This blog and many other media outlets have discussed the seeming epidemic of construction accidents in New York City. Most sources agree that an important reason for this significant increase is the construction boom underway throughout the city. As the economy has improved since the downturn in 2008, delayed projects have been approved and started, making more business for contractors and more jobs for workers in the construction trades.
One aspect of this has received less attention: A disproportionate number of immigrant workers in the construction trades and other sectors of the economy have been injured or killed in recent years. There have been a few thoughtful articles about this phenomenon, and the remainder of this blog post will summarize the information provided by these writers and researchers.
The Challenges Immigrant Workers Face In The U.S.
Horror stories about the treatment of injured undocumented workers seem to be everywhere – if you look. Injured workers are denied workers’ compensation benefits. Most workers do not want to file lawsuits when their employers fail to protect them because they fear reprisal and deportation due to their undocumented status. The result is that injured workers sometimes find it impossible to get even basic medical treatment after an injury; obtaining compensation for wage loss and other damages is out of the question.
The problem of injuries to undocumented workers is even more serious because these workers often take the most demanding and dangerous jobs that are more likely to result in serious injury or death. Such workers seldom have the protection provided by labor unions, as they frequently work for non-union businesses and face intimidation and reprisal if they try to organize themselves. They live in constant fear of deportation, and horror stories about injured workers who were deported after seeking medical treatment or workers’ compensation benefits prevent many from speaking up.
A 2003 report found that 25 percent of workers fired ostensibly because they lacked Social Security numbers believed that they were really fired because they complained about unsafe conditions. Another 21 percent believed they were really fired because of their union activity.
This is the first in a two-part post about immigrant workers in the United States and New York.