Monday, October 04, 2004

Rights? What Rights? Hispanic Workers Continue to Die On The Job

The number of workplace fatalities among Hispanic workers dropped slightly last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but their rate of fatalities among remains 25 percent higher than the rate recorded for all workers, and foreign-born Hispanic workers are more likely to die than Hispanics born in this country.

Two students at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley have written an interesting article about the lives and deaths of Hispanic workers and why the problem remains. They write of the death of 27-year old Ignacio Calixtro, who had gone to the U.S. from Mexico to raise money to support his ailing mother. He was killed when an attachment on a forklift came loose and a wall fell he had been helpign to raise fell and crushed him.

They also write of the delemmas faced by those who work construction jobs every day in this country without even knowing their rights, much less being able to stand up for them:
In Contra Costa County ... where new housing developments stretch as far as the eye can see, immigrant day laborers can be found most mornings on Concord's Monument Boulevard, amid the tidy strip malls, hoping general contractors will hire them to work as roofers, to dig or to do odd jobs on construction sites.

One of those laborers, Francisco Cid, from Mendoza, Mexico, has been working on construction projects in the United States for eight months, sending whatever money he can spare home to support his wife and four kids. He usually makes $10 per hour, often working

10 to 14 hour days without overtime pay. He said the most dangerous jobs are the ones where he works up high, such as roofing and painting, and he rarely wears a harness.

"I'm scared sometimes, but I have to do it because I need the money," said Cid. "If you say 'I'm scared,' then (the bosses) say 'I'll find another.

"If you die, the company doesn't have to pay anything," Cid said. Workers' rights advocates said that is a common misconception among Latino workers. California worker's compensation laws apply to any individual hurt or killed on the job, documented or not.

Day laborers like Albarado and Cid are often undocumented, as was Calixtro, but Flores says immigrant workers who are citizens or have the right to work in this country are as likely to be abused.

"Employers aren't honest. They don't tell workers their rights," said Flores.

Flores often works from the offices of the Instituto Laboral de la Raza in San Francisco's Mission District. The organization's bilingual staff helps immigrant workers file worker's compensation claims for injuries and back wages. Sarah Shaker, the organization's executive director, estimates "virtually none" of the 140 new workers that seek help each month are aware of their rights.
In other words, what we have is a group of workers who don't know their rights, who are willing to work long hours with low pay, under dangerous conditions and who are afraid to complain because they need the money. It's an old and all-too-common story, but one we shouldn't be living with in 2004 in the United States of America.