine. I cite ten factors behind this higher fatality rate. Some of these factors likely apply in other occupations. Richardson and David Lighthall of the Relational Culture Institute in Fresno helped me in writing this article.

10 Threads of Huerta's Shroud

Continue reading "Why Hispanic workers have higher work fatality rates" »

March 14, 2006

Study of Hispanic North Carolina Poultry Workers

A September 2005 press release by the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center reports that North Carolina poultry workers show a higher than reported rate of work injuries, suggesting a need for uniform enforcement of safety regulations. This study goes along with a study of Oakland garment workers and a study of Las Vegas hotel workers (to be profiled) in describing the working conditions of specific immigrant groups within a specific labor market. All of these studies suffer from a limited understanding of the dynamics of workers compensation. The lead author declined to discusss the methodology problems with this study. Yet it remains a good introduction to immigrant workers in the poultry industry.

The survey was conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in collaboration with Centro Latino of Caldwell County, Inc. The survey was based on a representative sample of Latino workers in six counties in western North Carolina: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin.

Poultry processing is the largest and fastest growing sector of the meat products industry, according to the authors. In 2002, North Carolina and four other states accounted for 70 percent of all broiler production in the United States. Many of the workers are immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, according to the authors.

Continue reading "Study of Hispanic North Carolina Poultry Workers" »

March 6, 2006

Study: Fatal occupational injuries among Asian workers

There is a one in four chance that a victim of grocery store robbery-related murder will be Asian, and a foreign born Asian at that.

In her report on Asian worker fatalities in the October 2005 issue of the Monthly Labor Review, Jessica Sincavage notes that between 1999 and 2003, 775 workers of Asian descent suffered fatal work fatalities, which equals 3 percent of all work fataltites in the given time frame. More than half of Asian worker fatalities were the result of an assault or violent act, far higher than for all fatalities (10%).

Who are the Asians who die at work? Indians, 23%; Koreans, 18%; and Vietnamese, 14%, are the three largest nationalities.

she writes:

Continue reading "Study: Fatal occupational injuries among Asian workers" »

March 1, 2006

Failure of existing guest worker programs as seen in FL figures

The failure of existing guest temporary visa programs can be summarized in these figures: the number of workers under them in Florida is probably equivalent to 1% of all undocumented workers in that state.

These programs are designed to attach each worker to a particular employer for a specified period of time – in months. The Palm Beach Post ran on Dec. 9, 2003, as part of an extensive series on farm labor, an analysis of how the federal governments guest worker provisions for temporary farm labor have worked in Florida. Farm employers rarely use these programs. According to the federal government only 2,423 H2A and H2B visas were issued to Mexican for work in Florida. I have previously estimated, drawing on Urban Institute figures, that as of 1/1/06 there were roughly 600,000 undocumented workers in Florida. Assume that total figure in 2002 was 450,000: H2 visa programs were equivalent to less than 1% of Florida’ undocumented workers.

According to the Post:

Continue reading "Failure of existing guest worker programs as seen in FL figures" »

February 25, 2006

New study on economics of rural immigrant workers

Thanks to the Immigration LawProf blog for alerting me to a new study of immigrants in rural areas.

The Urban Institute has come out with a new book on rural poverty in America, and the effect of rural migration by immigrants.

It describes The New Rural Poverty: Agriculture and Immigration in California as follows:

Migrants arrive, many from Mexico, to fill jobs on farms and in farm-related industries, usually at earnings below the poverty. Leaders of rural industries are adamant that a steady influx of foreign workers is necessary for economic survival. But the integration of these newcomers is uneven: many immigrants achieve some measure of the American dream, but others find persistent poverty, overcrowded housing, and crime. The New Rural Poverty examines the effect of rural immigration on inland agricultural areas in California, farm areas in coastal California, and meat and poultry processing centers in Delaware and Iowa. The authors examine the interdependencies between immigrants and agriculture in the United States, explore the policy challenges and options, and assess how current proposals for immigration reform will affect rural America.

