Immigrant workers face peril on the job

Workers Correspondence

“Immigrant Workers in Peril: Finding Solutions to the Health & Safety Crisis” brought some 200 labor and immigrant rights activists to the Murphy Institute for Labor, Community, & Policy Studies, City University of New York on April 21. The Central Labor Council, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Murphy Institute for Labor, Community, & Policy Studies, CUNY co-sponsored the conference, which focused on the scope of the crisis and mobilizing for a secure future.

The conference was in response to the growing role of immigrants in New York City area working class as well as the number of immigrant workers injured and sickened by their jobs and how this impacts on the conditions of all workers. But immigrant workers are fighting back, and the labor movement is increasingly taking up their cause and becoming involved in their organizing efforts.

All workers need organization and education to fight for safe working conditions; otherwise an individual worker will accept life-threatening conditions to feed his or her family, pointed out Central Labor Council Executive Director Ed Ott in his opening remarks.

Immigrants have additional problems. They disproportionally work in construction and other industries with the greatest safety and health problems, mostly without union protection, and are regularly victimized by unscrupulous employers and government actions. Testimony of immigrants who worked in the laundry and construction industries and on the post-9/11 cleanup dramatically presented the harsh reality behind dry statistics.

The action-oriented conference was followed up with a demonstration on May 1 and the first meeting of the Immigrant Workers’ Council on May 18.