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.”

Brazilian Immigrant Center (Boston, MA)

The Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston — o Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro — runs a large number of educational and community action programs on behalf of the 100,000+ Brazilian workers in and around Boston. The site offers Portuguese and English options.
in English:

Who Are We???
The Brazilian Immigrant Center is a community-based organization working to empower Brazilians in the Greater Boston Area around issues of access to education, workplace rights and immigration. Our work is done through advocacy, education, organizing and leadership/capacity building.

What Are Our Goals???
The BIC’s mission is to unite Brazilian immigrants to organize against economic, social and political marginalization, and to help create a just society.

in Portuques:

Quem Somos Nós???
O Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro é uma organização, baseada nesta comunidade, procurando melhorar as vidas dos brasileiros em Boston, através de treinamento, organização e desenvolvimento de suas capacidades para liderança.

Qual é o Nosso Objetivo???
O objetivo do CIB é de organizar um movimento unido de brasileiros contra discriminação econômica, social e política.

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)

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.

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)

Nationwide survey of day labor hiring sites

The 1/22 Sunday New York Times carried an article on a just-released nationwide study of day laborers, Broad Survey of Day Laborers Finds High Level of Injuries and Pay Violations by Steven Greenhouse. (Accesssing the article may require free registration).
The co-authors are two of the most visible academic-based researchers of immigrant labor. Working Immigrants plans to introduce their prior studies on local day labor markets (such as Chicago and Washington DC) in the near future.
Co-author Abel Valenzuela Jr., is on the faculty of University of California at Los Angeles and director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. Co-author Nik Theodore is the director of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The NYT article recaps some of the major findings from this newly-released study, but as of today (1/22), the full study is not yet available on the Net. The following are excerpts from the study:

The first nationwide study on day laborers has found that such workers are a nationwide phenomenon, with 117,600 people gathering at more than 500 hiring sites to look for work on a typical day.

The survey found that three-fourths of day laborers were illegal immigrants and that more than half said employers had cheated them on wages in the previous two months.

The study, based on interviews with 2,660 workers at 264 hiring sites in 20 states and the District of Columbia, found that day laborers earned a median of $10 an hour and $700 month. The study said that only a small number earned more than $15,000 a year.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Forty-nine percent of those interviewed said that in the previous two months an employer had not paid them for one or more days’ work. Forty-four percent said some employers did not give them any breaks during the workday, while 28 percent said employers had insulted them.

Continue reading Nationwide survey of day labor hiring sites

Workers compensation rights of undocumented workers (2006)

Work Comp Central discusses a noteworthy new report issued by a task force of workers compensation lawyers:

State courts have not yet resolved tensions between federal immigration law and workers’ compensation statutes, leaving in question exactly what benefits to which illegal aliens are entitled when they are injured on the job, according to an analysis by the American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF).

The legal analysis, written by lawyers for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the New York State Insurance Fund, outlines key state court decisions and how they interact with the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).

In a future post, I will be offering commentary on this analysis. AASCIF is the American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds. Its members are workers compensation insurers, which at some time in the past were created in part with state government support to make sure that employers will have access to insurance. A few of the largest, in CA, NY, OH and WA, are state agencies staffed by civil servants.
The full report and a complete list of members with contact information can be found at AASCIF.