Thursday, July 22, 2004

DOL Stages Hispanic "Photo-Op"

The Department of Labor's Hispanic Summit, held today in Orlando, Florida, came under attack by a coalition of twenty-five labor unions, Hispanic community organizations and COSH groups*.
In their letter to OSHA, members of the Coalition for Hispanic Worker Safety noted that the conference was organized with virtually no input from major Hispanic advocacy organizations or grassroots worker groups. “This is clearly not a serious effort to address the epidemic of workplace injuries and illnesses suffered by our community,” said Jayesh Rathod, Staff Attorney of CASA of Maryland.   Planners chose not to invite groups like ours because they knew we would raise serious concerns about the administration’s dismantling of workplace safety rules,” Rathod added. 
The conference, whose only co-sponsors were a couple of Hispanic business groups, had even lost NIOSH as a co-sponsor because the Labor Department refused to open the meeting to speakers representing all of the important interest groups or work with outside interest groups to help organize the conference.

Florida labor leaders were also not impressed with the DOL's sincerity:
"We feel this is nothing more than a political statement in an election year," said Debra Booth, president of the AFL-CIO of Central Florida.


Union officials, who said they weren't invited to the summit, said the Bush administration has hurt workers with its attempts to eliminate overtime pay for some white-collar workers and funding cuts to health and safety programs.

Matt Miller, a spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, in a statement, called the summit merely a "photo-op."

Tirso Moreno, general coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida, said the most important thing the administration could do to help Hispanic workers is make sure the federal AgJobs bill passes.

The bill would allow undocumented farmworkers to earn the right to stay in the United States by continuing to work in agriculture. Most Hispanic workers who are in the United States illegally hesitate to speak up when faced with work-safety concerns because they fear being deported, Moreno said.

"What we Hispanic workers need is more funding for protection at work," said Nilda Galano, a nursing assistant who is a member of SEIU Local 1199 in Orlando.
* Coalition members include: AFL-CIO , Arkansas Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, Casa de Maryland, Chicago Area Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, Commonwealth Coalition (Boston, MA), Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Maine Labor Group on Health, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health , Mid-State (NY) Education and Service Foundation, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National Council of la Raza, National Employment Law Project, New Hampshire Committee for Occupational Safety and Health , New Jersey Work Environment Council, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health, Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, Service Employees International Union, Sheet Metal Workers International Association,  and Transport Workers Union of America