The New Rural Poverty: Agriculture and Immigration in California, by Philip Martin, Michael Fix, and J. Edward Taylor, is available from the Urban Institute Press

Florida's improves work protections to migrant workers, progess report just out

Facing up to near catastrophic safety events among migrant workers, Florida has since 2004 tried to turn a corner: tougher monitoring, reform of a national class code for death benefits, and a new legislative commission which just issued a report.

Transportation deaths alone would have been a sufficient spur. According to Rural Migration News, in April 2004, nine were killed and 10 injured after their van rolled over four times on I-95 in Fort Pierce. In June 2004, two were killed when a van built for seven, but with 11 workers, overturned; most of the men had no identification.

Florida in May 2004 revived the Florida Agricultural Workers Safety Act (FAWS), which expired in 1998. (See details below). It also corrected an egregious wrong in state law. Citing an award winning Palm Beach Post series in late 2003 (link now dead), Workers Comp Insider reported that state law since the 1920s put death benefits at 50% less if the deceased was not an American or Canadian. In 2003 the legislator upped the U.S/Canadian award from $100,000 to $150,000 – but retained the 50% cut, despite a reported state Supreme Court decision striking it down. Only in 2004 was the wrong corrected by law. The Palm Beach Post reported in 2003 since 1990, nearly 30% of the death cases settled, with the average settlement of $32,000."

The new law creates a Legislative Commission on Migrant and Seasonal Labor to supervise and coordinate migrant labor programs geared to improve worker living conditions, health, housing and sanitation as well as knowledge of labor laws, education, transportation and public assistance. This month (Feb 2006) it issued a
Report to the Legislature.

See my earlier posting on SAFE: Socially Accountable Farm Employers.

According to Rural Migrant News,

Continue reading "Florida's improves work protections to migrant workers, progess report just out" »

Deaths at work: who dies, how

Immigrants fill many high risk jobs, such as in construction, farming and convenience stores. The blog Confined Space does an invaluable service of listing all the work deaths the blogger, Jordan Barab, learns about. In his current posting he records 68 deaths from traumatic events. (Go down 1/3 of the way to "Weekly Toll.") The majority of the deaths are from construction, logging, or farm accidents or by murder. Example of a murder: immigrant worker at a donut shop killed by robber. It's not possible to know fully from his thumbnail descriptions how many were immigrants, legal or illegal.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that about 5,700 deaths are occuring at work each year. One researcher, Paul Leigh of UC Davis, estimates deaths at upwards of ten times that -- by counting death from diseases such as the deaths of 400,000 Americans who have or are expected to die from asbestos-related conditions acquired at work, according to a RAND report.

February 17, 2006

Immigrant worker injuries at day labor

According to On the Corner, the nationwide survey of day laborers, almost all urban day laborers are immigrants, and mostly from Latin America. They reported very high injury rates.

75% consider their jobs dangerous
19% had suffered a work injury requiring medical attention.
67% missed work due to a work injury
22% of those injured lost at least one month of work.

By these figures alone it is hard fully to compare their experience with that of native-born Americans in roughly the same occupations. But it would be reasonable to conjecture that immigrant day laborers’ frequency of injuries, and the severity of the injuries, is twice that of native-born Americans.

For earlier postings about On the Corner, go here, here and here.

SAFE: Socially Accountable Farm Employers in Florida

Here is an example of a community-based organization and an employers association joining forces to bolster employee protections and rights of farm workers in Florida. They conduct audits to check for compliance with a code of conduct. Audit scope includes forced labor, child labor, discrimination, wages and benefits, employment records, healthy and safe work environment, and housing.

An executive of a farming corporation told me that

Their auditors were very professional and knowledgeable and really dug into our operations for hiring, screening, training, payroll, benefits, safety, insurance, chemical handling, housing, etc. They also conducted interviews with 50+ employees. Oh yeah, the SAFE audit is conducted annually to maintain your certification.

According to SAFE....

Continue reading "SAFE: Socially Accountable Farm Employers in Florida" »

February 11, 2006

New York construction safety expert: safe practices hard to find in Brooklyn

Study Finds Lax Safety Standards at Construction Sites

Published: October 18, 2005

On Nov. 24, 2003, Manuel Falcón, an Ecuadorean laborer, died after falling from the roof of a house he had been working on in South Ozone Park, Queens. Mr. Falcón was not wearing a hard hat, tethering cord or any other safety gear.

