Archive for the ‘Health & Safety’ Category

Records of Hispanic deaths on the job

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

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.

Global Workers Justice Alliance – update

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

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.

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

Friday, September 21st, 2007

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

Friday, September 21st, 2007

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

Refugio: OSHA – Hispanic worker joint safety project in NJ

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

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.

Coaching Mexicans on labor rights in the U.S.

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

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.


Edgar Velázquez: Maimed at work, then deported

Friday, May 25th, 2007

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.

Can OSHA protect low wage immigrant workers?

Friday, April 27th, 2007

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.

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

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

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!”

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

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

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.