Sunday, October 09, 2005

Brazilian Immigrants In Massachusetts: Same Tragic Stories

Boston has a large number of Brazilian immigrants. And many of them are getting hurt or killed on the job:
Language barriers, poor training, a willingness to work for low wages -- or even to be paid off the books -- and a fear of reporting an employer who exploits you or cheats you.

Pick any one or all of the above, and you have a workplace ready-made for tragedy.

On Monday, Valdecir Rodrigues, a 38-year-old Brazilian living and working in the U.S. illegally, was crushed and killed under a ton of granite slabs at Atlantic Stone Industries in Marlborough. Just over a year ago the company was cited by OSHA for six safety violations. Two months before that, OSHA fined ASI's predecessor at the same location, American Granite Manufacturers, $11,550 for several health violations -- a fine reduced to $6,200 after negotiations between OSHA and AGM.
According to Carlos Eduardo Siquiera, a professor at UMass-Lowell's Department of Work Environment, who studies workplace hazards affecting Brazilian and other immigrants in the state.
"All of those deaths were preventable ones."

Although he didn't have first-hand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Rodrigues' death at the Marlborough granite-cutting company, Siquiera theorized a lack of training, supervision and knowledge may have played a role.

Those possibilities echo a recurring theme. In addition, an illegal immigrant is less likely to complain about things on the job, for fear of being fired or turned in to immigration authorities.
Siqueira clearly knows what he's talking about. According to Rodrigues's co-workers: Former employees of the company where an illegal immigrant from Brazil was crushed to death by granite slabs said owners provided scant training and safety gear and such an accident was inevitable.

"The work conditions were deplorable," said a former company administrator, who asked that his name not be used. "The workers were not trained or certified. They didn't know that what they were doing was so dangerous, and nothing was provided by the company for their protection."


Another employee, Marcio Oliveira, 34, worked at the company for six years before being laid off earlier this year. In an interview, translated from Portuguese by his wife, he said he does not know about existing conditions, but saw little training and supervision during his time there.

In some cases, he said, new employees were trained by workers who had been on the job for just a week.

"Half of the time they don't know what they are doing and they have to watch out for themselves," said Oliveira, a father of three from Minas Gerais, Brazil. "(There was) nobody there to say, 'Be careful, you are doing it the wrong way,' or 'Be careful, you need to wear the mask.' No one ever said this is how you properly do something."

The owner of the company is rather out of touch, to put it nicely:
"It's absolutely not true," said Hundley. "Our workers wear the appropriate safety gear. I don't know what happened prior to when we took over the company. All workers are trained, certified. We have a safety consultant, and there is a disciplinary process if workers don't wear their safety gear."
How wearing safety gear is supposed to prevent from being crushed under a ton of granite slabs, I have no idea.

And speaking of not making sense:
Hundley also said that as far as he knows, Rodrigues was in this country legally. His company has offered to pay for the funeral and his family's travel expenses, he said.

What happened to Rodrigues, said Hundley, was a "terrible accident." He said he did want to comment on a federal safety probe and insisted the company is not responsible for the man's death.
Nope, just an accident, not responsible, and, of course Hundley was shocked, SHOCKED that Rodrigues was illegal.

Or not.

Atlantic Stone took advantage of its workers' immigration status. A large number of them were Brazilian illegal immigrants, he said. Rodrigues himself was an illegal immigrant, according to his family.

The company "knew all too well they were all illegals," the source said.

Applicants showed the company fake Social Security cards, he said, "and they'd turn a blind eye. Illegal immigrants provide cheap labor, and the company owners are only interested in making a profit."

Oliveira, who is a legal resident, estimated 90 percent of his co-workers were illegal immigrants. The news of available jobs at the company came from family members and friends, he said.

The employees were paid about $8 an hour, he said.

While workers knew the conditions were bad, they did not complain because they needed the job, Oliveira said.

Most had to pay the debt for moving to the United States from Brazil.

"(The company) knew they are illegal...knew they needed to pay back for what they paid to get out here," Oliveira said.
Unlike most reporters who dispense with these "another immigrant worker gets killed" stories with a couple of paragraphs, Liz Mineo of the MetroWest Daily News has latched on to this story and the plight of immigrants in the Boston area. Other MetroWest articles include:

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