When federal safety inspectors investigated the work site after Mr. Falcón's death, they found three violations and eventually levied a total fine of $2,625. The fine could have been a maximum of $7,000 for each violation, for a total of $21,000. The circumstances of Mr. Falcón's death, and the minimal punishment that followed, illustrate the core conclusions of a study by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, which is set for release tomorrow: inadequate supervision of city construction sites and the low penalties imposed on violators make it easy for builders to ignore safety rules.

''The industry fines are considered a cost of doing business and are too minimal to effect a change in behavior,'' the association's president, Benedict P. Morelli, said yesterday.

The study examines reports prepared by federal safety inspectors after construction accidents in New York City between January 2001 and August of this year that resulted in death or serious injury. A total of 156 accidents were analyzed; all but 12 resulted in at least one fatality.

According to the study, inspectors penalized builders at 113 of the accident sites for violations like insufficient guardrails and safety nets. In most cases, fines amounted to no more than $10,000; only six of the violations resulted in fines greater than $50,000, the study says.

In one accident that resulted in unusually high fines, Efrain Gonzalez and four other workers fell to their deaths when a scaffold at a Gramercy Park office building collapsed four years ago at Park Avenue South. Inspectors found seven ''serious'' violations, and a fine of $9,750 was levied out of a possible maximum of $49,000. But the inspectors also found two ''willful'' violations and the maximum fine of $140,000 was imposed for them.

The inspectors work for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the federal Labor Department that sets and enforces standards for workplace safety. OSHA's penalties should at least be severe enough to deter future lapses, said Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a nonprofit organization supported by about 200 local unions.

The average penalty for serious safety violations, in which severe injury or death is highly likely, is $1,569, according to the trial lawyers' study. The maximum prison sentence for a safety violation is six months under federal law, but from 1990 to 2003, there were only four cases nationwide in which a builder found to be at fault was imprisoned, the study says.

A spokesman for the federal safety and health agency, Ted Fitzgerald, declined to comment yesterday, saying he had not had a chance to review the study.

In addition to the low penalties, the study lists inadequate supervision as a reason that builders do not feel compelled to comply with safety regulations. Only 28 safety inspectors cover construction and renovation sites in New York City, northern New Jersey, and Westchester and Rockland Counties, allowing inspection of an average of six sites a day in the entire region, the study says.

Nearly half of the 156 accidents examined in the study involved falls from a scaffold, roof or ladder. Immigrant workers were the most common victims, amounting to two-thirds of those killed or injured since October 2001, when OSHA began to include in its reports the language the worker spoke on the job.

''The rapid growth of New York City's underground construction industry, an industry that employs mostly immigrants and where worker safety often takes the back seat, makes credible enforcement of OSHA safety standards more important than ever,'' said Glenn von Nostitz, senior policy adviser for the trial lawyers' group.

Correction: October 19, 2005, Wednesday An article yesterday about a study finding safety standards lax at construction sites in the New York region, and a picture caption, gave an incorrect location in some copies for a 2001 scaffolding collapse in which five workers were killed. It was at Park Avenue South and 18th Street, not Park Avenue and 44th.

Photos: Efrain Gonzalez died when a work scaffold collapsed in 2001.; Five workers died when a scaffold collapsed in a construction accident at a Gramercy Park office building at Park Avenue South in 2001. (Photo by Edward Keating/The New York Times)

Migrant Clinicians Network

The Migrant Clinicians Network engages in healthcare delivery and healthcare research for low income workers including but not exclusively migrant workers. Their new Saving Lives by Changing Practice project is attempting to improve the quality of service to work injured clients. Amy Liebman is coordinating the program. She provided me with this introduction to the program.

For an earlier posting on community health clinic services to injured workers, go here.

