Immigrant Workers Being Exploited in Recent Construction Growth
Thousands of immigrants, many undocumented, helping meet demand for workers in construction are doing often dangerous work for contractors seeking cheap labor. Many credible studies have found that these workers, wanting desperately to support their families are often paid below prevailing wage and illegally, in cash. Being paid in cash leaves no record, so many contractors will make these workers subject to unsafe work conditions, without insurance to cover medical bills or lost pay if they get hurt. Sadly, most of the time these immoral contractors are rarely caught, or penalized.
How immigrant workers are being exploited
Another big issue is undocumented workers feel pressured not to report these accidents. Many undocumented immigrants are even threatened with deportation if they try to get justice. Over the past three years in Massachusetts, 910 hospitalizations or deaths were reported by the US Labor Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of those, 98 percent came from nonunion contractors. It is critical that if you are an undocumented worker, you avoid nonunion contractors. These types of jobs are the most dangerous, and unsafe jobs in construction. Also, the real number of injuries is likely much higher, but since most of these workers are pressured not to report these injuries, they don’t in fear of losing their job, home, family, or risking deportation.
Who are the main victims of construction exploitation?
Many times the victims are minors, or young men barely in their 20’s. For example, A 23-year-old roofer from Ecuador shattered his collarbone after falling from a 32-foot ladder in Waltham during Christmas week in 2014. His employer told him to drive himself home, even though he had been briefly knocked unconscious. It took five days for him to get medical care, and a year-and-a-half before receiving the surgery he needed to repair the break.
Many of these construction workers do not speak English and are unfamiliar with federal and state labor laws,(this is where having a lawyer is crucial) which require employers to pay them at least prevailing wage and carry workers’ compensation. These workers are often given a 1099(independent contractor) tax form. This form allows them to avoid paying their insurance and payroll taxes. Then these contractors pay cash with no contract so most workers are left with no proof of their job.
Immigrant minors also victims of construction exploitation
That’s exactly what happened to a 16-year-old Guatemalan , nicknamed Baby, on the work sites of a Lynn contractor. He fell to the ground last fall from a ladder while carrying too much wood for his size. His employer dropped him off at home that night instead of taking him to a doctor, according to the boy. His lawyer also said he was declined medical care for months because he had no legal guardian and no employer offering to pay his insurance.
In another case, Isidoro Peralta, an Ecuadoran roofer, had to fight for medical care for a year and a half after falling from a ladder in Waltham. While he waited, his collarbone healed improperly and he could no longer lift weight with his right arm. He was out of work, without pay, and in pain. His boss, Angel Namina, denied to his insurer that the young man was hurt on the job, and since there was no contract, check, etc. He got away with it. Luckily though Isidoro Peralta hired a lawyer, and his lawyer fought tremendously hard for him. He got Peralta the surgery he needed, and it was a success.
A new hope for Justice
Around two dozen immigrant workers, and their representatives packed into a court room on Wednesday urged the state to press employers to meet their obligations, and to hurry up the handling of workers’ compensation claims. In a recent Investigation published by the Globe, stated that the entire region heavily depends on immigrant workers, many who were undocumented. By Law, Contractors must provide workers’ compensation coverage for the workers on their site. The public comment period on proposed updates to the regulations ends September 28th. If you are an undocumented worker get your voice out there, speak about crooked contractors, and dangerous working conditions. This opportunity only comes once every couple of years.
If you are an undocumented worker in the construction field contact us immediately to see if you are being exploited. Just remember 43 percent of illegal immigrants have said that they have been cheated or forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. Do not feel helpless, we here at (name of business) will fight hard to assure that you are not being exploited to unfair working conditions.
Images via Flickr: Forsaken Fotos & Rob Young