New Data Show More Latino Workers Being Killed on the Job Despite Decline in Fatal Injuries for Overall Workforce

cement-mason (1)_newThere are many unanswered questions surrounding a scaffolding collapse at a construction site in downtown Raleigh, N.C., last month that left three construction workers dead and another severely injured. But one thing we do know is that all of the workers were Hispanic. While it may take months to figure out how the collapse happened, the fact remains that this incident is part of an alarming trend—Latino workers are seeing a rise in fatal occupational injuries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Latinos experienced the largest increase in fatal work injuries in 2013, a nine percent jump from 2012. Nearly 820 Latino workers died on the job in 2013 compared to 750 Latino workers in 2012. But while the fatality rate for Latino workers increased, there was a slight decrease for the overall workforce.

Part of the issue is that many Hispanic workers are overrepresented in high-fatality industries such as construction. In fact, Latinos account for nearly one-quarter of construction workers. BLS data show that construction deaths are on the rise. In 2013, there was a three percent increase in the number of construction workers killed on the job, reaching the highest number killed since 2009.

While conventional wisdom might suggest that there are obviously going to be more fatalities in a high-risk industry, it’s also important to once again note that fatality rates within the industry are increasing for Latino workers, despite a decline in injury rates for other construction workers.

So what’s going on?

It’s difficult to pinpoint just one issue that’s contributing to this alarming trend. Rather, there are a number of barriers to safe and healthy workplaces that could be exacerbating the problem, specifically for Hispanic workers. Latino immigrants make up the majority of Latino workers who have lost their lives on the job. Language barriers could be one problem, especially if there are communication issues in training and reporting unsafe working conditions. Immigration status and job insecurity could also contribute to a culture of fear that enables unsafe conditions to persist. As noted in a recent NCLR Monthly Latino Employment Report, Latinos are more likely to work in low-wage occupations where labor laws are frequently violated.


Logistics also play a part. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lacks the funding and staff to inspect every workplace. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Death on the Job Report, it would take federal OSHA an estimated 139 years to inspect each workplace once. Not to mention, we are dealing with industries that have multiple layers of contractors, which sometimes makes it difficult to determine who is responsible for worker training and safety.

However, improvements can be made. As employment picks up again, we cannot gloss over safety issues. For example, we have seen the number of fatalities rise during previous construction booms. We must take a critical eye to what happened then and learn from those mistakes. We can also target outreach and enforcement of labor laws to the most vulnerable workers and to industries that we know are high-risk. Old ways of doing this can be modernized to hold employers accountable in a more complex labor market.

April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day. Let’s honor those who have lost lives to preventable injuries by committing to make every workplace safer so that every Latino worker gets to go home to his or her family.

Low-Wage Latino Workers Just Want to Do the Right Thing

By Alicia Criado, Field Coordinator, Economic and Employment Policy Project

Poultry workersWant a reality check on today’s employment situation?  Ask someone making less than $50,000 per year.

We asked Latino voters about their priority issues right before the election last year and found that while immigration reform was important to them, in today’s economy low-wage workers are concerned with keeping or finding work.  They deal with other significant hurdles on a daily basis such as unpaid wages, unpredictable schedules, discrimination, no health insurance, and dangerous working conditions.  Similar findings in Oxfam America’s recent survey of low-wage workers show that while most low-wage workers take pride in performing their jobs well, those same jobs do not sustain them and their families financially.

More people are realizing that the recovery has been built on low-wage jobs.  In fact, one in four American workers is in such jobs.  They accounted for the majority of job growth since the end of the Great Recession, leaving jobseekers with few employment prospects that offer basic economic security.  Continue reading

America’s Workers Deserve Better

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic Policy Project

We’re back for another round of NCLR’s video blog series.  Today’s post coincides with May Day, or International Workers’ Day, which most Americans don’t realize originated in Chicago when workers fought for the eight-hour workday in 1886.  Since then, May 1 has historically served as a day to celebrate and promote workers’ rights.  Yet, recently, the need for investments to ensure the rights of and stronger protections for workers has been largely ignored.


Federal inaction on Capitol Hill is dangerous, and we have seen several consequences play out as a result.  Today, thousands of individuals are feeling the sting of the automatic spending cuts Congress passed on March 1, which threaten important programs, such as job training, that are critical to the well-being of workers, their families, and our communities.  At the same time, tragedies like the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas highlight the cost of leaving agencies like the Occupational Saftey and Health Administration, which is charged with enforcing federal laws that keep workers safe on the job, starved for resources.  Meanwhile, the introduction of unfriendly family policies like the “Working Families Flexibility Act” (H.R. 1406) represent misguided attempts to modernize structural gaps in workplace law.

Continue reading

We Must Seize Opportunities to Make Immigration Reform a Reality

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO (left) and Thomas J. Donahue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce have joined forces on immigration reform.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO (left) and Thomas J. Donahue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have joined forces on immigration reform. (Photos: Wikipedia, U.S. Chamber of Conmmerce)

“Our current immigration system is broken.”  If you search for that phrase in connection with NCLR, you will get hundreds, if not thousands, of hits dating back more than a decade.  In many ways, the Latino community has borne the brunt of this broken system, but we are by no means alone.  The system does not work for anybody.  And it certainly does not work for businesses or employees.  That was the simple but extraordinary message delivered last week by two of the largest and most powerful institutions in our nation—the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  In an historic joint statement, both organizations came together to call for comprehensive immigration reform that works—for businesses and labor alike.

That’s how important this issue is.  Two institutions that find themselves on opposite sides of many debates realized that this problem was unsustainable and decided to work together to reach a solution.  Their collaboration resulted in a set of principles that should guide all discussions on the future flow of workers into this country.

Continue reading

Our Economy Won’t Work Without Latinos

Many would agree that it’s been tough for American workers lately, and particularly for Latinos, who carry an added burden given the unique barriers that they face in the labor market.  Hispanics confront not only high unemployment but also the assumption that they don’t belong in this country.  Worse, anti-immigrant rhetoric has fueled the scapegoating of Latino workers, limiting the possibility of increased economic security and, consequently, a stronger America.

But the truth is that our economy won’t function without the workers we currently have. That’s why on Thursday we’re joining LATISM for a Twitter chat on what we can do to improve this situation.  We’ll be joined by the Center for American Progress as well.  Just log on to Twitter at 9:00 p.m. ET on Thursday and use #OurEconomy to join the party!

It’s sure to be a spirited chat that you won’t want to miss.  We’ll see you online!

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