Amy K. Liebman, MPA
Migrant Clinicians Network

There are numerous barriers to recognizing and treating environmental and occupational health (EOH) problems in the primary care setting. Some of the underlying reasons are the limited EOH training front line providers receive as well as institutional challenges that prevent clinicians from adequately addressing EOH problems.

Continue reading "Migrant Clinicians Network" »

Inconsistent quality of healthcare for work injured immigrant workers

Many low income immigrant workers go to hospital emergency departments and to free care community health clinics with their work injuries. Emergency departments and community health clinics typically do not understand how to determine the occupational cause of injury, and do not try to contact the employer and to make sure that an injured worker accesses the workers comp system.

The clinics in particular often appear to be tone deaf to the special needs of injured workers. Example: I contacted the Joseph Smith Community Health Center in Boston, which actively serves low income immigrants, a dozen times to ask them about how they handle work injuries. To get a response i finally conducted a sit-in in the reception area, refusing to leave until I spoke with some one. Eventually the director of the clinic came downstairs. While pleasant, she showed zero interest in the special needs of injured workers, and in investigating them further.

My several contacts with the Health Resources and Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for providing financial and technical assistance to community health clinics, revealed that this agency has little interest in addressing the special needs of injured workers.

February 7, 2006

Avian flu and immigrant workers in poultry plants

A noted occupational health expect warns of avian flu coming into the United States via poultry plants and the largely immigrant work population. He warns that these workers should not be treated as canaries in the mine shaft.

Gary Greenberg MD manages a new non-profit aimed at speeding up transmission of time sensitive information on occupational risks: OHDEN, or the Occupational Health Disaster Expert Network.

Greenberg says the following scenarios could occur. Twoinvolve the arrival in the United States of a migratory bird with the avian flu:

1. a person could pick up a dead bird by the roadside

2. a local -- not corporate --chicken farm serves as a way station for a migratory bird. The corporate chicken farms appear to have invested in bio-safety measures.

3. an individual arrives by plane from another, with the flu still in gestation.

Greenberg says that the avian flu does not transmit easily amomng people -- it is not like the flu of 1918 - 1919, which swept through army camps, among ship crews, and onto city streets, and took years to eventually dissappear.

February 5, 2006

serious worker injuries by ethnic group, job and diagnosis

A commentor wrote to ask if I have for work fatalities of immigrants a breakdown by types of jobs, particular immigrant group most effected, etc. I have an indirect positive answer to this question, in the form of an ethnic analysis of work related hospitalizations. Researchers published in October 2005 a study of work related hospitalizations by ethnic groups in Massachusetts.

According to the authors,

This article reports on the use of statewide hospital discharge data to describe patterns of serious occupational injuries (that is, injuries requiring hospitalization) among racial and ethnic groups in Massachusetts.

The authors present a breakdown of hospitalizations by medical diagnosis, job and ethnic breakdown: white, black, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic, and other or unknown. They were able to show a relationship between the type of job and the type of injury (for instance: burns = restaurant work).

In a later posting I will summerize their findings.

February 3, 2006

Occupational fatalities of immigrants

The June, 2004 issue of the Monthly Labor Review published Foreign-born workers: trends in fatal occupational injuries, 1996–2001 by Katherine Loh and Scott Richardson. From the text:

New immigrants who arrived in the United States during the 1990-2001 period accounted for 50.3 percent of the growth in the Nation's civilian labor force. That is, one out of every two net new labor force participants during this period was a new foreign immigrant. Historically, Current Population Survey (CPS) figures show that foreign-born workers, who accounted for 1 in every 17 workers in 1960, increased their share of the labor force to one in eight by 2000.
As the share of foreign-born employment has increased, so has the share of fatal occupational injuries to foreign-born workers. Yet, while the share of foreign-born employment increased by 22 percent from 1996 to 2000 the share of fatal occupational injuries for this population increased by 43 percent. This increase in fatal work injuries among foreign-born workers occurred at a time when the overall number of fatal occupational injuries to U.S. workers declined by 5 percent. As a result, the fatality rate for foreign-born workers has not mirrored the improvement seen in the overall fatality rate over this period. In 2001, the fatality rate for all U.S. workers decreased to a series low of 4.3 per 100,000 workers, but the fatality rate for foreign-born workers recorded a series high of 5.7 per 100,000 workers.

