Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The continuing plight of undocumented immigrant workers. As if life wasn't hard enough, they also have to risk their lives:
A 29-year-old man from Ecuador showed a few weeks ago that the undocumented toil not only underground but sometimes high above it. His work conditions also showed that some employers have little concern about safety.

With two other young men from his homeland, he stood near a subway entrance on 33rd Street in Manhattan and looked up at the 20-story building that he and the others were about to fit with new windows.

For four years, he has been in New York and for that time all his employers have known he has no work documents, he said. He is not in a union. No benefits are offered. The hazards of his job are monitored only by a building inspector who may or may not know of his undocumented status, he said.

And if he is injured, he will have no compensation to cover the medical costs.

"We get paid $10 an hour, in cash," he said just before his foreman came and barked, "Let's do this bit," and darted a finger upward.

Soon the men were on a scaffold that dangled from the roof to the 11th floor, at times sitting on the top bar of its safety railing. A tether was tied to each man's waist to prevent a fall, but it can't stop them from slamming into the scaffold or the building itself.

The foreman would not comment on the workers' safety and immigration status. His superior did not return calls for comment.