Democratic Senators Take the Lead in Advocating for Workers’ Safety in the Workplace

By Yuqi Wang, Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project, UnidosUS

Every worker deserves to be safe in their workplace and to know that their well-being is a priority for their employers. Unfortunately, that is not always a reality—in 2015, the AFL-CIO found that 4,386 U.S. workers were killed on the job. That year, a staggering 903 Latinos had a workplace-related fatality, the highest number of Latino deaths in 10 years. This means that about 2.5 Latinos die just trying to make a living each day.

A national poll recently released by UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza) found that safe working conditions and protections intended to promote workers’ safety and well-being are lacking for many low-income Latino workers:

  • One in five low-income workers (20 percent) reported that going to work sick or delaying a medical appointment is a problem they have experienced in the workplace.
  • More than one-quarter of low-wage Latino workers (28 percent) received no orientation at their jobs.
  • More than one-third (34 percent) of low-wage earning respondents received no training about workplace rights or safety.
  • When low-income Latino workers try to speak up about their concerns or dissatisfaction with their working conditions, they report experiencing employer retaliation. Nearly one in two workers have said they or someone they know have been treated differently or punished for raising workplace problems.

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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.

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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

Ensuring Workers Brave the Summer Heat the Safe Way

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

cement masonAlthough the summer of 2013 is not quite over, it’s safe to say that it’s been HOT.  While some of us have the luxury of escaping the punishing heat for most of the day in air-conditioned homes and offices, many others do not, particularly outdoor workers and those in hot environments such as farms, warehouses, and construction, all Latino-dominant industries.  Every year, thousands of workers, particularly Latino workers, become sick from heat exposure, and, in some cases, die.  Even though workplace fatalities are on the decline, Latinos continue to be disproportionately vulnerable to death on the job.  But these illnesses and deaths are preventable.

In efforts to raise awareness about the need for increasing the health and safety of workers in the agriculture industry, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)* has launched a new outreach initiative to prevent heat illness in outdoor workers.  Continue reading

Worker Safety: By the Numbers

This week is “Worker’s Memorial Week,” when we honor the thousands of men and women who die on the job each year. It’s also a time for us to reflect on how we can prevent future deaths through the improvement of workplace health and safety. Learn more and get involved at www.workersmemorialweek.org.Worker Safety English

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