February 2, 2006

Oakland garment workers and failure to file claims

This is a hot research topic. I recently entered a posting of 2002 study of Asian garment worker injuries in Oakland. I mentioned in the posting that while it offers useful insights into how immigrant workers experience injury risks at work, the study is flawed in its interpretation of the self-reported injury data. The research team was, simply stated, unaware of how injury experiences turn into workers comp claims.

Two researchers at Michigan State University, Jeff Biddle and Karen Roberts, published an article based on a large survey of Michigan workers. I use this study as a benchmark for how American citizens working for established large employer file workers comp claims (or do not). Immigrant worker experience should be contrasted with the MSU findings. Many in this study do not file, even for disabling injury. Some of them could access other benefits. But that’s not the whole complex and engaging picture. If you need to understand underreporting by immigrants compared to the norm, get their analysis in the December 2003 issue of Journal of Risk & Insurance.

RAND issued in 2005 a study of the effect of health insurance coverage on work injury claiming behavior of workers. Both the Rand and the Biddle and Roberts study reflect a more sophisticated understanding of workers comp.

January 31, 2006

IL Governor supports Panel on Latino Work Safety

In late 2005 Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois gave his support to the findings and recommendations of a Panel on Latino Workplace Injuries and Fatalities. I will be delivering more information in the future about this panel, the first such major state panel on immigrant work safety to my knowledge. It is a model for other states to emulate.

Go here for the 11/9/05 press release.

According to the press release the Panel’s top five recommendations are:

Creating a Worker Safety Fund to support a collaborative partnership and outreach strategy statewide between community-based organizations and government agencies to, among other things, develop worker safety materials in Spanish and provide health and safety training in Spanish.
Streamlining and coordinating government services for workers and business in the state by relocating the On-Site Safety and Health Consultation team to the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).
Strengthening enforcement of the existing Day Labor Services Act, including increased penalties against unlawful day labor agencies, and allowing workers to sue employers for damages.
Developing a statewide data collection system to help centralize and analyze occupational injury and fatality data among Latinos gathered by agencies, community-based organizations, and educational institutions and convene in annual conferences to assess and review data.
Supporting further reforms to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, including 1) establishing a stop-work order when an employer is uninsured; 2) establishing an injured workers’ benefit fund; 3) providing workers’ compensation to agricultural workers; and 4) ensuring adequate workers’ compensation coverage at worksites that use temporary labor.

January 29, 2006

Whom day laborers work for, what they do

A snapshot from On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States:

Principal employers of day laborers are (1) contractors in the construction and landscape gardening business and (2) private individuals. Two thirds of day laborers are hired repeatedly by the same employer.

At least three quarters of day laborers have work in most or all of the following occupations: construction labor, mover, gardner/landscaper, and painter. About two thirds have worked as roofers. Other common occupations are house cleaner, carpenter, and drywall installer.

The vast majority –- 83% -- rely on day labor as their sole source of income, and 70% seek work at least five days a week. One third seek work seven days a week.

Go here for a full copy of On The Corner.

January 26, 2006

Florida construction injuries and Hispanics (2005)

Construction Up, Injuries Up, but Workers' Comp Payouts Down

This article by Jessica M. Walker first appeared in the Daily Business Review on 10/20/2005. The following is an excerpt, and the full article can be acessed at the link above. We will be carrying on a regular basis will researched journalism.

This particular articles talks about the toxic cocktail one mixes with undocumented workers with employers in high injjry industries.

