City, Mexican Consulate Team Up to Prevent Worker Abuse

Mexican Consul Sandra Fuentes-Berain and City officials signed a new alliance agreement to promote workers’ rights.  (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Mexican Consul General Sandra Fuentes-Berain and city officials signed a new agreement to promote workers’ rights. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The Mexican Consulate and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) alongside city agencies and organizations, signed an agreement to prevent abuse and provide education about workers’ rights to Mexican laborers throughout the tri-state area.

The agreement was formalized as a response to OSHA’s alarming figures revealing an increase in Latino construction worker deaths, both in the city and nationwide. The latest statistics – dating back to 2013 – indicate that Mexicans are the victims of the majority of fatalities and serious accidents at workplaces that fail to comply with labor regulations.

“Many of our fellow laborers accept risky conditions just to make a few dollars,” said Francisco Morales, 43, who has been a day laborer for a decade. “We risk our lives. We are forced to choose between eating and working safely.”

The alliance also benefits other immigrant communities thanks to the involvement of the Coalición Latinoamericana de Cónsules de Nueva York (Coalition of Latin American Consuls in New York), established in 2008 and formed by diplomatic representatives from more than a dozen countries.

“This collaboration will protect workers who are particularly susceptible to abuse and wage theft,” said Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain, consul general of Mexico in New York. Robert D. Kulick, OSHA’s Region II administrator, said that the agency has been collaborating with the Mexican consulate for more than 13 years.

“By formalizing this alliance, we are promoting further knowledge of the rights of Hispanic workers,” said Kulick.

Among the signatories of the agreement are New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, the Wage and Hour Division and the Division of Immigrant Policies and Affairs of the national and state Departments of Labor, respectively, and the organization Catholic Migration Services (CMS).

The alliance was created during the Séptima Semana de los Derechos Laborales (Seventh Workers’ Rights Week), an education campaign held by a network of Mexican consulates throughout the U.S.

“Pope Francis asked to meet with immigrants in his upcoming New York visit because he recognizes their contribution but also their demands for justice,” said Rev. Patrick Keating, chief executive officer of CMS.

Deaths by the numbers

In New York, Latino workers represent 7.7 percent of the labor force in the construction industry. OSHA is concerned that 50 percent of all workers killed in 2013 were Hispanic. Most fatalities are caused by falling.

Nationwide, 360 Mexican, 127 Central American and 24 South American construction workers died that year. In New York, most fatalities are among Mexicans.

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