In his mid-teens, Hector Noriega moved from Mexico to Miami to find work in South Florida's booming construction industry. The immigrant followed his two brothers, who previously had found construction work there.
In August of last year, while he was pouring concrete at a residential construction site on Key Biscayne, the teenager was seriously injured when he came into contact with an electrical line. He survived the accident but suffered severe burns.
His attorney, Judson Cohen of Cohen Law Offices in Miami, said Noriega might lose his leg from the accident. No longer employable, Noriega, now 16, is living with family in Miami.
Most workers in Florida would have filed a workers' compensation claim, collected a payout, and that would have been the end of it. Noriega, however, is an undocumented alien and was not listed on the workers' comp policy of the subcontractor, C&C Concrete Pumping, or the Miami-based general contractor, Mackle Construction Co.
Ironically, Noriega's illegal status may allow him to proceed with a negligence lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court when a U.S. citizen or other legal worker generally could not. That could allow him to recover more than he could through a workers' comp claim. There are a growing number of undocumented workers like Noriega laboring in the South Florida construction industry, and experts say the legal situation could arise more often.
As South Florida's construction boom continues, more workers are pouring into the area in search of work. For both legal and illegal workers, the ability to recover damages for on-the-job injuries has been constrained due to a sweeping 2003 revision in the state's workers' comp law that was pushed through by business and insurance groups to curb workers' comp costs, experts say.
Steven Field, a retired University of South Florida professor who formerly directed the Florida Association of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said he's seen a rising number of construction-related injuries over the past eight years in Florida. But despite the increase, workers' comp payouts are declining.
The total amount of workers' comp claims payouts reported to the state Department of Financial Services fell in Miami-Dade County from $5.9 million in 2002 to $2.8 million in 2004. In Broward County, payouts declined from $4.2 million in 2002 to $2.3 million in 2004. In Palm Beach County, they fell from $4.2 million in 2002 to $2.1 million in 2004.
Michael Haggard, a plaintiffs attorney who is a partner at Haggard Parks Haggard & Lewis in Coral Gables, said, "You're seeing more accidents but not more lawsuits because of the changes in the workers' comp law."
Field said the construction industry has little oversight when it comes to safety. "You see situations were no safety precautions are taken," he said. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is supposed to enforce job safety rules, "has no standing with construction industry."

January 24, 2006

More on Nationwide survey of day labor hiring sites

Previously, I posted about a story reporting on a national survey about day labor hiring sites. I have just obtained the Internet location of the complete National survey: On the Corner: Day Labor in the United States.. (PDF)

Work injury risks in Oakland CA garment industry (2002)

This study is one of several independent studies by largely academic-based researchers on occupational risks of specific groups of workers. This one involves Asian garment workers in Oakland. It looks at injury risks and ergonomic solutions. An absorbing study, it is also exasperatingly flawed. Like the other studies (which I will introduce soon), this study reports that an extremely small portion of worker physical complaints result in workers comp claims. This is a very serious problem. But the authors fail to take into account the severity of the self-reported complaints. They appear not to have considered the very real possibility that many injuries also may have had non-occupational factors. They used no comparison group of workers. It is impossible to figure out if the work injury experience of these workers is materially worse than that of other garment workers. (I suspect it is.) The authors turned away multiple requests to discuss the study with me.

For the complete 26 page report go to We Spend Our Days Working In Pain

I have posted below the Executive Summary and Recommendations......

California sewing factories employ over 100,000 sewing machine operators, most of whom are Asian and Latina immigrants. Health and safety violations are common in the mostly small factories that employ these minimum wage workers. This report is based on the clinical findings and survey results from sewing machine operators seen at the Oakland-based Asian Immigrant Women Workers Clinic (AIWWC), a free clinic for garment workers sponsored by Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA) and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Findings include:

  • Garment workers are being injured on the job and are at substantial risk of permanent disability from their injuries. Ninety-nine percent of AIWWC patients had one or more diagnosed work-related conditions, including back, neck or shoulder sprains or strains. Ninety-four percent experienced pain severe enough to interfere with their daily activities.

  • Working conditions in garment factories are frequently substandard. Approximately 94% of patients reported one or more problems with their workstations including inadequate seating (90%), awkward bending and twisting (67%), breathing problems due to fabric dust (48%), less than adequate rest breaks (40%), and being yelled at by their bosses (36%).

  • Garment workers typically work over 40 hours per week for low pay and no benefits. Patients reported earnings of $6.32 an hour, 25% less than the poverty level for a family of four. Only 22% of patients had health insurance and only 12% reported paid sick leave.

  • The overall health status of garment workers is far worse than that of the general population. A total of 66% of the garment workers in this study reported “poor” or “fair” health. This is three to four times higher than the rate for women in California.

  • Garment workers have inadequate access to occupational health care, specialty treatment services and general preventive health care. Nearly one-third of these women had never been seen by a health care provider for their ongoing musculoskeletal problems. Only a small fraction had been treated by clinicians trained in recognizing and treating occupational health problems.

  • Garment workers are effectively prevented from using the Workers Compensation system. Ninety-seven percent of workers seen in the clinic were eligible to file for workers compensation for their injuries, but refused to do so primarily due to lack of knowledge about the system or because they feared reprisals on the job.

  • Musculoskeletal injuries experienced by garment workers are preventable. Technology is not the problem. In many cases there are simple, cost-effective ergonomic solutions that would prevent the common musculoskeletal problems these workers experience.

Continue reading "Work injury risks in Oakland CA garment industry (2002)" »

January 23, 2006

North Carolina employer tries to keep a work fatality out of the workers comp system

The Ashville NC Citizen Times (reporter: Jay Ostendorf) carried several articles about this case, which was related to me by the health worker cited below. Certain details are omitted due to the current sensitivity of the matter at this time (1/06).

In western North Carolina, a local newspaper, The Sylvia Herald, carried a funeral home notice that Raul Carbajal, 37, of Hendersonville, North Carolina died Thursday, August 12, 2004, from injuries sustained in an vehicle accident. “A memorial service was held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hendersonville. The body will be sent to Comitan, Mexico, for service and burial.”

As reported by the Ashville Citizen Times, Mendez was one of eight in a pickup truck which crossed a highway grass median and on-coming lane traffic, broke through the guardrail, and rolled over spilling out passengers and tomato boxes. Mendez died; most others were hospitalized. The other occupants and condition a few days post accident were Armando Sanchez Soto, 44, stable condition; Orlando Martin Lopez, 25, stable condition; Jose Carlos Sanchez, no age available, serious but stable condition; Diego Jimenze, 23, treated and released; Adan Trujillo, 30, stable condition; Antonio Melgar, 35, stable condition; Sander Carillo, 22, treated and released.

An outreach worker at the local public health clinic arranged for an attorney to take on the cases for resolution in the workers comp system. For doing this normally uncontroversial act, the outreach worker was castigated by Mendez’s Hispanic employer, who still today (Winter, 2006) will not let this worker onto its worksite. According to this worker, the employer was intent on pretty much isolating its workers from the state’s work safety, workers comp, and other labor standards.

January 22, 2006

The Erosion of Worker Safety (1/4/06)

I wrote this Op-Ed article for the Boston Globe, starting with:

Massachusetts’ distinguished promise of worker safety is fraying. More of our workers work unsafely. When they sustain a serious work injury they are less able to access the protections of our four-generations-old workers' compensation system.
"It has become easier for employers to cut corners on their legal obligations. If Congress succeeds in criminalizing undocumented worker status, it will become even easier."

The Brazilian Immigrant Center was very helpful in my research for this article, as well as Jon Coppelman of Lynch Ryan, a workers comp expert and former union carpenter who works with small employers to reduce injuries.

Combining vulnerable undocumented workers with employers willing to violate safety and workers comp laws makes a toxic cocktail. Enforcement of workers comp laws includes making sure that employers required to purchase workers comp insurance do so. This is strictly a state responsibility.

As a first step in enforcing the insurance provisions, state regulators and prosecutors need to take enforcement provisions seriously. This means monitoring employers, translating leads quickly into investigations, and getting employers to comply with the law without necessarily shutting the employer down and thus destroying jobs.

The Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents (617-727-4900) is aggressively enforcing the employer insurance provisions. It has greatly improved the results from leads. According to the Department the large majority of employers it has targeted stay in business while complying with the law.

Unions, community activists, legal aid attorneys, and medical doctors are excellent sources of information about non-complying employers. They and state regulators need to work closely.

Continue reading "The Erosion of Worker Safety (1/4/06)" »